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Alice Liddell

Alice Pleasance Liddell
Liddell, aged 7, photographed by Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) in 1860
Born (1852-05-04)4 May 1852
Westminster, London
Died 16 November 1934(1934-11-16) (aged 82)
Westerham, Kent, England
Spouse(s) Reginald Hargreaves

Alice Pleasance Liddell[1] (/ˈlɪdəl/; 4 May 1852 – 16 November 1934) inspired the children's classic Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), when she asked him to tell her a story on a boating trip in Oxford. The character of the fictional Alice may not be based on her, however—it's a controversial question. Relations between the Liddell family and Dodgson continue to provoke speculation—including, in late twentieth century biography, allegations that Dodgson took a sexual interest in the child, which was later proved to be untrue, seeing as her older sister, Lorina (Ina), made it up in an interview.

Liddell married the cricketer Reginald Hargreaves, and they had three sons.


Alice Liddell was the fourth child of Henry Liddell, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and his wife Lorina Hanna Liddell (née Reeve). She had two older brothers, Harry (born 1847) and Arthur (born 1850, died of scarlet fever in 1853), and an older sister Lorina (born 1849). She also had six younger siblings, including her sister Edith (born 1854) to whom she was very close and her brother Frederick (born 1865), who was a lawyer and senior civil servant.

At the time of her birth, Liddell's father was the Headmaster of Westminster School but was soon after appointed to the deanery of Christ Church, Oxford. The Liddell family moved to Oxford in 1856. Soon after this move, she met Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who encountered the family while he was photographing the cathedral on 25 April 1856. He became a close friend of the Liddell family in subsequent years (see Relationship with Lewis Carroll below).

Alice was three years younger than Lorina and two years older than Edith, and the three sisters were constant childhood companions. She and her family regularly spent holidays at their holiday home Penmorfa, which later became the Gogarth Abbey Hotel, on the West Shore of Llandudno in North Wales.

When Alice Liddell was a young woman, she set out on a grand tour of Europe with Lorina and Edith. One story has it that she became a romantic interest of Prince Leopold, the youngest son of Queen Victoria, during the four years he spent at Christ Church, but the evidence for this is sparse. It is true that years later, Leopold named his first child Alice, and acted as godfather to Alice's second son Leopold. (A recent biographer of Leopold suggests it is far more likely that Alice's sister Edith was the true recipient of Leopold's attention).[2] Edith died on 26 June 1876,[3] possibly of measles or peritonitis (accounts differ), shortly before she was to be married to Aubrey Harcourt, a cricket player.[4] At her funeral on 30 June 1876, Prince Leopold served as a pall-bearer.[5]

Alice Liddell married Reginald Hargreaves, also a cricketer, on 15 September 1880, at the age of 28 in Westminster Abbey. They had three sons: Alan Knyveton Hargreaves and Leopold Reginald "Rex" Hargreaves (both were killed in action in World War I); and Caryl Liddell Hargreaves, who survived to have a daughter of his own. Liddell denied that the name 'Caryl' was in any way associated with Charles Dodgson's pseudonym. Reginald Hargreaves inherited a considerable fortune, and was a local magistrate; he also played cricket for Hampshire. Alice became a noted society hostess and was the first president of Emery Down Women's Institute.[6]

After her husband's death in 1926, the cost of maintaining their home, Cuffnells, was such that she deemed it necessary to sell her copy of Alice's Adventures Under Ground (Lewis Carroll's earlier title for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland). The manuscript fetched £15,400, nearly four times the reserve price given it by Sotheby's auction house. It later became the possession of Eldridge R. Johnson and was displayed at Columbia University on the centennial of Carroll's birth. (Alice was present, aged 80, and it was on this visit to the USA that she met Peter Llewelyn Davies, one of the brothers who inspired J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan). Upon Johnson's death, the book was purchased by a consortium of American bibliophiles and presented to the British people "in recognition of Britain's courage in facing Hitler before America came into the war." The manuscript now resides in the British Library.

For most of her life, she lived in and around Lyndhurst in the New Forest.[7] After her death in 1934, she was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium and her ashes were buried in the graveyard of the church of St Michael and All Angels Lyndhurst (a memorial plaque, naming her "Mrs. Reginald Hargreaves" can be seen in the picture in the monograph).


Origin of Alice in Wonderland

On 4 July 1862, in a rowing boat travelling on the Isis from Folly Bridge, Oxford to Godstow for a picnic outing, 10-year-old Alice asked Charles Dodgson (who wrote under the pen name Lewis Carroll) to entertain her and her sisters, Edith (aged 8) and Lorina (13), with a story. As the Reverend Robinson Duckworth rowed the boat, Dodgson regaled the girls with fantastic stories of a girl, named Alice, and her adventures after she fell into a rabbit-hole. The story was not unlike those Dodgson had spun for the sisters before, but this time Liddell asked Mr. Dodgson to write it down for her. He promised to do so but did not get around to the task for some months. He eventually presented her with the manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground in November 1864.

In the meantime, Dodgson had decided to rewrite the story as a possible commercial venture. Probably with a view to canvassing his opinion, Dodgson sent the manuscript of Under Ground to a friend, the author George MacDonald, in the spring of 1863.[8] The MacDonald children read the story and loved it, and this response probably persuaded Dodgson to seek a publisher. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, with illustrations by John Tenniel, was published in 1865, under the name Lewis Carroll. A second book about the character Alice, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, followed in 1871. In 1886, a facsimile of Alice's Adventures Under Ground, the original manuscript that Dodgson had given Liddell, was published.

Relationship with Lewis Carroll

File:Alice Liddell 2.jpg
Liddell dressed up as a beggar-maid. Photo by Lewis Carroll (1858).

The relationship between Liddell and Dodgson has been the source of much controversy. Many biographers have supposed that Dodgson had a paedophilic attraction to the girl, but there is no convincing evidence of this and it is more likely that he merely had platonic affections for her.[9][better source needed][page needed] The evidence for any given interpretation is small.[editorializing][citation needed]

Dodgson met the Liddell family in 1855; he first befriended Harry, the older brother, and later took both Harry and Ina on several boating trips and picnics to the scenic areas around Oxford.[citation needed] Later, when Harry went to school, Alice and her younger sister Edith joined the party. Dodgson entertained the children by telling them fantastic stories to while away the time. He also used them as subjects for his hobby, photography.[citation needed] It has often been stated that Alice was clearly his favourite subject in these years, but there is very little evidence to suggest that this is so; Dodgson's diaries from 18 April 1858 to 8 May 1862 are missing.[citation needed]

"Cut pages in diary"

The relationship between the Liddells and Dodgson suffered a sudden break in June 1863.[citation needed] There was no record of why the rift occurred, since the Liddells never openly spoke of it, and the single page in Dodgson's diary recording 27–29 June 1863 (which seems to cover the period in which it began) was missing.[citation needed] Until recently, the only source for what happened on that day had been speculation, and generally centred on the idea that Alice Liddell was, somehow, the cause of the break. It was long suspected that her mother became uncomfortable with the idea of a grown man befriending her 11-year-old daughter.[citation needed]

In 1996, Karoline Leach found what became known as the "Cut pages in diary" document[10]—a note allegedly written by Charles Dodgson's niece, Violet Dodgson, summarising the missing page from 27–29 June 1863, apparently written before she (or her sister Menella) removed the page. The note reads:

"L.C. learns from Mrs. Liddell that he is supposed to be using the children as a means of paying court to the governess—he is also supposed soon to be courting Ina"[citation needed][page needed]

This might imply that the break between Dodgson and the Liddell family was caused by concern over alleged gossip linking Dodgson to the family governess and to "Ina" (Alice's older sister, Lorina).[citation needed] In her biography The Mystery of Lewis Carroll, Jenny Woolf suggests that the problem was caused by Lorina becoming too attached to Dodgson and not the other way around.[citation needed] Woolf then uses this theory to explain why "Menella [would] remove the page itself, yet keep a note of what was on it." The note, she submits, is a "censored version" of what really happened, intended to prevent Lorina from being offended or humiliated at having her feelings for Dodgson made public.[11][page needed]

It is uncertain who wrote the note. Leach has said that the handwriting on the front of the document most closely resembles that of either Menella or Violet Dodgson, Dodgson's nieces.[citation needed]However, Morton N. Cohen says in an article published in the Times Literary Supplement in 2003[12] that in the 1960s, Dodgson's great-nephew Philip Dodgson Jacques told him that Jacques had written the note himself based on conversations he remembered with Dodgson's nieces.[citation needed] Cohen's article offered no evidence to support this, however, and known samples of Jacques' handwriting do not seem to resemble the writing of the note.[13][better source needed]

After this incident, Dodgson avoided the Liddell home for six months but eventually returned for a visit in December 1863. However, the former closeness does not seem to have been re-established, and the friendship gradually faded away, possibly because Dodgson was in opposition to Dean Liddell over college politics.[14][full citation needed] Other explanations involving romantic entanglements and broken hearts have also been put forward,[citation needed] but while there is some evidence to suggest these as possibilities,[clarification needed][citation needed] nothing definite is known. John Ruskin states in his autobiography Praeterita that after the rift between Dodgson and the Liddells, the sisters pursued a similar relationship with him.[citation needed]

Comparison with fictional Alice

File:Alice par John Tenniel 04.png
Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

The extent to which Dodgson's Alice may be or could be identified with Liddell is controversial. The two Alices are clearly not identical, and though it was long assumed that the fictional Alice was based very heavily on Liddell, recent research has contradicted this assumption. Dodgson himself claimed in later years that his Alice was entirely imaginary and not based upon any real child at all.

There was a rumour that Dodgson sent Tenniel a photo of one of his other child-friends, Mary Hilton Badcock, suggesting that he used her as a model,[15] but attempts to find documentary support for this theory have proved fruitless. Dodgson's own drawings of the character in the original manuscript of Alice's Adventures under Ground show little resemblance to Liddell. Biographer Anne Clark suggests that Dodgson might have used Edith Liddell as a model for his drawings.[16]

There are at least three direct links to Liddell in the two books. First, he set them on 4 May (Liddell's birthday) and 4 November (her "half-birthday"), and in Through the Looking-Glass the fictional Alice declares that her age is "seven and a half exactly", the same as Liddell on that date. Second, he dedicated them "to Alice Pleasance Liddell". Third, there is an acrostic poem at the end of Through the Looking-Glass. Reading downward, taking the first letter of each line, spells out Liddell's full name. The poem has no title in Through the Looking-Glass, but is usually referred to by its first line, "A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky".

A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July--

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear--

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die.
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream--
Lingering in the golden gleam--
Life, what is it but a dream?

In addition, all of those who participated in the Thames boating expedition where the story was originally told (Carroll, the Reverend Duckworth and the three Liddell sisters) appear in the chapter "A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale" – but only if Alice Liddell is represented by Alice herself, but was proven untrue when he claimed it had absolutely nothing to do with Alice Liddell, but his own little Hero. After examination to the sketches, which look nothing like Alice Liddell raised eyebrows. Alice in Wonderland was actually suspected to be based off another girl, but there is no evidence to confirm that.

Alice Liddell in other works

Several later writers have written fictional accounts of Liddell:

  • Liddell is the main character of Melanie Benjamin's novel Alice I Have Been, a fictional account of Alice's life from childhood through old age, focusing on her relationship with Lewis Carroll and the impact that Alice's Adventures Under Ground had on her.[17]
  • In the manga Alice in the country of hearts the main character is called Alice Liddel
  • She is one of the main characters of the Riverworld series of books by Philip José Farmer.
  • She plays a small but critical role in Lewis Padgett's short story "Mimsy Were The Borogoves".
  • Canadian poet Stephanie Bolster wrote a collection of poems, White Stone, based on her.
  • Katie Roiphe has written a fictional (claimed to be based on fact) account of the relationship between Alice and Carroll, titled Still She Haunts Me.
  • The 1985 movie Dreamchild deals with her trip to America for the Columbia University presentation described above; through a series of flashbacks, it promotes the popular assumption that Dodgson was romantically attracted to Alice.
  • Frank Beddor wrote The Looking Glass Wars, which reimagines the Alice in Wonderland story and includes real-life characters such as the Liddells and Prince Leopold.
  • Liddell and Dodgson are used as protagonists in Bryan Talbot's 2007 graphic novel Alice in Sunderland to relay the history and myths of the area.[18]
  • The 2008 opera by Alan John and Andrew Upton Through the Looking Glass covers both the fictional Alice and Liddell.
  • In 2011 Spicy Horse produced Alice: Madness Returns as a sequel to American McGees Alice. Both of which featured Alice Liddell.
  • The Nintendo DS game "A Witch's Tale" makes reference to Alice creating the different kingdoms the main character named Liddell travels through with her voodoo cat doll named Dyna.
  • Peter and Alice, John Logan's play in 2013, features the encounter of Alice Liddell Hargreaves and Peter Llewelyn Davies, one of the boys who inspired the Peter Pan character.
  • In the 2007 film The Last Mimzy the children find a picture of Alice Liddell with a stuffed rabbit resembling the eponymous Mimzy, alluding to her having received one.


  1. ^ This phonetic version of her name, with emphasis on first, rather than second syllable as sometimes mispronounced, is confirmed by the rhyme current in Oxford at the time (attributed by some to Dodgson himself but called by others a piece of "undergraduate doggerel"): "I am the Dean and this is Mrs Liddell. She plays the first, and I the second fiddle. She is the Broad; I am the High: And we are the University". (High Street and Broad Street are two Oxford streets, known colloquially as "The High" and "The Broad".)
  2. ^ cited in Leach, Karoline In the Shadow of the Dreamchild, p.201
  3. ^ The Cathedral Church of Oxford, a Description of Its Fabric and a Brief History of the Episcopal See, p.101
  4. ^ Will Brooker, Alice's adventures: Lewis Carroll in popular culture, p.338
  5. ^ "Nelson Evening Mail, Volume XI, Issue 233, 22 September 1876, P.4, quoting Home News, 1876". Retrieved 5 August 2010. 
  6. ^ "lyndchur". Retrieved 2014-03-22. 
  7. ^ "Call to celebrate life of the 'real Alice' (From This is Hampshire)". 2010-03-08. Retrieved 2014-03-22. 
  8. ^ Dodgson's MS diaries, vol.8, p. 89, British Library
  9. ^ Wallace, Irving. The Sex Lives of Famous People
  10. ^ "Cut pages in diary". 4 March 2004. Archived from the original on 14 June 2006. Retrieved 9 July 2006. 
  11. ^ Woolf, Jenny (2011). The Mystery of Lewis Carroll. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 978-0-312-67371-0. OCLC 651912507. [page needed]
  12. ^ Cohen, Morton N., "When Love was Young", Times Literary Supplement, October 2003
  13. ^ See discussion on the Lewis Carroll e-list, Autumn 2003
  14. ^ Christ Church & Reform[full citation needed]
  15. ^ Gardner, Martin, The Annotated Alice 1970, chap. 1
  16. ^ Clark, Anne, Lewis Carroll 1982, p. 91
  17. ^ (2010-01-12). "Author Melanie Benjamin". Retrieved 2014-03-22. 
  18. ^ Robertson, Ross (27 March 2007). "News focus: Alice in Pictureland". Sunderland Echo. Archived from the original on 2 April 2007. Retrieved 29 March 2007. 


External links


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