The Real Alice In Wonderland Was An 11-Year-Old Girl Lewis Carroll Had An Unusual Relationship With

You're probably more likely to know Charles Lutwidge Dodgson as British author Lewis Carroll. He wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass. But what you may not know is how close a relationship he forged with a young girl named Alice Liddell, the real Alice in Wonderland, and the inspiration behind his novels. This relationship has been heavily studied and scrutinized, with many believing it had Lolita-esque aspirations.

Dodgson wrote under a pseudonym, and the first in the series, often shortened to Alice in Wonderland, centers on the titular character falling into a rabbit hole and meeting a serious of fantastical creatures. The book is one of a few that has maintained its popularity despite being published over 150 years ago, like Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House On The Prairie series.

Dodgson wasn't simply a writer. He studied mathematics at Oxford University and was a skilled photographer. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson photos are interesting due to their subject matter: over half of his surviving photographs depict prepubescent girls. Lewis Carroll and children go hand and hand - he loved children, and they loved him. But over the years, many have questioned his relationships with young girls, although there's no conclusive evidence that he acted on any inappropriate impulses.

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  • He Marked The Day He First Met Alice As Being Very Significant

    On April 25, 1856, Dodgson, then 24, first met Alice Liddell and her sisters while they were playing in a garden. He later wrote in his diary that the date had a special significance. At the time, he was busy photographing the cathedral, and the girls were drawn to him, curious about the then-new-fangled technology he was using.

    The family later asked him to take pictures of them. He had dress-up clothes and toys in his studio to entertain the girls, and, for a time, he was nearly as famous for his photography as he was for his writing.

  • Caroll Developed His Famous Story After Taking A Boat Ride With Alice And Her Sisters

    On July 4, 1862, Dodgson took a boat ride from Oxford to Godstow with Reverend Robinson Duckworth, and his good friend Dean Henry Liddell's three daughters: eight-year-old Edith, 10-year-old Alice, and 13-year-old Lorina. Dodgson was tasked with entertaining the children and created a delightful story with a multitude of strange and unusual characters.

    He made Alice the protagonist. For her part, young Alice enjoyed the story told on that boat ride so much she asked Dodgson to write it down – and one of the most memorable and long-lasting young adult novels was born.

  • Carroll Had Numerous "Child Friends," But Alice Was Particularly Special To Him

    In 1960, historian Martin Gardner published The Annotated Alice (revisions were made in 1999.) He noted that Carroll befriended many young girls over the course of his life, but Alice was different from all the others.

    A long procession of charming little girls (we know today that they were charming from their photographs) skipped through Carroll's life, but none ever took the place of his first love, Alice Liddell. "I have had some scores of child-friends since your time," he wrote to her after her marriage, "but they have been quite a different thing."

  • His Photography And Paintings Raise Questions About Social Values In Different Eras

    What appears to a modern observer to be Dodgson's questionable fascination with young girls has caused biographers to examine what type of relationships he had with the children he wrote about, took photographs of, and painted. Most of his subjects were girls between the ages of 10 and 15. While much of his photography portfolio is missing, more than half of his remaining work concentrates on undressed or semi-undressed portraits of girls. Some suggest this is evidence he may have been a pedophile. Before he passed, he wrote, “A girl of about 12 is my ideal beauty of form.”

    However, during the Victorian era, it wasn't uncommon for unclothed photos of children to be depicted on postcards, birthday cards, or works of art. Children were considered innocent beings. These depictions were not of a sexual nature but of chastity and purity. 

    This of course raises the debate over whether Dodgson's art had a darker, deviant purpose, or whether viewing that art through the lens of modern culture has corrupted an otherwise pure intent. This question still has no clear answer.

  • His Relationship With Alice Abruptly Ended

    In 1863, something happened between Dodgson and the Liddells that severed their relationship for quite some time. Prior to that, he saw the children nearly every day. Scholars don't know what caused the rift, but Dodgson stopped socializing with the Liddells for several months.

    Following Dodgson's passing, a page in his diary was removed that may have provided some insight. Florence Becker Lennon wrote in Victoria Through the Looking Glass (1945) that Dodgson may have been interested in marrying Alice, who was 11 years old. His proposal may have scared the family because such a thing was not acceptable, even in the Victorian era.

    Dodgson eventually reconciled with the Liddells but never again spent time with their daughters. In 1864, Dodgson gifted Alice his book, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. The following year, when Alice was 12, Dodgson wrote that she had changed as a person.

  • He Took This Provocative Photo Of Alice As A Beggar Girl

    One of his most famous photographs of Alice Liddell was taken by Dodgson when she was six years old; in it, she appears as a beggar girl. She has no shoes on, and her dress is falling off her shoulders. The image may have been inspired by the Lord Tennyson poem "The Beggar Maid." Alice is solemnly leaning against a wall in a garden.

    She looks pitiful and yet, due to her ripped and ruffled clothes, serious gaze, and raised open hand (begging or beckoning), the image also takes on an uncomfortably suggestive quality.