THE STORY OF ALICE by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst


Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland
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Douglas-Fairhurst (English Literature/Magdalen Coll., Oxford; Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist, 2011, etc.) delivers a biography of Charles Dodgson (1832-1898), aka Lewis Carroll, that might be better described as a sociological study of Victorian England.

As a stammering child who was first educated at home, Carroll developed his imagination inventing games for his siblings. Teaching mathematics at Christ Church in Oxford, he made friends with the daughters of the dean, and their friendship fed his creative fantasies and poetic missives. On a picnic in 1862, Carroll told them the story of a little girl’s adventures in the underworld. He was closest to Alice Liddell, who pestered him to write it out for her. He published the work in 1865, although his relationship with the dean’s children was suddenly curtailed, for no discernible reason. Carroll’s fascination with the newly emerging science of photography fed his imagination. He enjoyed young girls’ company, apparently with parental approval, and they posed for him in costume, and sometimes without. After a misplaced kiss, an angry mother put an end to his photography. Douglas-Fairhurst treats his subject’s lifelong obsession with young girls, particularly those named Alice, as curious but in no way threatening. When he sticks to the joys of Carroll's Wonderland books and John Tenniel’s enhancing illustrations, the subtlety of the lessons, the wonderful puns and word generation, the author is in his element as Carroll’s greatest fan. Readers will rush to their childhood copies of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass to reread them. As Victorian society changed, Alice’s influence grew, but Douglas-Fairhurst devotes too much space to it, even down to minute mentions, borrowed lines, allusions to, retellings of, satires, adaptations, copies, and Wonderlands anew everywhere.

The magic of the work is well-served here but with just a bit too much extraneous information.

Pub Date: May 11th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-674-96779-3
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2015


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