Alice Liddell

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Alice Liddell, age 7, photographed by Charles Dodgson (1860)

Alice Pleasance Liddell (May 4, 1852 - November 16, 1934) was the inspiration for the heroine of the children's classic Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.


Origin of Alice in Wonderland

On July 4, 1862, in a rowboat travelling on the River Thames from Oxford to Godstow for a picnic outing, 10-year-old Alice asked Charles Dodgson to entertain her and her sisters Edith (age 8) and Lorina (age 13) with a story. As Reverend Robinson Duckworth rowed the boat, Dodgson regaled the girls with fantastic stories of a girl, not so coincidentally named Alice, and her adventures after she fell through a rabbit-hole. The story was not so unlike those Dodgson had spun for the sisters before, but this time there was one significant difference. When it was done, Alice asked Mr. Dodgson to write it down for her. She asked him again. And again. And eventually, he did write it down. Although there is a legend that he gave her a manuscript of the story in February 1863, and that it was subsequently seen by Henry Kingsley and recommended for publication, there is no shred of evidence that any of this is true; in fact Dodgson's diaries show he was sending the MS to his friends in the Spring of 1863, obviously with the idea of getting it published, so it is very unlikely the MS was (at the same time) residing on the Liddell coffee table. This story is simply one of the many myths surrounding Alice and Dodgson. According to his diaries he posted Alice the finished book in November 1864 - some two and a half years after she had asked him to write it down, titling it Alice's Adventures under Ground. By this time the longer version, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, was finished, illustrated and about to be published.

In 1865, Dodgson's story was professionally published under the pen name Lewis Carroll, in an expanded version, as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, with illustrations by John Tenniel. A second "Alice" book, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There was followed in 1871 and in 1886 a facsimile of the original manuscript Dogdson gave Alice was published.


Alice Liddell was a daughter of Henry Liddell, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and his wife Lorina Hanna, née Reeve. Alice was the fourth child, having two older brothers, Harry (born 1847) and Arthur (born 1850, died of scarlet fever in 1853), and an older sister, Lorina (born 1849). She had six younger siblings, including her sister Edith (born 1854), to whom she was very close. One of her younger brothers died as an infant.

At the time of her birth, her father was the dean of Westminster School, but was soon after appointed to the deanery of Christ Church, Oxford and the Liddell family moved to Oxford in 1856. It was soon after this move that Alice first met Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who came across the dean's family while he was photographing the cathedral on 25 April 1856 when Alice was almost four. He became a close friend of Alice and the rest of the Liddell family for the following years (see Alice's Relationship with Lewis Carroll below).

Alice grew up primarily in the company of her two nearest sisters, Lorina, who was three years older, and Edith, who was two years younger. She and her family regularly spent holidays at their holiday-home Penmorfa, now the Gogarth Abbey Hotel on the wild West Shore of Llandudno in North Wales.

When Alice was a young woman, she set out on a grand tour of Europe with Lorina and Edith, as was the custom in those days for families of her standing. Two years later, tragedy struck when her younger sister, Edith, died of measles shortly before she was to be married.

At this time, another myth (there are numeorus Alice Myths) some more absurd than others, has it that Alice was a romantic interest of Prince Leopold, the youngest son of Queen Victoria. But away from the certitudes of the more romantic of her biographers (like Anne Clark), there is very little evidence for this. In fact Leopold's most recent biographer suggests it is far more likely that it was Alice's sister Edith who was the recipient of Leopold's attention (see Leach). But so far this has not impacted perceptibly on the Alice Myth. Perhaps it never will. In the end, Alice married Reginald Hargreaves on September 15, 1880, at the age of 28 in Westminster Abbey. They had three sons: Alan Knyveton Hargreaves, Leopold Reginald "Rex" Hargreaves (both killed in action in World War I), and Caryl Liddell Hargreaves, who survived to have a daughter of his own.

The cost of maintaining their home, Cuffnells, was such that it was deemed necessary to sell Alice's copy of Alice's Adventures Under Ground. The manuscript, fetched nearly four times the reserve price given it by the auction house Sotheby’s, selling for £15,400. It became the possession of Eldridge R. Johnson, and was displayed at Columbia University on the centenial of Carroll's birth (Alice was present, aged 80, and it was on this visit to America that she met Peter Llewelyn-Davies, one of the brothers who were the inspiration for J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan). At Johnson's death, the book was bought 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.

Relationship with Lewis Carroll

Alice, dressed up as a beggar-girl. Photo by Charles Dodgson (1858).
Alice, dressed up as a beggar-girl. Photo by Charles Dodgson (1858).

Much of Alice’s childhood was spent in the company of her sisters and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who soon after their initial meeting became a frequent visitor. He entertained the girls by taking them on frequent boat trips and picnics in the scenic areas around Oxford, telling them fantastic stories to while away the time. He also used them as frequent subjects for his hobby, photography. It has often been stated that Alice was clearly the favorite throughout these years, but there is no actual evidence to suggest this is so. Or at least none has yet been produced. It seems to be simply another manifestation of the myth. Dodgson's diaries are missing for April 18 1858 to May 8 1862. Presumably they were destroyed by his heirs. They would have covered most of his close friendship with the Liddells - and indeed many other aspects of his experience. No one knows how or why they are now missing.

The close relationship between Alice and Dodgson came to an abrupt end in June 1863. Until recently there was no record of why the rift occurred, as the single page in his diary from June 27-29 1863 (which seems to cover the period of the break) is also missing. It was speculated that Alice’s mother, Lorina Liddell, disapproved of Dodgson’s interest in her daughter as she saw him as an unfit suitor. What we do know, from an article notionally written by Alice as an old woman (but actually composed by her son Caryl), is that Lorina Liddell destroyed all of the letters Dodgson wrote to the young Alice (and presumably to other family members as well, since there are virtually no letters from him in the Liddell archive). Much has been read into this - often by people who have never seen the actual words attributed to Alice - but if we look at the context, there is actually nothing in the quotation to suggest the letters were destroyed in anger - rather that they were thrown away in the normal course of events. Until recently the only source for knowledge of what happened on that June day was guesswork (of which there was much), all of which centred on the idea that Alice Liddell was somehow the cause of the break.

Then in 1996 Karoline Leach found what became known as he "Cut Pages in Diary" document [1] (; a note allegedly written by Charles Dodgson's niece Violet Dodgson, summarizing the missing page from June 27-29 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 [unreadable] to be courting Ina" (Leach, 1999). It is actually unclear who wrote the note; Dodgson's main biographer Morten Cohen says that, in the 1960s, Philip Dodgson Jacques told him that he had written the note himself based on the conversations he remembered with his nieces. However, the fact that we now know what happened to cause the famous break with the Liddells in 1863, and that this had nothing to do with Alice Liddell, has clearly shaken up our knowledge of Dodgson's life at this time. Precisely what this note means has yet to be determined. Was Dodgson courting Ina at this time? or does the note mean something else? We don't yet know, though many possibilities emerge.

After the rift between Dodgson and the Liddells, Alice and her sisters pursued a similar relationship with John Ruskin, as detailed in Ruskin's autobiography Praeterita.

Comparison with fictional Alice

Alice Liddell and "Alice", the character in the book, are clearly not identical. The extent that "Alice" is based on Alice Liddell is quite controversial right now. It was long assumed she was based very heavily on Alice Liddell, but recent research has suggested this is not so. Dodgson himself claimed in later years that his "Alice" was entirely imaginary, and not based on any real child at all. One thing for sure, Alice Liddell did not inspire the illustrations of "Alice" in the published books: there is a myth that Dodgson sent Tenniel a photo of another child-friend of his, Mary Hilton Badcock, suggesting to use her as a model (Gardner, 1970, chap. 1). But all attempts to find any source for this fact have so far proved fruitless. No one knows what - if any - model Tenniel used for 'Alice'. Moreover even Dodgson's own drawings of "Alice" in the original manuscript, Alice's Adventures under Ground, show little resemblance to Alice Liddell. Alice biographer Anne Clark suggested he might have used Alice's younger sister Edith as a model for his drawings (Clark, 1982, p. 91).

However, there is little doubt that the books were dedicated to Alice Pleasance Liddell. There is a poem at the end of Through the Looking Glass, which is an acrostic. Reading downward, taking the first letter of each line spells out Alice's name in full.

Contemporary writers have written fictional accounts of Alice Liddell. She is one of the main characters of the Riverworld series of books, by Philip José Farmer. Canadian poet Stephanie Bolster also wrote a collection of poems, White Stone, based on her.


External links

  • A biographical page ( about Alice Liddell from the Alice in Oxford ( website
  • Alice Liddell (

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