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Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures Under Ground’

Image from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures Under Ground’

Lewis Carroll: 'Alice's Adventures Under Ground'
British Library Add. MS 46700, f.19v
Copyright © The British Library Board
A high-quality version of this image can be purchased from British Library Images Online. For more information email imagesonline@bl.uk

‘Alice’s Adventures Under Ground’ by Lewis Carroll is perhaps the most famous of all the British Library’s 19th-century literary manuscripts. It is Lewis Carroll’s first version of the work later published as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).

Video: 'Alice' celebration at the Library 

The Library joined with Disney for an evening celebrating 'Alice'. With readings by Christopher Lee and Michael Sheen; an appreciation by Will Self; discussion with producer Richard Zanuck and co-producer Joe Roth of Tim Burton’s 'Alice In Wonderland'; and a screening of the film of 1903, restored by the BFI.

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Who was Lewis Carroll?

Lewis Carroll was the pen-name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, born 27 January 1832, died 14 January 1898, known especially for his children's books, which are distinguished as satire and as examples of verbal wit. The son of a clergyman and the first of 11 children, Carroll began at an early age to entertain himself and his family with magic tricks, marionette shows, and poems written for homemade newspapers. From 1846 to 1850 he attended Rugby School; he graduated from Christ Church College, Oxford, in 1854. Carroll remained there, lecturing on mathematics and writing treatises and guides for students. Although he took deacon's orders in 1861, Carroll was never ordained a priest, partly because he was afflicted with a stammer that made preaching difficult and partly, perhaps, because he had discovered other interests. Carroll invented his pen-name by translating his first two names into the Latin "Carolus Lodovicus" and then anglicising it into "Lewis Carroll".

Who was Alice?

The tale was first told by Carroll on 4 July 1862, to the three young daughters of Henry Liddell, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, on a river boat trip. The children, especially Alice, adored the story and begged Carroll to write it down. It took him until February 1863 to write out the whole text, taking great pains to write in neat ‘manuscript print’, designed for the young Alice to read. Once the text was complete, Carroll began to add the illustrations which give a charming impression of his own vision of Wonderland and its inhabitants.

The final 90-page manuscript was completed in September 1864, bound in green morocco leather and given to Alice on 26 November. Carroll’s inscription read ‘A Christmas Gift to a Dear Child, in Memory of a Summer Day’. The earlier text contains private Liddell family jokes and references which were later removed from the expanded story.

‘Alice’s Adventures Under Ground’ and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland differ in quite a few respects, most significantly in their length. ‘Alice’s Adventures Under Ground’ contains 12,715 words compared to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland which was expanded by Carroll to 26,211. John Tenniel was commissioned to provide the illustrations, several of which were based on Carroll’s original sketches in the manuscript.

Turning the PagesTM

A Virtual Book (Turning the Pages) version of 'Alice’s Adventures Under Ground' is available. Go to Virtual Books

How did the manuscript come to the British Library?

Image from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures Under Ground’

'Alice's Adventures Under Ground'
British Library Add. MS 46700
Copyright © The British Library Board
A high-quality version of this image can be purchased from British Library Images Online. For more information email imagesonline@bl.uk

It was presented to the then British Museum Library in 1948 by a group of Americans, led by the Librarian of Congress, in recognition of the part played by Britain in the second world war, and it has been on display ever since.

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