Few people realise that the Alice in Wonderland stories created by Lewis Carroll back in the 19th century changed the way that children’s books were perceived. Before that they were purely educational and treated them as little adults. After this it became acceptable for them to be entertaining and playful. This and many other valuable snippets are shared at the British Library’s Alice in London Exhibition which celebrates the 150th anniversary of its publication.
It also provides a background to his earlier life as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a mathematician and Anglican deacon who then changed his name by jiggling letters about, re-spelling it in Latin until he came up with Lewis Carroll (doesn’t sound very Latinized does it?). Also there is great emphasis on his working relationship with illustrator John Tenniel, a contributor to satirical magazine Punch, whose work was essential in creating the Wonderland characterisation.
Exhibits include copies by unscrupulous authors exploiting its popularity after the book’s copyright ran out in 1907. Mabel in Rhymeland was one such book. They’ve obviously put a lot of work into the title! Even before that in 1865 family friend Christina Rossetti wrote the aptly titled a Speaking Likeness which had more than a passing similarity. Again was she admitting this in the book’s title? Well anyway an interesting way to repay his growing relationship and shared confidences with the Pre-Raphaelite Rossetti family.
And from the Pre-Raphaelites to the surrealists! Salvador Dali’s ‘Alice Meeting The Caterpillar’ lithographs for Maecenas Press also show how the book’s fantastical adventures and crazy characters influenced and inspired the dreamers, Dadists and surrealists. History certainly speaks loud here. From antique spinning tops to collector’s items such as jigsaws the commodification of Alice permeates every time period until we get to that familiar cartoon Disney Alice we all recognise.
The Alice in Wonderland exhibition is on at the British Library until April 17. Admission to the exhibition is free.