The Little Girl Behind Alice in Wonderland

Have you ever wondered about the inspiration behind English author Lewis Carroll‘s famous book?

I hadn’t … until last week!

I tend to pick up (or download) books for no other reason than “Holy shit, that cover’s [insert adjective here]!”

Adorable, beautiful, confusing, interesting, maddening. For whatever reason, I judge books by their covers.

Most recently, my eye was caught by this one:

Via blog.abramsbooks.com.

Via blog.abramsbooks.com.

It’s a wonderful YA novel about a girl named Alyssa who finds herself in a darker, more modern version of Wonderland, meeting and battling characters based on Lewis Carroll’s classic ones.

Spoiler alert: Spiders!!

But why does Alyssa find herself in Wonderland? Well, she just happens to be a descendant of Alice Liddell, Carroll’s real-life Alice inspiration. Say what?

Doesn't it look like this photo of Alice was the inspiration for the Splintered cover? What a great depiction of the spirit of Alice!

Doesn’t it look like this photo of Alice was the inspiration for the Splintered cover?
What a great depiction of the spirit of Alice!

There’s nothing I love more than a novel that plays off of historical facts! So I couldn’t help but explore the history of Alice Liddell. Here’s what I found:

She was the sister of a friend of Carroll’s. (Psst! Carroll’s real name is Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Yeah, I’d use a pen name, too.)

It’s said that Dodgson (a reverend) first told the Wonderland story to 10-year-old Alice and her sisters in 1862 while on a boat trip up the part of the River Thames called the Isis. Sounds magical, doesn’t it?

She's the one on the right. Via wikipedia.org.

She’s the one on the right.
Via wikipedia.org.

Alice was one of 10 kids, but it was she who asked Dodgson to tell a story. (Spunky little girl!) So it was that she became the eponymous character and later received an early version of the story written down.

(As an old woman she sold that manuscript for £15,400. Cha-ching!)

Despite being turned into a fairy tale character, Alice Liddell turned out super normal. She grew up and married a cricket player (true celebrity status, right there!) and had kids of her own. But she always denied that her youngest son’s name, Caryl, had anything to do with Dodgson’s pen name.

Via tumblr.com.

Via tumblr.com.

Of course, Dodgson himself never revealed where his inspiration came from. There was plenty of speculation about many of his characters being based on his real-life acquaintances. Some people think the Queen of Hearts was based on a Liddell family governess.

Not sure I’d want to be the inspiration for any of Dodgson’s characters …

Via tumblr.com.

Via tumblr.com.

There are plenty of people who are skeptical about the source of Dodgson’s interest in little Alice. (A lot of the old photos of the Liddells were taken by Dodgson himself, an aspiring photographer, which of course just fueled hateful rumors.) But I’m innocent and 12 years old at heart, so let’s just push all accusations of pedophilia aside.

There was a rift between Dodgson and the Liddell family in the summer of 1863, for reasons unknown. (The page in Dodgson’s diary that would most likely tell the story was torn out by the time historians got around to wanting to know!) One speculation is that he was using the kids to get to their governess.

All I know is: Alice Liddell seems like one cool, spunky little girl!

Via wikipedia.org.

Via wikipedia.org.

A little girl worthy of fairy tales!

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  1. Good stuff…although I lean toward the darker explanation of his friendliness with the family…although the governess was a looker, I’m told…

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