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The Alice Behind Wonderland [Hardcover]

Simon Winchester
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

March 14 2011
In the summer of 1858, in a garden behind Christ Church in Oxford, Charles Dodgson - better known by his pseudonym Lewis Carroll - dressed the six-year-old Alice Liddell in ragamuffin's clothes, draped the folds of cloth low enough to expose her bare chest, asked her to look deep into his eyes - and then snapped the camera's shutter. In The Alice Behind Wonderland, Simon Winchester uses the famous photograph of Alice - notorious for the child's alluring pose - as the launching pad for an energetic and penetrating look at the inspiration behind, and the making of, one of the greatest classics of children's literature: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Indeed, Winchester shows that it was Dodgson's photographic love affair with Alice that transformed this shy and half-deaf mathematician into one of the world's best-loved writers. Equally important, this photograph offers a window into Dodgson's troubled Victorian's mind and soul; it is a picture imbued with more meaning thanits appearance would suggest. Much like the fictional Alice's world, as the photograph is subject to closer examination, it becomes nothing short of curiouser and curiouser. Alice Liddell as The Beggar Maid was, in short, the muse that would inspire the creation of Alice in Wonderland. Deftly engaging with Dogson's published writings, private diaries, and photography, Winchester weaves together the poignant, turbulent, and entirely fascinating story behind Lewis Carroll and the making of hisAlice.

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Review

Acclaim for Simon Winchester: "An exceptionally engaging guide at home everywhere, ready for anything, full of gusto and seemingly omnivorous curiosity." --Pico Iyer, The New York Times Book Review

"A master at telling a complex story compellingly and lucidly." --USA Today

"Extraordinarily graceful." --Time

"Winchester is an exquisite writer and a deft anecdoteur." --Christopher Buckley

"A lyrical writer and an indefatigable researcher." --Newsweek

About the Author

Simon Winchester is the author of The Professor and the Madman, The Map that Changed the World, Krakatoa, and A Crack in the Edge of the World. Each of these have been New York Times bestsellers and appeared on numerous best and notable booklists. In recognition of his accomplished body of work, Winchester was made Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2006. He lives in Massachusetts and in the Western Isles of Scotland.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I anticipated a story of Lewis Carroll's Alice and instead got a fascinating review of the life and work of Carroll (AKA Charles Dodgson). Well researched by Winchester the book also gives a short history of early photography. An excellent, but short, read.
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a little disappointing March 11 2011
By Nancy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
I was looking forward to this book on an interesting subject, by an interesting writer. I was a little disappointed. The title suggests it is mainly about Alice Liddell, the original Alice in Wonderland, but it was mainly about Charles Dodgson and early photography, with Alice as his principal model. The chief flaw of the book is that it describes in detail many photographs, but includes only the one that is on the cover of the book. If the book included all the photographs he described it would have been much more enjoyable. It is also quite short, perhaps a couple of hours read, so frustrating for anyone assuming a more detailed book.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Avoid this book April 15 2012
By Michael Baxter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The first thing to note about this book is that the title is misleading. You might imagine that it is primarily about the original Alice. In fact, there is far more about the history of photography, and about the Carroll collector M. L. Parrish, than about Alice.

That in itself is not a serious fault. Far more serious are the very many errors of fact. I list just a few; there are plenty more. He did not live in Tom Quad in 1856; he moved there in 1868 (p.11). His parents were first cousins, not third cousins (p.12). His back-garden railway was at Croft, not Daresbury (pp.12-13). Not all of his home-made magazines survive (p.18). Charles arrived at Oxford 30, not 40, years after his father graduated (p.19). Henrietta was seven, not four, when Carroll's mother died (p.20). He refers to "a magazine that for some inexplicable reason was called the Train" (p.27); the reasons for its name are well-known. Similarly, it is well known why Dodgson suggested the name Edgar Cuthwellis (p.29) - it is an anagram of his first two names, Charles Lutwidge. Maybe these errors are minor, but they could all have been avoided by reading the books that the author himself recommends for further reading. It does mean that it is difficult to trust any statement in the book without checking it.

The climax of the book describes Carroll taking the cover photo, of Alice as a beggar. "Is Mrs. Liddell watching? Is Lorina in the garden? And Edith? ... Would anyone care that Dodgson then reached behind the little girl's hair and adjusted the off-white garment about her shoulders, such that it fell slightly from her left and exposed only just entirely her left nipple?" (p.85) Needless to say, there is not a scrap of evidence that this piece of child molestation actually occurred in the way the author describes.

The acknowledgements mention Carroll authority Edward Wakeling. Mr. Wakeling says "It's one of the worst books on Carroll I have ever read - mistakes from beginning to end. He gives a fulsome acknowledgement to me, totally unjustified because I had nothing whatsoever to do with this book. I offered him help but he declined."

Mr. Winchester ends by recommending Morton Cohen's biography. It's one of the few times I found myself agreeing with him.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good story but alas no pictures April 26 2011
By Grandma - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Simon Windchester is one of my favorite authors. I read anything he writes. This little story is well researched and well written. Winchester wrote a biography of the author of Alice in Wonderland,Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll. The story is really about Dodgson's love of photography and is full of descriptions of photographs. Alas, there are no photographs in the book. Other than that it is a good story.
48 of 68 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Packed with Errors March 12 2011
By Matthew Demakos - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The book is packed with mistakes. It can't go well for a book when the author doesn't even know how to pronounce the last names of his two main subjects. "Liddell" (Alice's last name) rhymes with "riddle," and is not pronounced with an accent on the last syllable. Carroll puns on the name sounding like "little" in at least two places in Wonderland. Winchester pronounces the name wrong in the video on this site, and, if I hear correctly, he pronounces Dodgson (Carroll's real last name) wrong as well. Carroll did not pronounce the g; it was pronounced "DODson." He states that Princeton owns the only two copies of the photograph. This is not true. He is misinterpreting Edward Wakeling's recreation of Carroll's photographic Register, a list of all of Carroll's photographs. Wakeling says he is only listing one location even if there are more locations for a photograph. Winchester has Carroll living in his final rooms at Christ Church throughout his entire life at Oxford. Carroll moved around several times and was not in his famous rooms even when he wrote Wonderland, well after he took the photograph of Alice as the Beggar Maid. Winchester doesn't realize that two pennames that Carroll submitted to an editor are anagrams of "Charles Lutwridge" (Lutwidge was his middle name and mother's last name). Winchester writes that the photographic plate must be prepared in "pitch dark" but later in the book writes in "near-total darkness." I believe the latter is correct.
Winchester does not understand how a view camera works. He writes that the whole of the camera needs to be brought into the darkroom for the plate to be inserted. But he writes that there is an "ingenious flap" and so only the negative frame need be brought back in the darkroom for development. I believe, and someone please correct me if I am wrong, that the whole of the camera need never be brought in the darkroom. He also has Carroll under the "black velvet shroud" while the plate is in the camera. Of course, once the plate is in you cannot see anything at the back of the camera anymore, it is blocked. He also has things out of order, the subject and picture are all arranged before the photographer prepares the plate, not after. This comes off especially bad for Winchester because these errors take place while he is fictionalizing two photographic sessions, which naturally make the fictionalizing much worse.
It is true that Carroll noted in his diary the number of boat trips Ina, Alice's older sister, took at one point. But he uses this out of context. It is also true that Carroll marked one day with a "White Stone" (a way he marked special days in his diary) when Alice was about. But this is also used out of context, as if it only refers to Alice.
He writes that exposure times could be as long as 45 seconds, a common statement in papers on Lewis Carroll, to be honest. But this is like saying a baseball team can score as many as 23 runs in one ballgame to someone who doesn't know anything about the game. It says nothing about the norm. Carroll is on record as taking one at 90 seconds and 45 seconds and 10 seconds. The first two, however, are mentioned because they are long and outrageous. Winchester writes that "neck braces and tie-downs" (to hold sitters in position) were not used in the wet-plate process. Not true. Braces, or head-rests were used and you can see a head-rest in many (5 or 6?) of Carroll's photographs. Carroll even mentions buying a "head-rest" as late as 1876. And of course, you can see head-rests in the illustrations for a poem Carroll wrote about a photographer ("Hiawatha's Photographing), which Winchester himself mentions and quotes.
Winchester gives Duckworth's account of how Alice asked Carroll to write out the story the day of the trip and that Carroll began writing, in part, that night. Winchester even has Carroll writing it out as we see it today in facsimile. But Duckworth's account (he was the other adult on the boat that famous day) goes against Carroll's diaries and Alice's account that she gave later in her life (without the knowledge of Carroll's diary). Carroll and the older Alice have the younger Alice asking the next day (when they met at a train station) and Carroll writing them out on the train to London. Winchester does write "According to Duckworth" but clearly it should not even be brought up, being obviously a romanticized account.
Winchester says Under Ground is 15,500 words (it is 12, 772 or so) and that Wonderland is almost double (it is more than double). He says that Alice naming her son "Caryl" was "her only public acknowledgment of her connection." But I've always read that she denied this.
It is the nature of photography that we hardly ever see the actual photographs but see reprints only. His bit about this photo being rarely seen in the library at Princeton makes for an ineffective framing device. (He opens and closes the book with this idea.) Also, he loses points because it is not only at Princeton as he writes, as mentioned above. He wants that Da Vinci Code mystique of having a rare document, writing "consigned to the secure and deep darkness of the Firestone Library." But it doesn't work here at all.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Alice Behind Wonderland June 23 2012
By Deborah Spendley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
As are all of Simon Winchester's books, this was very interesting and informational. His research is amazing!I look forward to every one.
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