A look back at the life of a famous child –

Alice Pleasance Liddell by Charles Dodgson

I haven’t done any blogging for a week or two because I’ve been on holiday, first in the New Forest, then in Belgium and the Netherlands. Wherever I go, I can’t help looking for literary connections. A few years ago, at Winchester, it was Jane Austen [she is buried there]. This year, in the small country town of Lyndhurst, I found the connection to another writer, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better know by his pen name Lewis Carroll.

Lewis Carroll spent almost his entire adult life in Oxford, teaching mathematics, writing poems and stories and taking photographs. He published his most famous work, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in 1865. The sequel, Through the Looking Glass, followed in 1871.

Carroll’s connection with Lyndhurst is indirect, but not without literary interest. At Oxford in 1856, he became friends with the Liddell family. Henry Liddell, formerly the head of Westminster School had recently been appointed Dean of Christ Church College. Liddell and his wife, Lorina, had ten children of whom the fourth, a daughter, was named Alice Pleasance Liddell.

Born in 1852, Alice was to become the inspiration (though this is disputed by some scholars! **) for Lewis Carroll’s young heroine. This was how I introduced the story in my 2016 book, It’s A Fantasy World:

“On St Aldate’s, a picturesque road in the centre of Oxford, England, and across from Christchurch meadow lies a very special shop. Here, according to the story, a little girl called Alice Liddell, daughter of the Dean of Christchurch, used to shop for sweets with her younger siblings. The building in which the shop is housed is five centuries old and today sells gifts and memorabilia of a literary phenomenon that first appeared in 1865 and has enthralled children of all ages ever since.

“[Dodgson] used to go on outings with the Liddell children. He photographed them – he was a talented photographer – and told them stories which he made up for their amusement. In 1862, Alice enjoyed one story so much that she persuaded Dodgson to write it down. He did so, took the name Lewis Carroll, and the rest is history.

“Even without the benefits of modern marketing techniques, Alice was a sensation and for 150 years it has never been out of print…. Through the Looking Glass has been almost equally popular. And it is Chapter 5 of that novel which takes us finally into the shop in St Aldate’s:

 ” ‘Alice rubbed her eyes, and looked again . . . she was in a little dark shop, leaning with her elbows on the counter, and opposite to her was an old Sheep, sitting in an arm-chair knitting . . .’ “

Alice Liddell lived a long life and would become the inspiration for other books. In 1880, at Westminster Abbey, she married Hampshire and MCC cricketer Reginald Hargreaves and settled down with him at Cuffnells, a country house at Lyndhurst. They had three sons. Sadly, the two elder boys were killed in World War I.

There are many photographs of Alice, in childhood, youth and old age, to be found in books and on the internet. Two (one of them is reproduced above) taken by Lewis Carroll himself, are among the best.

Alice Hargreaves at 80 by W Coulbourn Brown

Alice Pleasance Liddell Hargreaves died in 1934. Her ashes are buried in a grave in Lyndhurst churchyard which attracts many visitors.


** Now - about those scholars ...

I always like to make up my own mind and, in this case,
I have no doubts about Carroll's intentions. If you are
familiar with Through The Looking Glass, you will know that
it ends with a poem --

A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July -
Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,

Pleased a simple tale to hear -
Long had paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die.
Autumn frosts have slain July.
Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.
Children yet, the tale to hear
Eager eye and willing ear,

Lovingly shall settle near.
In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die
Ever drifting down the stream
Lingering in the golden gleam
Life, what is it but a dream?’

Scanning downwards, you will notice that the first letters
of the lines spell the name 'Alice Pleasance Liddell'.


[Photographs courtesy of Wikipedia Commons]

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