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  • Another Wonderland:Lewis Carroll's The Nursery "Alice"
  • Morton N. Cohen (bio)

In 1865, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, Oxford mathematics don, using his pen name Lewis Carroll, published his first children's book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Six years later, around Christmas time 1871, he published its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. Then, almost ten years after that, on February 15, 1881, he was struck with an idea for yet another Alice book. He immediately sent off a letter to his London publisher about it, and five days later summarized his thoughts in his diary : ". . . wrote to Macmillan, to suggest a new idea—a 'Nursery Edition' of Alice with pictures printed in colours, to be larger and thinner than the original, with a selection of the text and of the pictures, and to sell for about 2s. I fancy such a book would have a sale of its own, and would not at all interfere with the sale of the complete 6s edition."1

But Dodgson was a busy man, and nothing much came of the notion for some time. On March 29, 1885, over four years later, he wrote in his diary: "Never before have I had so many literary projects on hand at once. For curiosity I will here make a list of them." The Nursery "Alice" came ninth in a list of fifteen (with other "shadowy ideas" added at the end). But Dodgson noted that "20 pictures are now being coloured by Mr. Tenniel" for the nursery volume (pp. 433-34).

On April 13 of that year, Dodgson went to London and called on his publisher to talk about "3 books now on hand," one of which he described as "the coloured 'A' " (p. 434 and manuscript diary). And on July 10, he recorded that "Mr. Tenniel has finished the coloured pictures for The Nursery 'Alice'" (p. 437). Then came another long pause, lasting three more years. At last, with Tenniel's coloured pictures before him, Dodgson, having left Oxford to spend the Christmas holiday with his family in Guildford, Surrey, noted on December 28, that he "began text of 'Nursery Alice' " (p. 466). On February 20 of the new year (1889), he wrote in his diary that he "sent off last bit of MS. for The Nursery 'Alice'" (p. 468).

Five years had already passed since Dodgson had his first thoughts about the volume, but his problems with the project were only just beginning. Moving from manuscript to an acceptable printed book was itself to make a tangled tale of enormous complexity. Selwyn Goodacre, the Carroll bibliographer, has found as many as five variants with the publication [End Page 120] date 1889 on the tide page and three with 1890.2 Dodgson's uncompromising standards and repeated production problems are together responsible for these different versions.

When Dodgson first saw the printed drawings for The Nursery "Alice," he was appalled, and on June 23, 1889, wrote to his publisher complaining that they were "far too bright and gaudy."3 Because he had promised copies of the book to friends and acquaintances, not least of all Princess Alice, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, he ordered a few copies printed in brown ink only for his private use. And on July 1, 1889, he wrote to the Princess's mother, the Duchess of Albany, explaining: "I send The Nursery 'Alice' in brown ink only, because the coloured edition has turned out a failure, and will have to be printed again. The new edition will be out by Christmas, I hope: and I will then send a copy for the little Princess—trusting that she will not object to possessing both kinds!"4

The colored book became available by Easter 1890, and Dodgson, finally approving, recorded on March 25 in his diary that, although he had been laid up for a week with an ailing left knee, he had "managed to go to London to write in over 100 copies of The Nursery 'Alice'" for his publisher to send off to friends. Princess Alice, now seven years old, must have been one of the recipients, for a letter survives from her in which...


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