- The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderlandby Robert Douglas-Fairhurst
Despite its sub-title, and the author's claim in the final chapter that he has tried to untangle "the secret history of Wonderland," there are no secrets in this book (428).
Rather, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst has collected and curated a mass of material and ideas familiar in the extensive commentary on Lewis Carroll and his writing, added some fresh but by no means secret matter, and used it to tell three stories. The first is a biography of Carroll. The second is a shorter account of the life of Alice Hargreaves (née Liddell), whose friendship with Carroll when she was a girl provided the central character of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland(1865) and Through the Looking-Glass(1871). The third is the story of the afterlife of the Alice books as their words, characters, and canonical illustrations migrated into songs, plays, adaptations by Carroll's own hand ( The Nursery"Alice" of 1889, for example), imitations, movies and television, political cartoons and journalism, and advertisements.
Douglas-Fairhurst buttresses the matter of Carroll's biography with paragraphs about such topics as the demanding craft of mid-Victorian photography, the theater, the new popularity of the seaside, novels about school and university life, Victorian writing for children, and ideas about childhood. With this information he stands Carroll solidly in his time and culture. But the genesis of Lewis Carroll, he knows, lies in the rich play of Carroll's boyhood. The stories and poems, including "Jabberwocky" (1871) in his home-made magazines, the scripts for his marionette theater, the rules for his made-up railway: all display "what could happen when imaginative freedom encountered the formal restraint" of narrative structure, meter, and rhyme (40). After Carroll completed his degree at Oxford and established himself for life in rooms in Christ Church as a tutor in mathematics, he started the Alice books and took up photography. Douglas-Fairhurst extends an idea of Carol Mavor in Pleasures Taken: Performances of Sexuality and Loss in Victorian Photography(1995) to describe the formal requirements of the photographs and narratives of Carroll's maturity as ways of stopping time, of fixing his experience with Alice and other young girls within the frames of pictures and books. Putting Alice in a book that will continue to be read, Douglas-Fairhurst writes, was "a way to keep her moving. It was also a way to keep her still" (194). The fictional Alice is seven years old in Wonderland, seven and a half in Looking-Glass. That, Douglas-Fairhurst writes of Carroll, is "where he intended to keep her" (315).
The real Alice moved on to navigate the passage of puberty that Carroll saw as awkward, married Reginald Hargreaves, a man with a country-house (Cuffnells) and an [End Page 333]established place in his community, and bore three sons, two of whom were killed in the Great War. After her husband's death in 1926, Mrs. Hargreaves continued her conventional, settled life, serving on committees, driving the family Rolls-Royce into town, and managing the household and the servants of her big house before she moved to a smaller and "elegantly proportioned" house near her only surviving sister (399). Douglas-Fairhurst brings a lot of fresh information to this story—excerpts from the unpublished diary of an undergroom at Cuffnells, for example, and the license-plate number of the Rolls—and he tells it very well. The story's climax is an invitation to Mrs. Hargreaves in 1932 to come to New York and participate in—maybe preside over is a more apt phrase—a celebration of the centenary of Carroll's birth.
This celebration is an event in the afterlife of the Alice books. Zoe Jaques and Eugene Giddens in their book-length study of this topic, Lewis Carroll'sAlice's Adventures in Wonderland andThrough the Looking-Glass: A Publishing...