On 26th November 1862, Oxford mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson sends a handwritten manuscript called Alice's Adventures Under Ground to 10-year-old Alice Liddell.
About the author
The 30-year-old Dodgson, better known by his nom de plume Lewis Carroll, made up the story one day on a picnic with young Alice and her two sisters, the children of one of Dodgson's colleagues. Dodgson, the son of a country parson, had been brilliant at both mathematics and wordplay since childhood, when he enjoyed making up games. However, he suffered from a severe stammer, except when he spoke with children. He had many young friends who enjoyed his fantastic stories: The Liddell children thought his tale of a girl who falls down a rabbit hole was one of his best efforts, and Alice insisted he write it down.
During a visit to the Liddells, English novelist Henry Kingsley happened to notice the manuscript. After reading it, he suggested to Mrs. Liddell that it be published. Dodgson published the book at his own expense, under the name Lewis Carroll, in 1865. This is how one of the earliest children's books written simply to amuse children, not to teach them made it to the market.
The book's sequel, Through the Looking Glass, was published in 1871. Dodgson's other works, including a poetry collection called Phantasmagoria and Other Poems, and another children's book, Sylvia and Bruno, did not gain the same enduring popularity as the Alice books. Dodgson died in 1898.
About the book
The manuscript was illustrated by Dodgson himself who added 37 illustrations—printed in a facsimile edition in 1887. John Tenniel provided 42 wood engraved illustrations for the published version of the book.
Macmillan printed around 2,000 copies of the book in 1865, but both artist and author were unhappy with the poor quality printing and insisted it was reprinted before being published. Only two dozen or so copies of the 1865 first issue exist: As it turned out, the original edition was sold with Dodgson's permission to the New York publishing house of Appleton who published a US edition using a new title page but with the first printing sheets from the London edition.
A new edition, released in December of the same year, but carrying an 1866 date, was quickly printed.
The book received poor reviews with reviewers giving more credit to Tenniel's illustrations than to Carroll’s story. It was not until the end of the 19th century that it was officially recognised the book “of that extremely rare kind which will belong to all the generations to come until the language becomes obsolete”
But the young readers loved the book. Among its first avid readers were Queen Victoria and the young Oscar Wilde.
Since then the book has never been out of print. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has been translated into at least 97 languages. There have now been over a hundred editions of the book, as well as countless adaptations in other media, especially theatre and film.
The early editions remain in great demand in the highly competitive book collectors market with inscribed copies being particularly scarce.
1872 Macmillan edition Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland inscribed and dated to Edith Mary Alice Berkeley on 15 May 1880
A letter signed from Dodgson to "Mr Bowles", presumably Thomas Gibson Bowles (1841-1922), the talented journalist and publisher who founded the magazines 'Vanity Fair' and 'The Lady'. Dodgson asks Bowles to consider an enclosed piece and asks him to "make no allusion to "Lewis Carroll"!".
Another long and interesting letter from Dodgson to Thomas Gibson Bowles. Dodgson rather eloquently apologises for his late reply and declines an invitation from Bowles, explaining that "for some years [he had] practically retired from society" and that "visits use up a great deal of vital force". He also enquires whether Bowles is still interested in Dodgson providing work for 'The Lady's' "Children's Corner".