2015 marks the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The beloved children’s book was written in 1865 and tells the tale of a little girl named Alice who finds herself in a fantasy world inhabited by anthropomorphic beings, like the caterpillar who smokes a hookah, after falling through a rabbit hole.
Lewis Carroll was the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), a writer, photographer, mathematician and lecturer at Christ Church College in Oxford. The eldest boy in a family of eleven children, he was educated at home until the age of twelve. He received a scholarship to Christ Church at age twenty where he befriended the Dean, Henry Liddell. Alice Liddell, one of Henry’s three daughters was the inspiration for Carroll’s book.
The writer and the Liddell family often picnicked together and it was during one of these outings in 1862 that he first conceived the outline for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The story went on to become a huge commercial success and was followed by a second book called Through the Looking Glass.
Every year on July 7th, the city of Oxford celebrates Alice’s Day. Alice fans can walk around Christ Church and the city of Oxford and explore the various places that were used in Carroll’s stories.
Christ Church was founded in 1524 by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. In time Wolsey became King Henry VIII’s chief adviser and rose to have great power within the church. However, he soon fell from the King’s grace after he failed to negotiate an annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Henry VIII took over Christ Church at that time and his portrait still hangs above the head table in the dining hall. It isn’t difficult to imagine the monarch screaming, “Off with her head!” when it came to the execution of his wives and this may have inspired Carroll’s Queen of Hearts who uttered the same phrase in the story.
The garden known as Cathedral Garden at Christ Church was in fact “Wonderland.” There is a fence and a little door which opens up to the Dean’s private garden. Alice and her sisters played in their father’s garden but were not actually allowed into the Cathedral Garden.
Further, Oxford time is set 5 minutes and 2 seconds behind Greenwich Time, meaning that 9.05 AM is 9:00 PM “Oxford Time.” This could have been the inspiration for Carroll’s White Rabbit with the pocket watch who was always late.
On St. Aldates, you will find Alice’s Shop bearing the number “83.” This shop inspired the “Old Sheep Shop” in the Through the Looking Glass novel and it was the very shop where the real Alice bought her sweets.
If you surrender to your imagination while wondering through Oxford, you will be able to see where Carroll got his inspiration for his madcap children’s tale. The interesting aspect is that the story was not just a fabrication of an overly imaginative writer but inspired by real people and real things.
Web page: http://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/visiting/alice