From Publishers Weekly
Winchester (The Professor and the Madman) explores the story behind Alice in Wonderland by focusing on an 1858 portrait taken by the eccentric Charles Dodgson-best known by his pen-name, Lewis Carroll. The subject of the photo is six-year-old Alice Liddell, the daughter of the dean of Oxford's Christ Church College who, encouraged by Dodgson, is dressed as a ragged beggar-maid-a costume inspired by a Tennyson poem. The dean's daughter provided Dodgson with not only the name and inspiration for the main character of his now infamous book but she also asked him to write it as a gift for her. Winchester's overall tone is unfortunately self-indulgent, and his take that Alice is seductive and coquettish in the 1858 photo is questionable. He stretches his brief essay with the differences between daguerreotype and calotype photographic images while skimping on Dodgson's relationship with Alice's mother. Readers will more likely be interested in Winchester's benign interpretation of Dodgson's character than his preoccupation with one particular photograph.
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The prolific, critically acclaimed Winchester (The River at the Center of the World, 1996; The Professor and the Madman, 1998; Krakatoa, 2003; etc.) describes his latest book as �the photographic backstory of the Alice in Wonderland saga.� As such, it is not only a thoughtful examination of Dodgson�s many celebrated photographs of Alice Liddell, the girl who was the inspiration for his famous fantasy, but also a brief history of the development of photography in the nineteenth century and Dodgson�s keen interest in it. While there is little that is new here about Dodgson�s curious life and eccentricities, the background material about photography will be unfamiliar to many readers. Happily, it is illuminating, and even its more technical aspects are made interesting and accessible by Winchester�s always elegant writing. The book concludes on a melancholy note, with a brief summary of the many sadnesses of Alice�s adult life and her lonely death. --Michael Cart