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The Alice Behind Wonderland Hardcover – March 17, 2011

3.7 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (March 17, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195396197
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195396195
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 0.8 x 5.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #267,464 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Simon Winchester studied geology at Oxford and has written for Condé Nast Traveler, Smithsonian, and National Geographic. Simon Winchester's many books include The Professor and the Madman ; The Map that Changed the World ; Krakatoa; and A Crack in the Edge of the World. Each of these have both been New York Times bestsellers and appeared on numerous best and notable lists. Mr. Winchester was made Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by HM The Queen in 2006. He lives in Massachusetts and in the Western Isles of Scotland.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
I was looking forward to this book on an interesting subject, by an interesting writer. I was a little disappointed. The title suggests it is mainly about Alice Liddell, the original Alice in Wonderland, but it was mainly about Charles Dodgson and early photography, with Alice as his principal model. The chief flaw of the book is that it describes in detail many photographs, but includes only the one that is on the cover of the book. If the book included all the photographs he described it would have been much more enjoyable. It is also quite short, perhaps a couple of hours read, so frustrating for anyone assuming a more detailed book.
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Format: Hardcover
The first thing to note about this book is that the title is misleading. You might imagine that it is primarily about the original Alice. In fact, there is far more about the history of photography, and about the Carroll collector M. L. Parrish, than about Alice.

That in itself is not a serious fault. Far more serious are the very many errors of fact. I list just a few; there are plenty more. He did not live in Tom Quad in 1856; he moved there in 1868 (p.11). His parents were first cousins, not third cousins (p.12). His back-garden railway was at Croft, not Daresbury (pp.12-13). Not all of his home-made magazines survive (p.18). Charles arrived at Oxford 30, not 40, years after his father graduated (p.19). Henrietta was seven, not four, when Carroll's mother died (p.20). He refers to "a magazine that for some inexplicable reason was called the Train" (p.27); the reasons for its name are well-known. Similarly, it is well known why Dodgson suggested the name Edgar Cuthwellis (p.29) - it is an anagram of his first two names, Charles Lutwidge. Maybe these errors are minor, but they could all have been avoided by reading the books that the author himself recommends for further reading. It does mean that it is difficult to trust any statement in the book without checking it.

The climax of the book describes Carroll taking the cover photo, of Alice as a beggar. "Is Mrs. Liddell watching? Is Lorina in the garden? And Edith? ... Would anyone care that Dodgson then reached behind the little girl's hair and adjusted the off-white garment about her shoulders, such that it fell slightly from her left and exposed only just entirely her left nipple?" (p.
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Format: Hardcover
The book is packed with mistakes. It can't go well for a book when the author doesn't even know how to pronounce the last names of his two main subjects. "Liddell" (Alice's last name) rhymes with "riddle," and is not pronounced with an accent on the last syllable. Carroll puns on the name sounding like "little" in at least two places in Wonderland. Winchester pronounces the name wrong in the video on this site, and, if I hear correctly, he pronounces Dodgson (Carroll's real last name) wrong as well. Carroll did not pronounce the g; it was pronounced "DODson." He states that Princeton owns the only two copies of the photograph. This is not true. He is misinterpreting Edward Wakeling's recreation of Carroll's photographic Register, a list of all of Carroll's photographs. Wakeling says he is only listing one location even if there are more locations for a photograph. Winchester has Carroll living in his final rooms at Christ Church throughout his entire life at Oxford. Carroll moved around several times and was not in his famous rooms even when he wrote Wonderland, well after he took the photograph of Alice as the Beggar Maid. Winchester doesn't realize that two pennames that Carroll submitted to an editor are anagrams of "Charles Lutwridge" (Lutwidge was his middle name and mother's last name). Winchester writes that the photographic plate must be prepared in "pitch dark" but later in the book writes in "near-total darkness." I believe the latter is correct.
Winchester does not understand how a view camera works. He writes that the whole of the camera needs to be brought into the darkroom for the plate to be inserted. But he writes that there is an "ingenious flap" and so only the negative frame need be brought back in the darkroom for development.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Simon Windchester is one of my favorite authors. I read anything he writes. This little story is well researched and well written. Winchester wrote a biography of the author of Alice in Wonderland,Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll. The story is really about Dodgson's love of photography and is full of descriptions of photographs. Alas, there are no photographs in the book. Other than that it is a good story.
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Format: Hardcover
"What if"and"let's imagine"are phrases that consistently pop up in Simon Winchester's short agenda-driven book on Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson(Lewis Carroll)...These phrases usually occur when Winchester tries to explain away inconsistencies in his notion that A)Dodgson's preference for photographing little girls(often nude or nearly so)was no big deal and B)that the unexplained and very sudden cooling of the relationship between the Liddells and Dodgson had little or nothing to do with this interest on the part of Dodgson.
Further,and despite the many many books that carefully suggest otherwise Winchester chooses only one book,published in the late 1990s to support his viewpoint,and the data in that book is not direct but second hand,and second hand opinion at that.Winchester concedes that quite a bit of the material written by Dodgson himself during the period in which he was involved with the Liddells had been deliberately destroyed and with the knowledge of the very people upon whom Winchester relies to bail Dodgson's questionable reputation out,that is to say Dodgson's own family.How odd then that while his surviving relatives chose to leave the bulk of his journals and personal writings intact they made it a point to destroy all evidence of his personal writings from this crucial period and then chose to substitute their "recollections"in place of what they themselves destroyed.How much more curious that Winchester chooses to give credence to these recollections as if they represent a final say on the matter,.
Victorian middle and upper-class families are quite often described as living life under a double-standard.Prim and conservative on the outside they are often described as vice-ridden in secret.
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