Glimpses of Alice

By Meredith Mann, Specialist II
January 21, 2015
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

To celebrate Lewis Carroll’s upcoming birthday—and my un-birthday!—let’s venture down the rabbit hole to explore depictions of Alice, his most famous creation, here at The New York Public Library.

Photograph of Alice Liddell, taken by Lewis Carroll, Berg Collection of English and American Literature

Photograph of Alice Liddell, taken by Lewis Carroll. Berg Collection of English and American Literature.

Lewis Carroll, the writing pseudonym of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, conceived of Alice’s story as an entertainment for Lorina, Alice, and Edith Liddell, daughters of Oxford colleague Henry Liddell and his wife, also named Lorina. He presented the handwritten manuscript to namesake Alice Liddell as a Christmas present in 1864. The manuscript is now in the British Museum, but the George Arents Collection holds a facsimile that shows us Carroll’s very first sketches of the adventurous Alice.

Facsimile of original Alice manuscript, with Carroll’s illustrations. In the published version, Alice’s croquet mallet was changed from an ostrich to a flamingo.

Once Carroll decided to publish his story, he secured the talents of Sir John Tenniel to provide its illustrations. Tenniel’s drawings were made into wood engravings by George and Edward Dalziel; these engravings were then electrotyped and printed in the first edition of the text. Supremely unhappy with the quality of the printing, Carroll and Tenniel suppressed this 1865 edition, making it now quite rare. In 1987-1988, Jonathan Stephenson of The Rocket Press used the original wood blocks, which had rather miraculously survived, to print fresh, high-quality illustrations. These were carefully prepared with underlays and overlays—called make-ready in printer’s parlance—in order to capture the detail and artistry of Tenniel and the Dalziels’ work. Unfortunately for Tenniel’s professional integrity, Alice’s London publishers were left with thousands of sheets of the suppressed first edition and sold them off to New York’s D. Appleton and Company, who slapped new title pages on top and sold them as the first American edition. Fortunately for us, that means we can now see the suppressed illustrations next to their fine press reprints!

A suppressed illustration to the first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published in the first American edition, left, next to its recent fine press reprinting, right. The too-heavy inking and impressing is most noticeable in Alice’s face, whi

The Rare Book Division holds several copies of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass. These range from 1866 to 1988 and appear in English, French, German, and Italian. A handful are presentation copies from Carroll to his friends, including Effie Millais, wife of John Ruskin and John Everett Millais. One is even signed by Alice herself—now with the married surname of Hargreaves.

A presentation copy of the first German edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, left, and Alice Liddell Hargreaves’ signature in the Limited Editions Club’s edition, right

Since Alice’s first publication in 1865, many illustrators have tried their hand at depicting its heroine—Arthur Rackham, Salvador Dalí, and Ralph Steadman have all had a go—though Tenniel’s version remains indelibly linked to the text in most readers’ minds. In a 1929 edition, artist Willy Pogany lent his interpretation; his Alice has a flapper bob and an unflappable countenance as she navigates the madness of Wonderland. Pogany’s illustrations spill over onto the book’s decorative endpapers, which group all of Carroll’s characters together in a riot of color.

Decorative endpapers for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by Willy Pogany

It’s hard to discuss Alice illustrations without mentioning the Pennyroyal Press’ edition of 1982, which comes from our collection of private press printing. Barry Moser used wood engraving, the same process as John Tenniel, to produce illustrations that feel more mysterious and even sinister than most interpretations. As Moser himself put it, “I have tried to keep the illustrations weird (yet reasonable), and grotesque (yet humorous), but I have not tried to make them pretty or graceful.” My favorite depiction is probably the Cheshire Cat, but it’s hard to argue with the haunting portrait of Alice that closes out the volume. Moser used his own daughter as a model because he thought she resembled a young Alice Liddell—what do you think?

Wood engraving of the Cheshire Cat by Barry Moser, from the Pennyroyal Press’ Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Wood engraving of Alice by Barry Moser, from the Pennyroyal Press’ Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Whether you’re at home or in one of our research or branch libraries, NYPL has a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland ready for you. Just imagine a tag from Lewis Carroll bearing the instructions “READ ME.”

First image courtesy Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, New York Public Library. All other images: Rare Book Division. New York Public Library. Astor, Lenox, Tilden Foundations.

Watch curator Leonard Marcus discuss Alice in the 2014 exhibition, The ABC of It.