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Alice And The True Story Behind A Popular Fantasy

This article is more than 7 years old.

One-hundred-and-fifty-years after Alice fell down the rabbit hole, we look again at "Alice in Wonderland," and the girl who inspired its author, Lewis Carroll.

A photographic portrait of Alice Liddell (~1860), included in in the original edition of "Alice Adventures Underground." (Lewis Carroll / Creative Commons)
A photographic portrait of Alice Liddell (~1860), included in in the original edition of "Alice Adventures Underground." (Lewis Carroll / Creative Commons)

For “Alice in Wonderland” and the rabbit-hole and his world of make-believe, author Lewis Carroll has been called the godfather of virtual reality. One-hundred and fifty years ago, he unleashed the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts and the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat – and, above all, Alice. The young girl whose imagination was set free, and took the world’s with it. And then came Peter Pan, Middle Earth, Hogwarts, League of Legends. The back story? An uptight Oxford mathematician. A real girl - Alice.  And a different age. This hour On Point: the Victorian Age. Inside “Alice in Wonderland.”
-- Tom Ashbrook


Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, professor of English literature at the University of Oxford. Author of the new book, "The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland." Also author of "Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist."

Carolyn Vega, curator at the Morgan Library and Museum, where she curated the upcoming "Alice: 150 years of Wonderland" exhibit.

From Tom’s Reading List

New Yorker: Go Ask Alice — "Who reads “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”? The answer used to be: Anyone who can read. From the tangled tale of mass literacy one can pluck a few specific objects—books that were to be found in every household where there was somebody who could read and people who wanted to listen."

The Wall Street Journal: Through the Looking-Glass — "In Wonderland, marvelous change is the norm: Alice grows and shrinks; a baby turns into a pig; a Cheshire Cat appears and disappears, leaving in its wake a knowing grin. It would be tempting to find a stable moral in this world of infinite possibility, if the Duchess hadn’t already provided a memorable one to Alice about living virtually: 'And the moral of that is, ‘Be what you would seem to be’—or, if you’d like it put more simply—‘Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.’”

Washington Post: Robert Douglas-Fairhurst offers a masterful biography of Lewis Carroll — "Was the writer drawn to little girls in a pedophilic way? It’s impossible to say for sure, but probably not. None of his child-friends, even when grown up, ever suggested that he took liberties. Carroll was serious in his religious beliefs, valued innocence as an essential part of childhood and was conscientious to avoid any possible misinterpretation of his fondness for the Liddell sisters or their successors."

Read An Excerpt Of "The Story Of Alice" By Robert Douglas-Fairhurst

This program aired on June 16, 2015.


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