‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ was first published 1865 and its sequel ‘Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There’ in 1871. It was published three years after Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and the Reverend Robinson Duckworth rowed in a boat with the three young daughters of Henry Liddell (the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University and Dean of Christ Church). One of them, Alice Liddell, was his closest friend and he wrote it to amuse her.
The English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson wrote it under the pseudonym Lewis Carrol. He was a writer, Photographer, talented Mathematician, Logician and Anglican Deacon. He suffered from a stammer and was a little deaf in his right ear, he also had arthritis and suffered from migraines . All these problems affected his life and were reflected in his book.
It is said that he appears in Alice in Wonderland as the dodo (Due to his stammer he pronounced his name as “Do Dodgson”). It’s probable that to relieve his terrible migraines he took Laudanum, a medicine ( Opium, Saffon, white wine) which caused hallucinogenic visions. Drugs and psychedelic visions appear a lot in Alice: Alice takes a mushroom which makes her grow or decrease, this shows a neurologic disordered called micropsia and macropsia or Alice in Wonderland Syndrome often caused by drug consumption. We can also see the Caterpillar smoking a hookah which could be opium, which was legal in Victorian times.
I have explained how Dodgson ‘s life is shown in the book but Alice in Wonderland has lots of interesting facts to comment on:
- We can see an eccentric hatter ( usually called The Mad Hatter) In the XIX century the hat makers suffered from a common disease ( madness) caused by mercury poisoning, mercury was used to cure the felt in the hats. That’s where the phrase “ as mad as a hatter” comes from.
- Carroll had a preference for little girls. He made friends with many of them and even photographed them nude on beaches. This has been controversial even when he was living. He considered the girls’ body as the most beautiful and a work of art. Alice Liddell's parents didn’t let him be near their daughter at the end.
- Carroll researched natural history for the animals presented in the book, and then had the book examined by other children. He added his own illustrations but the published illustrations were by John Tenniel .
- The Lizard may be a play on the name of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli
- Since Carroll was a mathematician at Christ Church, there are many references and mathematical concepts in this story: the concept of “limits”, “inverse relationship” or “combinatorics problems”
- There are lots of references to other languages like French and Latin which girls studied at that time.
- The cards painting the roses red or white refer to the War of the Roses between the Lancaster ( red) and the York ( white)
- Lots of psychological references: Getting into the unconscious ( when Alice falls down the rabbit hole), anxiety and self-demanding ( the white rabbit is always in a hurry) , Intolerance (the Queen of Hearts)
This book has influenced other authors and has inspired films, comics, cartoons, opera, ballet and musical.