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150 Years of Alice in Wonderland


'Tell me a story with lots of nonsense in it...'

For Charles Dodgson it was an unusual request. An Oxford mathematician, he was known for his love of cool, clear logic in general, and euclidean geometry in particular. Nevertheless, Dodgson's alter ego, with the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, had an imagination that didn't just fly, it soared and swooped, and tumbled down rabbit holes.

What began as a fantasy to amuse a little girl one hot summer afternoon became the most popular children's story ever written, and along the way, the fourth most frequently quotes book in the world (the top three being the Bible, the Koran and the works of Shakespeare). It was, of course, Alice in Wonderland.

First published in 1865, this children's classic is the subject of a free exhibition being held at the British Library. Examining different aspects of the 'Alice' phenomenon, the exhibition shows how a quintessentially English book gained worldwide popularity. The number of editions has run into the hundreds and the story has been translated into more than 125 languages, including Korean, Japanese and Arabic.

The original handwritten manuscript was called 'Alice's Adventures Under Ground'; the title change was the result of a suggestion that it sounds like 'instructions about mines'. Then there was the question of illustrations: '... what is the use of a book,' thought Alice, 'without pictures or conversation?' Initially Lewis Carroll wanted to illustrate the book himself, but was forced to accept that when it came to drawing his talent fell short of his enthusiasm.

On the advice of a friend, he chose Sir John Tenniel, the most admired cartoonist of his day. Nevertheless, and ever the perfectionist, Carroll knew precisely how each character should look, and almost drove Sir John to distraction; but not quite! Tenniel was also a superb draughtsman, and created images that have become as much a part of the story as Carroll's words. On 4th July 1865, the book was published by Macmillan and has been continuously in print ever since, spawning what might be called the 'Alice industry'.

To mark the occasion, we have an inspired collection of gifts reflecting some of the story's most memorable characters and best-loved illustrations.

Facsimile Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. The original title of the work later published by Charles Dodgson.

We are celebrating literature’s silliest tea party with a charming cushion and tea selection decorated with John Tenniel’s illustration, the table set out under the tree just as Carroll described. The poor doormouse is being used as an armrest and the table is set with far more places than are required; as the Mad Hatter explains, ‘it’s always tea-time, and we’ve no time to wash the things between whiles’.

Mad Hatter Cushion

Made in the heart of England, our striking mugs show Alice trying to play croquet with a reluctant flamingo, and her capricious friend the Cheshire Cat, with his famous grin on the inside which 'remained some time after the rest of it had gone'.

Wonderland Mugs

Printed on the front with a quote, and a contemporary illustration, this cotton tote is a Museum Selection exclusive.

Tote Bag
'I knew who I was this morning but I've changed a few times since then.'
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