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3.4 out of 5 stars28
3.4 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 21 May 2012
Winchester's volume weighs in at a very slim 100 pages and seems something of an oddity much like Carroll himself. Despite cover promises to unveil the turbulent mind behind the classics Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass it is too narrowly focused on Carroll's early years to be satisfying as a biography as its skims quickly between his childhood and Oxford, and never really plumbs the impact literary fame must have had on such an introverted soul. Equally the content lacks the detail and insight of Carroll's inspirations and writing processes to be worthy as a literary analysis of the texts.

As someone who was looking forward to reading about Lewis Carroll, his muse and deeper analysis of what he hoped to achieve with Alice in Wonderland I felt disappointed. Winchester for reasons best known to himself decides to dedicate much of this pamphlet (it lacks the substance and word count to be called a book proper) to Lewis' early fascination with photography and details lovingly scores of pictures that Carroll took,lingering especially on the now infamous 'Ragamuffin Queen' shot of Alice.

Although Winchester's descriptions are readable and his passion for the subject is evident the pamphlet remains ultimately mislabeled and unsatisfying: we learn very little of import about Carroll or his relationship with the muse Alice - it is more a study in early photography and portraiture that happens to focus on Carroll's photographs in particular. Frustratingly though for a book about photography there are very few photographs included!

Winchester's coy skirting of the rumours of paedophilia, becomes tiresome after a while as he repeatedly uses this almost as bait to entice the reader to carry on reading the book. This is particularly annoying as he repeatedly bashes the 'modern minds' which conjure something distasteful about the provocative poses Alice is pictured in and how it unfairly maligns Carroll but Winchester then spends paragraphs himself detailing the exact longitude and latitude of what areas of Alice are exposed.

I couldn't recommend this as it is an overpriced short read with too diffuse a focus to appeal to most generalist readers.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have always found Alice in Wonderland a slightly scary book, full of grotesque creatures and nightmarish situations for a little girl to deal with. I have re-read it as an adult and this time can enjoy its Monty Pythonish antics but it still has a lurking dark side. We have read much about Lewis Carroll's prediliction for young girls which nowadays can be called something else, but I have never been sure that the accusations levelled at him were totally justified. He just struck me as being a bit of an odd ball character, OK not sure I would want to have him to dinner, but I do wonder.

This little book, well it is a monograph really, on THAT picture of Alice Liddell is only 100 pages long and easily read in an hour or two. I found it intriguing and it certainly does not enter into the argument for and against Caroll in this regard, but rather focuses on the circumstances of the famous photograph.

Cannot say I was overwhelmed by the style of writing or the content, but as a footnote to a wider biography of Lewis Carrol it is worth a look. I found the ending rather touching and sad when the original Alice, now a lonely old woman who has suffered grief and loss, went to America to celebrate the centenary of Carroll's birth and found that police had to escort her everywhere as crowds surrounded her shouting 'Hi Alice'.

"The radio broadcast an interview in which she suggested that her visit to America and New York was so exciting that the experience took her 'back to Wonderland'. Few entirely believed it then. None do now'

She was famous as a little golden girl on a summer afternoon and it must have seemed all so long ago.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Rather than being a biography of Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, this is the story of his hobby as a photographer and his famous photo of, then six year old, Alice Liddell. It does give a potted history of Dogson's early life and recounts how both he and the Liddell family got to know each other at Oxford, with lots of wonderful anecdotes along the way, which I found extremely interesting. It is worth pointing out that I knew very little about Carroll, having never read his biography, so perhaps someone with a deeper interest in the subject would know most of the information in this slim book. However, it was an extremely readable account and very enjoyable, with a lot of detail about early photography and the process Caroll would have used to take his first pictures. Winchester is not critical of Carroll's motives in taking many pictures of young girls, accepting the idealisation of childhood at that time and not placing modern motives onto his behaviour. The book is not really about why he took the photographs he did, although Winchester does hint at a slightly tense relationship between Carroll and Alice's mother, but suggests reasons for the break which do not include his photographing her children.

Alice did have her photo taken by him again when she was older and, although she never acknowledged his wedding present or attended his funeral she did call one of her sons Caryl, so it is a difficult relationship to fathom without further information. Altogether, Carroll took less than twenty photographs of the young Alice, the most famous being the 'ragamuffin' dressed picture, when she is six. She has obviously been artfully arranged into the position Carroll wants - her hand cupped to collect a coin, looking upwards with an enigmatic expression. Considering how carefully she has been positioned, it is difficult to believe he overlooked the slight tweak of material which revealed her childish chest. However, without wishing to be judgemental, I can only say that I enjoyed this book very much and it did make me want to know more about this man who produced one of the best loved books of all time. Again, this was down to Alice, who badgered him to write down the story he had told her on an idyllic summer afternoon, boating on the river. It is for this that both Lewis Carroll and the inspirational Alice will be remembered and loved. Highly recommended and a great read.
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VINE VOICEon 10 April 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.85) Needless to say, there is not a scrap of evidence that this piece of child molestation actually occurred in the way the author describes.

The acknowledgements mention Carroll authority Edward Wakeling. Mr. Wakeling says "It's one of the worst books on Carroll I have ever read - mistakes from beginning to end. He gives a fulsome acknowledgement to me, totally unjustified because I had nothing whatsoever to do with this book. I offered him help but he declined."

Mr. Winchester ends by recommending Morton Cohen's biography. It's one of the few times I found myself agreeing with him.
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on 30 April 2014
This is the first biography of Lewis Carroll that I have read. This may lead me to be more satisfied than other reviewers. I enjoyed this book, including its details of the development of photography. What was most intriguing was the fascinating and privileged world of the affluent Victorians. The details of the children, including Alice, in the protected Deanery garden, the picnics and the boat trips recalled a golden age soon vanished beyond recovery.

Lewis Carroll, despite his privileged life, had like his fellow lecturers the deprivation of an imposed celibacy unless he resigned from his academic role. There are resonances about his interest in young children which reverberate to this day. They seem to me to be the result of the idealisation of the affluent Victorian child and not to any sexual predilection of Lewis Carroll for children.

There is a sadness in the book which relates to many who have had a happy childhood. The golden days disappear beyond recall and the harshness of adult life intrudes. The grown up Alice experienced that with a savagery which must have exacerbated the longing for the golden days of her childhood in the 1850s. What Carroll, or Dodson, has bequeathed is a magical book which will continue to delight generations of children. We owe him a debt for that which is beyond price.
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This is short book, a mere 96 pages, but on the whole an interesting and enjoyable one. It tells the story of Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, renowned author of the Alice books, but also, as Simon Winchester expertly relates, a pioneering Victorian amateur photographer. Dodgson bought his first camera in 1856 and over the next 25 years took around 3,000 photographs, most of which have survived.
Winchester takes just one of them as the focal point for this book, the portrait of 6-year old Alice Liddell, dressed as Tennyson’s Beggar Maid and in a pose that has caused some controversy. We hear about the Liddell family in some detail, and for anyone not already familiar with the story, the book is a fascinating introduction.
But in a book which emphasises Dodgson’s skill as a photographer, I find it inexplicable that there are no reproductions except for The Beggar Maid. Some quite detailed descriptions are given of other photographs and it is frustrating not to be able to see them. It is also rather ironic that Princeton University wouldn’t let Winchester himself see the original copy of the Alice portrait – even though this appears to be a book aimed at the American market.
Altogether I found the book a pleasant but ultimately a rather unsatisfactory read.
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VINE VOICEon 6 July 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I came to this slim volume via a lifelong interest in Lewis Carroll's books and a trip to Scottish Ballet's wonderful newly-commissioned work, "Alice", which also explored the relationship between Dodgson the photographer and Alice Liddell, the muse. I have to say the ballet was much more successful in explaining and amplifying the unusual relationship between the two. Despite my interest in the subject, I found this essay ponderous in the extreme - wordy, even verbose and difficult to read. It just didn't hold my attention, and though I eventually struggled through to the end I did so with no real sense of pleasure, although I did learn a few new facts along the way.
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on 17 March 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
At 98 pages, this essay is a brief read. It would be ideally suited to a Kindle version. It feels like it's come from an abandoned photobook introduction or an expanded magazine article.

Although well written, it's an underwhelming potted history that neither enlightens on Victorian photographic process or pedophilia. A glance at wikipedia gives better information.
Neither do we get to know the "Alice" behind Wonderland, as the title suggests, so it fails on all the points I'd find this book interesting or revealing. Perhaps functions as a Dogson/Carroll biography primer...but assumes you already know about Alice Liddells adult life!
I thought I might get an insight into how Carrolls fantasies fitted into Victorian values. Is his odd interest in little girls more than Victorian sentimentality? This book briefly dismisses the charges, as if not worth discussing. How does his photographic practice fit with other practitioners? Is he any good? Perhaps Geoff Dyer would have been better at analyzing the photographic aspect.

The amateur photo in question is Victorian tat, derivative and badly arranged. Why should we be interested except for the context? A Victorian author who took a revealing photo of a child, who inspired the most famous character in childrens fiction. Shouldn't Dogsons motives be looked at more closely and Alice Liddells biography be more important? Apparently "Dogson was thought to have designs on Ina, Alice's older sister"... And?

The Acknowledgements suggest it's part of a "photography series" of books, but I couldn't find evidence of this on the bland OUP website.

It ends up feeling a little padded and thin on criticism or history. As part of a photobook, it would have been fine. You don't learn much about amateur Victorian photography that Dogson and others produced. My review copy only includes one photo, reading descriptions of 'missing' photos just annoys. To add contrast to Dogsons image, where's the Julia Cameron photos or those taken by the New York Press?

It's fine, but never feels really engaged in the subject matter. As a cheap Kindle ebook, it'll probably find a better home, than a £10 hardback book (not worth the price).
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on 16 February 2015
Don't see why it was thought necessary to write this book which really doesn't seem to say anything new.
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on 28 November 2014
A very engrossing book, but I haven't finished it yet! Thanks for the excellent service. Paul
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