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The Alice Behind Wonderland
on 24 February 2011
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.