Alice at 150

An illustration of the White Rabbit by John Tenniel in the suppressed 1865 edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, rendered here in black and white. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

An illustration of the White Rabbit by John Tenniel in the suppressed 1865 edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, rendered here in black and white. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Throughout the United States and Britain, Lewis Carroll’s immortal little girl is being fêted on the occasion of her 150th birthday—with exhibits and events, plays and performances.

Martin Gardner’s classic The Annotated Alice was reissued last year in a “150th Anniversary Deluxe Edition.” A new musical based on Alice in Wonderland opened in Manchester, England, last June, and an original sculpture of the Mad Tea Party will be unveiled in Houston, Texas, later this year. The British Library, the University of Maryland, and the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia have pulled out their Carrollian holdings for special exhibitions.

And, closer to home, booklovers who attend the 49th California International Antiquarian Book Fair—to be held February 12–14 at the Pasadena Convention Center—will have an opportunity to enjoy a special exhibit featuring books, illustrations, papers, and original ephemera from the University of Southern California’s Cassady Lewis Carroll Collection.

Alice attacked by a pack of cards in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by Arthur Rackham, 1907. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Alice attacked by a pack of cards in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by Arthur Rackham, 1907. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The inquisitive might wonder exactly what is being celebrated. Is the anniversary in 2015? Or 2016? The answer lies in the very rare first appearance of Alice in Wonderland in print, a copy of which resides in The Huntington’s rare book collection.

The tale’s genesis during the summer of 1862, during a boating trip that Carroll made with Alice Liddell and her sisters on the River Isis, and Carroll’s subsequent creation of an illustrated manuscript version are well known. Literary friends of the author encouraged him to seek a publisher, and by the summer of 1864, John Tenniel had agreed to provide the woodcut illustrations for a volume to be published by the London firm of Macmillan. However, the first press run, which appeared in the summer of 1865, was deemed unsatisfactory, primarily because of the print quality of the illustrations, and all but 20-odd of the 2,000 copies were warehoused. A second printing, dated 1866, met the artist’s exacting standard, and it is this version of Alice that we know as the official “first edition.” Hence the anniversary that begins in 2015 and ends in 2016!

The Huntington is one of the few libraries that owns both the suppressed 1865 version and the official publication of 1866. Our copy bears the autograph of George Dalziel, the engraver of the illustrations and the original owner of the volume. Laid into it is a crucial bit of Alice in Wonderland history—a letter from the artist Tenniel to the engraver Dalziel, explaining that his complaints about the substandard printing had led to the suppression of the entire edition.

The Mad Tea Party scene in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by Arthur Rackham, 1907. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Mad Tea Party scene in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by Arthur Rackham, 1907. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

However, the nearly 2,000 “defective” copies from the 1865 printing did not end up in the dustbin, but rather overseas—despite the original intentions of the author and the publisher. The printed sheets were shipped to New York, where they were reissued under the imprint of Appleton and Company and dated 1866.

A copy of this American “first edition” may also be found among The Huntington’s collections, along with many later versions, including a 1907 edition with illustrations by Arthur Rackham—very lovely but quite different from Tenniel’s vision.

Regardless of how they are depicted, Alice’s adventures will no doubt continue to fascinate and delight readers for many decades to come.

Frontispiece to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by John Tenniel, 1865, rendered here in black and white. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Frontispiece to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by John Tenniel, 1865, rendered here in black and white. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

A special preview event opens the Antiquarian Book Fair on Friday, Feb. 12, from 3 to 8 p.m. Tickets for the preview are $25 (good for reentry throughout the fair), and proceeds will benefit The Huntington. Weekend tickets are $15 on Saturday, Feb. 13 (11 a.m.–7 p.m.), and Sunday, Feb. 14 (11 a.m.–5 p.m.).

Friday preview tickets will entitle the holder to one complimentary entry to The Huntington, valid throughout the month of February. Saturday and Sunday tickets include free entry to The Huntington the weekend of the Book Fair.

The fair is sponsored by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America and the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. For additional information, visit the book fair’s website.

Laura Stalker is the Avery Associate Director of the Library at The Huntington.

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