Alice in Wonderland – Treasures Display

White Rabbit by John Tenniel
A new Treasures display celebrating Lewis Carroll’s much-loved children’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland opens today at the National Library of Scotland and runs until 2 May 2011. Treasures on show include a rare first issue of the first edition, letters from the author, and a selection of delightful early editions of both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. Our display coincides with a new production of Alice by Scottish Ballet, and we have teamed up with them to include original costume and set visuals, and a behind-the-scenes film montage from their forthcoming production.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), a lecturer in mathematics at Christ Church College, Oxford. While researching and selecting items for our display, I was fascinated to read about Dodgson’s many talents and passions. Although he is best known for his children’s books, published under the pseudonym ‘Lewis Carroll’, he was also the author of mathematical books, a talented photographer in the early days of the art, an artist (he sketched the original illustrations for his manuscript Alice’s Adventures under Ground), and a keen inventor (his inventions even included a ‘nyctograph’ to facilitate note-taking in the dark!). His interest in voting theory led him to publish works on the subject, including The Principles of Parliamentary Representation in 1884.

Dodgson was also a prolific letter-writer; his own register of letters received and sent, from 1861 to 1898, records some 98,721 letters! I was amused to read some of his entertaining advice on the subject in Eight or nine wise words about letter writing, first published in 1890. He cautions,

‘And never, never, dear Madam (N.B. this remark is addressed to ladies only: no man would ever do such a thing), put “Wednesday”, simply, as the date!’

I admired Dodgson’s effort to provide his readers with nothing but ‘the best workmanship attainable for the price’. Although he paid all his own publication expenses, he nevertheless suppressed print runs that he considered to be inferior in quality, for one reason or another. For example, he withdrew the first print run of 2,000 copies of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, he rejected the first 10,000 copies printed of The Nursery “Alice”, and he recalled the sixtieth thousand print run of Through the Looking-Glass.

Our Alice in Wonderland Treasures display web page includes some information on the origin and publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and provides descriptions of some interesting exhibits on show in our new display at the Library.

Further reading: