Spring Meeting April 2012 Program Announced!

Full details for this year’s LCSNA Spring Meeting are now available online. Join us in Cambridge, Massachuettes for a weekend of Carrollian scholarship, conviviality, and a little magic.

The main meeting will be on Saturday, April 28 at Harvard University’s Houghton Library. Speakers include Selwyn Goodacre on the 150th anniversary of the boat ride during which Lewis Carroll told the Adventures to Alice Liddell and her sisters, with a review of the various editions of Alice’s Adventures under Ground. Following on this theme, Matt Demakos will discuss the evolution from Underground to the Wonderland. Mark Richards will enlighten us on the finer points of Carroll’s mathematically poetic work A Tangled Tale, and Alan Tannenbaum will tell us about A. B. Frost, the illustrator of A Tangled Tale and Rhyme? and Reason?. Linda Cassady will then talk about the exciting Wonderland Award at the University of Southern California, and show examples of the brilliant art it has inspired. Finally, Chris Morgan will demonstrate some of the magic practiced by Lewis Carroll. Other events include Friday’s Maxine Schaefer Reading for Children and a visit on Sunday to the Tannenbaum collection in nearby Chelmsford.

Download this pdf for the full program and for information on how to book meals and accommodation.

While in the area, members may also like to check out the current exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston: Silver, Salt, and Sunlight: Early Photography in Britain and France, featuring none other than Carroll’s own “Xie Kitchin Asleep on Sofa.”

We hope to see you there!




500 years of interactive books (and no iPads) at the University of Rochester

Another exhibition for our East Coast readers: Springing to Life: Movable Books & Mechanical Devices at the University of Rochester.

Interactive books long-predate the LCD screen, and this exhibition features over 50 examples of pop-up, pull-tab, lift-flap, spin-dial papier-mechanical ingenuity from the past 500 years. In the video below, curator Leah Hamilton introduces the exhibition and demonstrates some of the items on display. Robert Sabuda’s Alice pop-up features prominently as does work by Kubasta, who created the wonderful pop-up Alice published in 1960.

The exhibition is being held University of Rochester, Rare Books and Special Collections, Rush Rhees Library from January 23 to August 17, 2012. Call (585) 275-4477 for exhibition hours.

Caterina Morelli’s Italian index of illustrated Alices


For many collectors, the act of cataloging the collection can be an essential part of the pleasure. Caterina Morelli’s blog Alice in Wonderland is a great example. In her native Italian, Morelli painstakingly documents her extensive collection of Carroll editions; as she puts it, “every post is an index card of a book.” Each card starts with an evocative description of the edition, followed by detailed information about the illustrator, publisher, and text – even the dimensions and the construction of the book are recorded. The cards are organized by illustrator.

When she told me about her blog, Caterina mentioned that some day she would like to translate it into English. Perhaps someone reading this blog is an Italian-English translator and an Alice fan? Would you like to help with her project? What nicer way could there be to brush up on your Italian?


Multidisciplinary discussion of the mathematical imaginary in L.A. this month

A Mouse's Tale

A multidisciplinary discussion

A science writer, a mathematician, and a professor of English walk into a library… no, it’s not an unpromising joke, it’s a very promising-sounding multidisciplinary event taking place in Los Angeles on February 22.

As part of Visions and Voices: the University of Southern California Arts and Humanities Initiative, three very different intellects will be discussing Wonderland and the Mathematical Imaginary. The trio consists of Australian science writer Margaret Wertheim, who you may have seen crocheting a coral reef during a TED lecture; Francis Bonahon, a professor of mathematics at the USC Dornsife College and a specialist in hyperbolic geometry and quantum topology; and Jim Kincaid, Aerol Arnold Chair in English at the USC Dornsife College and specialist in Victorian literature, culture, criminality, lunacy, and perversion.

The discussion will be held at the historic Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library and will be followed by an “experimental play/workshop” where, it is promised, “participants can make and play with absurd mathematical objects.” The event will run from 11am – 1pm and admission is free and open to the public.

The organizers are the same folks who run the Wonderland Award, an annual competition that encourages new scholarship and creative work related to Lewis Carroll. The deadline for entries this year is April 2 — we’ll be sure to remind you again closer to the time.

Alice’s Adventures in Carroll’s own Square Alphabet

Imagine this… You are tucked up in bed and have a brilliant idea that must be written down. It’s dark, it’s late, and bedside lights have not been invented yet. What do you do? If you are Lewis Carroll you invent an entirely new system of writing – a card template of square holes, and a square alphabet to fit inside. Problem solved!

Any one who has tried, as I have often done, the process of getting out of bed at 2 a.m. in a winter night, lighting a candle, and recording some happy thought which would probably be otherwise forgotten, will agree with me it entails much discomfort. All I have now to do, if I wake and think of something I wish to record, is to draw from under the pillow a small memorandum book containing my Nyctograph, write a few lines, or even a few pages, without even putting the hands outside the bed-clothes, replace the book, and go to sleep again. – Lewis Carroll, Letter to The Lady magazine in October 1891

A Nyctograph

A nyctograph, reconstructed by Noah Slater

The Square Alphabet

In 2005, LCSNA-member Alan Tannenbaum built a square alphabet font and transcribed and produced a limited edition of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground – some of you may be proud owners of the rare “Square Alice.” Now, for the first time, a square alphabet edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been published by Evertype and is for sale on Amazon. Below is an example of the text – it’s the passage that begins “‘Are you content now?’ said the Caterpillar,” though you may need a light on to read it.

"Are you content now?" said the Caterpillar.

The edition includes a forward by Alan Tannenbaum and an introduction by publisher Michael Everson on the challenges of the typography. Very little else has been written about Carroll’s nyctograph, but closely related devices may lie all around you – Carroll’s invention prefigured the types of text-entry systems used for tablet computers by 100 years. His own square alphabet has even been cited as inspiration for a unistroke text entry method designed for people with sight or motor impairments.

If you can’t help but try to back-transcribe the passage above (I couldn’t), don’t forget about punctuation. It seems letter characters all have a large dot in the top left of the square, while punctuation characters have a large dot in the lower right.

“Alice — In Wales?” – Sir William Blake Richmond painting blogged by C.M. Rubin

The Sisters (1864) by Sir William Blake Richmond can be seen at the Alice In Wonderland exhibit at Tate Liverpool (Photo courtesy of Tate Images)

Author C.M. Rubin (The Real Alice in Wonderland) has a new blog post at The Huffington Post about Sir William Blake Richmond’s 1864 painting of the Liddell sisters, now on display at the Tate Liverpool’s Alice in Wonderland exhibit (which closes January 29th – hurry!)

In the summer of 1864, Alice Liddell (Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for Alice in Wonderland) and her two sisters, Lorina (who inspired the Lory) and Edith (who inspired the Eaglet), posed for up to 10 hours a day while the distinguished English artist, Sir William Blake Richmond, created one of his most famous paintings, called The Sisters. The painting of the three Liddell sisters set against the background of the Great Orme, Llandudno’s famous mountain, is one of the highlights of the Tate Liverpool’s Alice in Wonderland exhibition. Sir William Blake Richmond painted the portraits of the most prominent people of the day. The Sisters, well received by the art critics of the day, was regarded by Richmond as a milestone in his career. Sir William had this to say about Alice Liddell:

“Little Alice, to whose pretty face and lovely coloring no reproduction can do justice, is seen on the right in profile, peering at the big volume on her sister’s lap.” [continue reading…]

Salman Rushdie celebrates the 140th Anniversary of Through the Looking Glass in Vanity Fair

Well, he partially uses the short article in the January 2012 issue of Vanity Fair to plug his own children’s books, but his reverence for Looking Glass is genuine:

Salman Rushdie, c. 1988

By the time Lewis Carroll wrote Through the Looking-­Glass, in 1871—140 years ago this month—Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) was already a beloved book. So the pressure was on; Carroll faced a real “follow-that problem.” … “Still she haunts me, phantomwise,” he wrote in the book’s epilogue, and thank goodness she did, because Through the Looking-Glass was anything but an anticlimax, giving us the Jabberwock, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and the Walrus and the Carpenter to add to Carroll’s pantheon of magnificently nonsensical immortals. [continue reading.]

What Middletown Read: Very Little Lewis Carroll

…So when I learned about What Middletown Read, a database that tracks the borrowing records of the Muncie Public Library between 1891 and 1902, I had some of the same feelings physicists probably have when new subatomic particles show up in their cloud chambers. Could you see how many times a particular book had been taken out? Could you find out when? And by whom? Yes, yes, and yes. You could also find out who those patrons were: their age, race, gender, occupation (and whether that made them blue or white collar, skilled, semi-skilled, or unskilled), and their names and how they signed them.

John Plotz at Slate.com explains the What Middletown Read database, the labor of Ball State University English Professor Frank Felsenstein. We at the LCSNA were naturally immediately curious about how often Lewis Carroll books were checked out, and the result is mysteriously bare: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the only Carroll book that the Muncie Public Library owned, wasn’t acquired until 1900, and then only checked out ten times in an eight month period. Unless we’re missing something, that’s it. Perhaps it wasn’t popular in the midwest until later, or perhaps it was a common book in private collections therefore unnecessary in the public library? Or maybe the local pick-a-little-talk-a-littles thought it was a “dirty book,” like BALZAC. If anyone has any theories, please comment.

Video interview with Tate Liverpool curator

Rounding off our coverage of the Tate Liverpool’s Alice in Wonderland exhibition, here’s a video interview with co-curator Christop Schulz that gives some tantalizing glimpses of the artwork on display.

Yesterday, chief art critic at the UK Telegraph newspaper, Richard Dorment, gave the exhibition a three star review (“by no means all the work in the show is terrible . . .”), nevertheless, we still wish Liverpool was a little easier to get to on public transit (from California). For the rest of this month we will focus on Alice news and events more accessible to folks in the New World, we promise.

Catalog for Tate Liverpool Alice exhibition looks great

Alice in Wonderland Tate Catalog

Tate Publishing, 2011

The catalog for the Tate Liverpool’s Alice in Wonderland exhibition is now for sale on the Tate’s website. Edited by Gavin Delahunty, head of exhibitions and displays at Tate Liverpool, and Christoph Schulz, curator of the exhibition, it reproduces the art of the exhibition in 120 color illustrations. Also included are critical essays by Dame Gillian Beer, Alberto Manguel, and Edward Wakeling, and a new fairy tale by Carol Mavor.

Reviews of the exhibition have been published by Adrian Searle and Mariana Warner in the UK’s Guardian and by Lindsay Duguid in the Financial Times.

Related events at the Liverpool Tate gallery in late November and early January are listed here. The exhibition ends on January 29.