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...]
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.]
…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.
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.
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.
Issue 187 of Prospect Magazine contains a good article on the influence of the Alice books written by Richard Jenkyns, professor of Classics at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. The article is free to read on Prospect’s website.
Jenkyns makes several interesting points that may get LCSNA members thinking and, perhaps, arguing.
Here are some extracts:
Previously, most books for children had been either educational or improving; the only purpose of Alice is to give pleasure. We have grown so used to bunnies in blue jackets with brass buttons that it is hard to remember how comparatively recent such things are…
Dreams are a solipsist’s kingdom: nothing exists in them except the dreamer. It is appropriate, therefore, that the people and creatures that Alice meets in Wonderland lack roundedness and solidity…
Figures like the Red and White Queens and the White Knight come with distinct personalities independent of Alice’s imagining. It makes sense of a kind for there to be speculation in the looking-glass world about whether someone else is dreaming of Alice; to pose that question in Wonderland would be preposterous.
Avax News is a website for interesting photos. Their mission is clearly stated:
Every day, Lord Almighty is responsible for hundred thousands of fascinating and mysterious events in our earthly existence, which people gaze upon with wonder through the lenses of the camera. The most gripping of those images you can find within these pages. Nothing less, nothing more. It’s just you and the images you see.
Earlier this year they posted a nice collection of high-quality Carroll-related photos under the sub-heading “Appealing.” There are images of Carroll, by Carroll, and of various stage productions. If you are looking for high quality images of a decent size, it may prove very helpful indeed. I would only caution against venturing away from the Carroll images via other sub-headings such as “Sad” or “Disgusting.” You know the internet. You have been warned.
Baby Leroy as "Joker" in the Paramount production of “Alice in Wonderland” (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images). 1933
Can you change “100″ to “CAT” by moving just two of these toothpicks?
The above puzzle is probably familiar to many lovers of logic games, but new to the multitude who have not yet made the connection between mathematical problems, visual conundrums, and, of all things, fun.
One man who spent a lifetime reaching out to both the initiates and the multitude was Martin Gardner, philosopher, mathematician, magician, and for 25 years the author of the “Mathematical Games” column in the Scientific American. He was also a founding member of the LCSNA and the creator of the irreplaceable Annotated Alice books.
When Martin died last year the foundation Gathering for Gardner vowed to “celebrate Martin’s life and work, and continue his pursuit of a playful and fun approach to Mathematics, Science, Art, Magic, Puzzles and all of his other interests and writings.” One of these celebrations is fast upon us – the second annual Celebration of Mind events to be held worldwide on or around what would have been Martin’s 97th birthday – October 21, 2011.
Last year, people gathered to share magic tricks, puzzles, recreational mathematics problems and stories about Martin at 66 locations from Tokyo to Tehran to Buenos Aires to Boulder, Colorado. This year, 30 hosts have signed up already and the organizers expect many more – if you can’t make the gathering at the McMurdo Station in Antarctica, how about attending one of the 15 already listed in North America? Events held by LCSNA members will undoubtedly have an Alice flavor – if you are hosting one, be sure to get in touch and we will advertise it on the blog.
I wonder how many events this year will feature readings from A Bouquet for the Gardener, the beautiful collection of tributes and reminiscences published by the LCSNA in July? (Available at Amazon.com.)
For a map of planned events, and for guidelines for hosting your own event, go to the Gathering for Gardner website. There you can also find photos and descriptions of previous events along with downloadable visual treats and puzzles to whet your appetite. You can also follow event updates on Twitter account @G4G_CoM.
And finally, if you haven’t figured out the toothpick teaser above, I’m not going to tell you. What are Sunday afternoons for?
Dr Louise Joy, a Cambridge University academic, believes classic children’s books, and the work they inspire, attract older readers because they give them things they cannot find in their everyday lives, including direct communication, tasty home-cooked food, and tolerance towards eccentricity. The researcher claims such books represent a “symbolic retreat from the disappointment of reality”.
“Books such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach offer a world where self-consciousness is overthrown and relationships are straightforward,” says Dr Joy. “But relationships in the real adult world are often fraught by miscommunication and the impossibility of understanding one another properly.”
As we all know, in Wonderland relationships are entirely straightforward, no-one is self-conscious, and everyone understands each other perfectly. Could Dr. Joy have a point? But how would she explain the appeal of reading about junk food like cakes and comfits?
Sharp does give some room for dissenting voices and he quotes the current UK Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson:
“Alice’s world can often be disconcerting and confusing in a dream-like way, something which struck me more as an adult than when I read it as a child [...] It’s hard to generalise.”