cover image The Alice Behind Wonderland

The Alice Behind Wonderland

Simon Winchester, Oxford Univ., $16.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-195-39619-5

Winchester (The Professor and the Madman) explores the story behind Alice in Wonderland by focusing on an 1858 portrait taken by the eccentric Charles Dodgson—best known by his pen-name, Lewis Carroll. The subject of the photo is six-year-old Alice Liddell, the daughter of the dean of Oxford's Christ Church College who, encouraged by Dodgson, is dressed as a ragged beggar-maid—a costume inspired by a Tennyson poem. The dean's daughter provided Dodgson with not only the name and inspiration for the main character of his now infamous book but she also asked him to write it as a gift for her. Winchester's overall tone is unfortunately self-indulgent, and his take that Alice is seductive and coquettish in the 1858 photo is questionable. He stretches his brief essay with the differences between daguerreotype and calotype photographic images while skimping on Dodgson's relationship with Alice's mother. Readers will more likely be interested in Winchester's benign interpretation of Dodgson's character than his preoccupation with one particular photograph. (Mar.)