May 042017

Today is the birthday (1852) of Alice Pleasance Liddell who inspired Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) to write Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice the fourth child of Henry Liddell, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and his wife Lorina Hanna Liddell (née Reeve). She had two older brothers, Harry (born 1847) and Arthur (born 1850, died of scarlet fever in 1853), and an older sister Lorina (born 1849). She also had six younger siblings, including her sister Edith (born 1854) with whom she was very close and her brother Frederick (born 1865), who became a lawyer and senior civil servant. At the time of her birth, Alice’s father was the Headmaster of Westminster School, but in 1856 he was appointed to the deanery of Christ Church, Oxford. Soon after this move, she met Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who met the family while he was photographing the college’s cathedral on 25 April 1856. He became a close friend of the Liddell family in subsequent years.

Alice was three years younger than Lorina and two years older than Edith, and the three sisters were constant childhood companions. She and her family regularly spent holidays at their holiday home Penmorfa, which later became the Gogarth Abbey Hotel, on the West Shore of Llandudno in North Wales. When Alice Liddell was a young woman, she set out on a grand tour of Europe with Lorina and Edith. One story has it that she became a romantic interest of Prince Leopold, the youngest son of Queen Victoria, during the four years he spent at Christ Church, but the evidence for this is sparse. It is true that years later, Leopold named his first child Alice, and acted as godfather to Alice’s second son Leopold. It is far more likely that Alice’s sister Edith was the true recipient of Leopold’s attention). Edith died on 26 June 1876, possibly of measles or peritonitis (accounts differ), shortly before she was to be married to Aubrey Harcourt, a cricket player. At her funeral on 30 June 1876, Prince Leopold served as a pall-bearer.

Alice Liddell married Reginald Hargreaves, also a cricketer, on 15 September 1880, at the age of 28 in Westminster Abbey. They had three sons: Alan Knyveton Hargreaves and Leopold Reginald “Rex” Hargreaves (both were killed in action in World War I); and Caryl Liddell Hargreaves, who survived to have a daughter of his own. Alice denied that the name ‘Caryl’ was in any way associated with Charles Dodgson’s pseudonym. Reginald Hargreaves inherited a considerable fortune, and was a local magistrate; he also played cricket for Hampshire. Alice became a noted society hostess and was the first president of Emery Down Women’s Institute.

After her husband’s death in 1926, the cost of maintaining their home, Cuffnells, was so high that she decided to sell her original manuscript copy of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (Dodgson’s earlier title for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland). The manuscript fetched £15,400, nearly four times the reserve price given it by Sotheby’s auction house. It later became the possession of Eldridge R. Johnson and was displayed at Columbia University on the centennial of Carroll’s birth. (Alice was present, aged 80, and it was on this visit to the United States that she met Peter Llewelyn Davies, one of the brothers who inspired J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan). Upon Johnson’s death, the book was purchased by a consortium of American bibliophiles and presented to the British people “in recognition of Britain’s courage in facing Hitler before America came into the war.” The manuscript now resides in the British Library.

For most of her life, Alice lived in and around Lyndhurst in the New Forest. After her death in 1934, she was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium and her ashes were buried in the graveyard of the church of St Michael and All Angels Lyndhurst.

On 4 July 1862, in a rowing trip on the Isis from Folly Bridge, Oxford, to Godstow for a picnic outing, 10-year-old Alice asked Charles Dodgson to entertain her and her sisters, Edith (aged 8) and Lorina (13), with a story. As the Reverend Robinson Duckworth rowed the boat, Dodgson regaled the girls with fantastic stories of a girl, named Alice, and her adventures after she fell into a rabbit-hole. The story was similar to those Dodgson had spun for the sisters before, but this time Liddell asked Mr. Dodgson to write it down for her. He promised to do so but did not get around to the task for some months. He eventually presented her with the manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground in November 1864.

The relationship between Liddell and Dodgson has been the source of much debate, with some biographers supposing that Dodgson had a pedophilic attraction to the girl. But there is little to no evidence of this assertion. You’ll have to read the voluminous works on this debate if you want to form your own opinion. I’ll just say a few words about it. The biggest problem to overcome in drawing a conclusion is chronocentrism. As Leslie Poles Hartley wrote, “the past is a foreign country.” If we start imputing motives to people who lived 150 years ago we can easily run into grave error. The photo (above) of Alice as a gypsy girl, is frequently seen as erotic. But that is a modern view. Victorian photographers routinely took portraits of little girls in costume, sometimes naked, and they were generally seen as pictures of innocence. Some of them were even reproduced on Christmas cards.  Are we to assume from this that all Victorians were rank pedophiles? I suppose you could draw that conclusion, but . . . are all ancient Greek nudes evidence of their sexuality? I hardly think so.

The Alice in Dodgson’s tales and Alice Liddell are clearly not the same, and recent research has contradicted the long-held assumption that he based the character on her. Dodgson himself said in later years that his Alice was entirely imaginary and not based upon any real child at all. Dodgson’s own drawings of the character in the original manuscript of Alice’s Adventures under Ground show little resemblance to Liddell.

There are at least three direct links to Liddell in the two books. First, he set them on 4 May (Liddell’s birthday) and 4 November (her “half-birthday”), and in Through the Looking-Glass the fictional Alice declares that her age is “seven and a half exactly”, the same as Liddell on that date. Second, he dedicated them “to Alice Pleasance Liddell”. Third, there is an acrostic poem at the end of Through the Looking-Glass. Reading downward, taking the first letter of each line, spells out Liddell’s full name. The poem has no title in Through the Looking-Glass, but is usually referred to by its first line, “A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky”.

A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July—

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear—

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die.
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream?

In addition, all of those who participated in the Thames boating expedition where the story was originally told (Carroll, the Reverend Duckworth and the three Liddell sisters) appear in the chapter “A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale.”

According to her grandson, Lorinda Liddell (Alice’s mother), gave the recipe for orange marmalade to Frank Cooper’s wife who then produced Cooper’s Oxford marmalade. I can’t say whether this is true or not, but it’s as good an excuse as any to dribble on about marmalade for a while. In Alice’s time, the word “marmalade” was not restricted to preserves made with citrus fruits, just as cognates in Romance languages (marmellata in Italian or  marmelada in Spanish) refer to jams in general. But the word eventually became restricted to preserves of bitter oranges when used on their  own, and more generally to other citrus fruits such as lime or grapefruit. For many years I made huge batches of marmalades in January after Christmas was over and before I had to return to lecturing in February. I experimented with lemons, limes, kumquats, and grapefruit year by year, but they often failed to set properly because those fruits do not have as much natural pectin in them as Seville oranges. Seville oranges are very hard to find in the US, but there rally is no substitute for proper orange marmalade. Regular oranges will not do. The peel must be bitter and laden with the right aromatics. Here’s Mrs Beeton’s discourse followed by one of several different recipes.

  1. Marmalades, jams, and fruit pastes are of the same nature, and are now in very general request. They are prepared without difficulty, by attending to a very few directions; they are somewhat expensive, but may be kept without spoiling for a considerable time. Marmalades and jams differ little from each other: they are preserves of a half-liquid consistency, made by boiling the pulp of fruits, and sometimes part of the rinds, with sugar. The appellation of marmalade is applied to those confitures which are composed of the firmer fruits, as pineapples or the rinds of oranges; whereas jams are made of the more juicy berries, such as strawberries, raspberries, currants, mulberries, &c. Fruit pastes are a kind of marmalades, consisting of the pulp of fruits, first evaporated to a proper consistency, and afterwards boiled with sugar. The mixture is then poured into a mould, or spread on sheets of tin, and subsequently dried in the oven or stove till it has acquired the state of a paste. From a sheet of this paste, strips may be cut and formed into any shape that may be desired, as knots, rings, &c. Jams require the same care and attention in the boiling as marmalade; the slightest degree of burning communicates a disagreeable empyreumatic taste, and if they are not boiled sufficiently, they will not keep. That they may keep, it is necessary not to be sparing of sugar.


  1. INGREDIENTS.—Equal weight of fine loaf sugar and Seville oranges; to 12 oranges allow 1 pint of water.

Mode.—Let there be an equal weight of loaf sugar and Seville oranges, and allow the above proportion of water to every dozen oranges. Peel them carefully, remove a little of the white pith, and boil the rinds in water 2 hours, changing the water three times to take off a little of the bitter taste. Break the pulp into small pieces, take out all the pips, and cut the boiled rind into chips. Make a syrup with the sugar and water; boil this well, skim it, and, when clear, put in the pulp and chips. Boil all together from 20 minutes to 1/2 hour; pour it into pots, and, when cold, cover down with bladders or tissue-paper brushed over on both sides with the white of an egg. The juice and grated rind of 2 lemons to every dozen of oranges, added with the pulp and chips to the syrup, are a very great improvement to this marmalade.

Time.—2 hours to boil the orange-rinds; 10 minutes to boil the syrup; 20 minutes to 1/2 hour to boil the marmalade.

Average cost, from 6d. to 8d. per lb. pot.

Seasonable.—This should be made in March or April, as Seville oranges are then in perfection.

Decades ago I began with this recipe as a guide, but then played with it over the years. First I boiled the fruit very slowly for a very long time over low heat.  For many years I filled a big stock pot with oranges (or other citrus fruit), covered them with water, and set the pot, covered, on my wood stove overnight. The water barely simmered, but in the morning the fruit was completely cooked. I then took the fruit out, weighed it, chopped up the peel into thin slices, and returned them to the cooking water while discarding the seeds. I added as much in weight of sugar as the weight of oranges, and brought the mix to a boil on the stove on high heat. At first you need to stir occasionally with a wooden spoon to make sure the sugar dissolves, but as the marmalade thickens you must stir more often to avoid scalding or burning. Determining when you have achieved the right temperature and consistency for the marmalade to set you must take a very little in a teaspoon and drop it on a cool, clean saucer. If it flows at all, it is not ready. If it forms a concave droplet, or “bead,” it is ready. I used to use small canning jars, place the marmalade in them hot from the stove almost to the brim, and cap them. They formed a hermetic seal and would keep like that, unrefrigerated, for a year or more. With some fruits lacking in adequate pectin, such as kumquat or lime, I added a little extra pectin to be sure. Be careful, though; too much pectin makes a set well enough, but the product can have a weaker flavor.


  2 Responses to “Alice Liddell”

  1. please remove the picture of Alice in Dodgson’s lap, it is a FAKE. Please do no propagate even as a suggestion to what might have happened, no hint of this at all historically

    • Done. I was not aware of the fakery. If you read my actual post you will see that I dispute all claims of impropriety.

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