Sunday, June 14, 2015

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst's "The Story of Alice"

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst is Professor of English Literature and a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford. His publications include Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland, and reported the following:
Lewis Carroll (the pen name of Rev Charles Dodgson) was a mathematician as well as an author, and certain numbers had a special place in his heart. For example, long before Douglas Adams chose 42 as the answer to ‘Life, the Universe, and Everything’, it was making frequent guest appearances in Carroll’s writing. Thus there are 42 illustrations in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where Alice also learns that ‘Rule 42’ is that anybody more than a mile high has to leave the courtroom, and further mysterious uses of this number appear in The Hunting of the Snark.

There’s no evidence that Carroll was equally addicted to the number 99, but he might have paused over this page in The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland. In this book I trace the complicated relationship between him and Alice Liddell, the little girl for whom he originally created his most famous story, and on page 99 I describe two of the early photographs he took of her.

In the first, she is dressed as a child beggar, in artfully torn rags that have slipped off her shoulder to reveal a nipple. In the second, she is wearing her best outfit: a frilly dress featuring complicated ruffled sleeves, with white ankle socks and shiny black shoes. Together these photographs create a ‘before’ and ‘after’ sequence like that made famous by the fairytale of ‘King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid’, in which the king marries a poor girl he has spied out of his palace window. Inevitably they live happily ever after. Did Carroll have similar ambitions for his relationship with Alice Liddell, or were the photographs just an innocent record of the fun she had dressing up?

Drawing on previously unpublished family papers, my book offers the fullest account yet of their relationship – a story that for many years has been every bit as mysterious as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in which ‘Alice’ was transformed into a feisty heroine who asks herself ‘Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle’. It is this puzzle that my book sets out to solve.
Learn more about The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland.

My Book, The Movie: Becoming Dickens.

The Page 99 Test: Becoming Dickens.

My Book, The Movie: The Story of Alice.

--Marshal Zeringue