The curious phenomenon of Wonderland: 150 years on

Catherine Tully, School of the Arts student, investigates the enduring appeal of ‘Alice in Wonderland.’

Alice in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece of children’s literature has celebrated its 150th anniversary and festivities of the famous event continue around the country this year.

Both novels, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are synonymous with children’s literature, and although there are no thorough records of the number of copies that have been sold, the novels have never been out of print. Over 100 different editions have been published and the books have been translated into 174 different languages.

The novels, most commonly referred to as Alice in Wonderland, have fascinated and enthralled readers for generations. Although reading culture has changed dramatically in the last 150 years, the novels remain timeless and appealing.  Alice offers readers iconic characters; an illusory narrative and hidden depths, meaning the books are captivatingly complex yet equally as easy to read.

Dr Esme Miskimmin, from the University’s Department of English, offers her opinion on its popularity: “They appeal to a variety of readers for a variety of reasons: they are thought of as children’s stories, but were also intended for and read by adults.

“There’s something for lovers of nonsense, of logic, hours of fun for the mathematically-minded, of whimsy, of nostalgia and Victoriana, to name but a few.”

Alice’s story has been re-illustrated and re-imagined for decades, yet despite many creators adapting the novels, it is the first illustrations of Alice that are used as a reference point for many.

After years of editions and artist impressions, Alice’s original red dress was widely established as blue after Carroll’s death in the editions of Alice and Through the Looking Glass published in 1911. The blue dress, together with white apron and stockings has remained the image of Alice ever since in both text and the Walt Disney 1951 film.

playing cards

The evolution of the illustrations of Alice can be viewed at the University’s Special Collections in the Sydney Jones Library. The Library houses many historic texts including several editions of Alice in Wonderland that document the changing persona of the character including drawings by John Tenniel, Margaret W. Tarrant, Mabel Lucie Attwell and Rene Cloke.

Dr Miskimmin said: “It can come as a surprise to us when we come to read, or re-read the books, as they are quite a long way removed from the version that exists in popular imagination.”

Alice is still widely interpreted and altered even today through work such as Tim Burton’s 2010 film Alice in Wonderland and his latest venture, Through the Looking Glass which is due to be released in May this year.

Since the novel has celebrated its sesquicentennial anniversary, events are still happening around the country to mark the novel’s longevity. Dr Miskimmin said of these events that “the best ones are those that go back to the texts themselves, and consider them aside from the cult they have generated.”

There is currently a free exhibition at the British Library in London that features Lewis Carroll’s original manuscript with his own hand-drawn illustrations alongside many other treasured editions. The novel is also celebrated through a new musical inspired by Lewis Carroll’s story, Wonderland featuring music by Blur’s Damon Albarn and is currently at the National Theatre’s Olivier Theatre until April 2016.

Local Alice attractions include Lewis Carroll’s hometown in Cheshire, where he was born as Charles Dodgson in Daresbury, as well as two Alice in Wonderland theme cafes, Richmond Tea Rooms in Manchester and Mad Hatters Tea Room in Chester.

In his foreword to The Complete Alice by Lewis Carroll, Philip Pullman states that they “are as fresh and clever and funny today as they were a hundred and fifty years ago.” Alice in Wonderland is a great icon of English Literature and it is fantastic that the novels and characters are still so widely influential and celebrated today.

By Catherine Tully, School of the Arts student

To see the Alice in Wonderland books mentioned, please contact to arrange a viewing.

Reposted from  University of Liverpool, Student News

The wanderers return

Janet Gnosspelius (1926-2010), who died five years ago this month, left a generous bequest to the University Library. Included in this were twenty-five titles by Arthur Ransome (1884-1967), the man her mother – Barbara Collingwood – might have married. Many of these are first editions inscribed by the author to Barbara before and after her marriage. The Ransome books unfortunately became separated from the donation before it reached the Library and were thought lost. They have recently been traced – just in time for the anniversary of Janet Gnosspelius’s death.

Dating from 1904 to 1962, the collection spans Ransome’s literary life and wide-ranging interests, from his impoverished start in London (The Souls of the Streets & other little papers,1904) to his eventual fame as the author of the Swallows and Amazons series. It includes the study of Oscar Wilde (1913) for which Lord Alfred Douglas sued Ransome for libel, the works drawn from his six years in Russia, where he worked as a secret agent for M16 (Russia in 1919, and The Crisis in Russia, 1921), the log of a sailing holiday in the Baltic after his move to Estonia, where he lived with and eventually married Trotsky’s secretary (‘Racundra’s’ First Cruise,1923), and one of his last books on another lifelong passion (Fishing, 1956).

SwallowsandAmazonsOf the twelve books in the Swallows and Amazons series, the Gnosspelius collection includes inscribed first editions of Swallows and Amazons (1930), Swallowdale (1931, dedicated to “Janet, with love from Uncle Arthur”), Peter Duck (1932), Winter Holiday (1933), Coot Club (1934), Pigeon Post (1936 – the first winner of the Carnegie Medal for children’s literature), and We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea (1937), and 1960s editions, with original dustjackets, of Secret Water, Missie Lee, The Picts and the Martyrs, and Great Northern?. The only missing title – The Big Six – is held in a first edition as part of the Oldham Children’s Book Collection.

The reunited Gnosspelius books now number 100, and are being catalogued and made available for consultation in Special Collections & Archives.






#LivUniSCA Dec.18


Mary Francis Billington one of the first women to report on the War overcame a great deal of prejudice from her male colleagues. She often wrote about the work of volunteer nurses at the front.

Girls Own 1st world war nursing 2

Photograph from The Girl’s Own Annual, v. 38, 1916. University of Liverpool Library: JUV.573

Over by Christmas. December 18. See the 2014 Advent calendar on the SC&A website.


Love in the Library

To celebrate National Libraries Day and look ahead to Valentine’s Day, Special Collections and Archives has put on a romance-themed display.

On show are John Wyndham’s handmade Valentine’s cards, menus for romantic cruise dinners on board Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth and Caronia II, paintings and poems from the Adrian Henri archive, including an owl bookmark with verse by Henri and Carol Ann Duffy, and The Quiver of Love: a collection of Valentines ancient and modern illustrated by Walter Crane and Kate Greenaway.

1964 Cunard Valentine's menu

1964 Cunard Valentine's menu



A chilly start to the New Year!

A brave pursuit to rival Christmas swimming – New Year’s Day skating from January in Walter Crane’s Book of Wedding Days.

The book of wedding days: quotations for every day in the year (London and New York: Longmans, 1889) SPEC JUV.509:13 was compiled by K. E. J. Reid, May Ross and Mabel Bamfield, and has ornate decorations for each page by the Liverpool-born artist Walter Crane (1845-1915), ‘signed’ with his device incorporating his initials and a sketch of a crane.

Walter Crane's pictorial signature device

Advent and After: 22. Advent candle

Faraday's The Chemical History of a Candle: CB 258

Faraday's The Chemical History of a Candle: CB 258

For the 4th and last Sunday in Advent, when all the four Advent candles are lit, it seems timely to find out more about the chemistry of candles themselves.

This work by the renowned scientist Michael Faraday (1791-1867) originates in another Christmas custom – the Royal Institution lectures for children. The six lectures cover all aspects of the subject – good and bad candles, with experiments to prove it, and even a version of lighting the Christmas pudding in the game of snapdragon, which involved setting light to a dish of warm brandy, raisins and plums.

This copy of Faraday’s work is part of the Campbell Brown collection of books on alchemy and chemistry, bequeathed by James Campbell Brown (1843-1910), the University’s first Professor of Chemistry.

Advent and After: 21. Stories for dark nights


Illustration by Jessie Wilcox Smith: Oldham 679

Illustration by Jessie Wilcox Smith: Oldham 679

December 21st is the shortest day of the year, a very dark night perfect for story telling, or for curling up with a good book. The poem ‘Picture-Books in Winter’ from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses might provide the perfect reading.

This 1927 edition, from the Oldham collection of Children’s Books, is beautifully illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith, keeping this children’s classic from 1885 alive for a new generation to discover.

From A Child's Garden of Verses: Oldham 679

A Child's Garden of Verses Oldham 679

From A Child's Garden of Verses: Oldham 679

A Child's Garden of Verses Oldham 679