Ducks and Doubles in Wonderland

This blog post was written by Andrew White 

Friends of Lewis Carroll faced unceasing peril of being turned into animals and absorbed into Wonderland—as the fate of Carroll’s friend Robinson Duckworth will attest. Duckworth was a fellow at Oxford’s Trinity College while Lewis Carroll’s real world avatar, Charles Dodgson, was mathematics lecturer at Christ Church nearby. On the afternoon that Carroll invented the story of Alice’s famous adventures, Duckworth entered Wonderland in duck-form, immortalized as a character in Wonderland at the same time that the daughters of the Dean of Christ Church—Lorina, Edith, and Alice herself—also received Wonderland passports. Three books on the shelves at the Rosenbach tell the story of how Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland came before the world, and how its first hearers would be forever pulled into Carroll’s story.

Lewis Carroll. Alice’s adventures in Wonderland. London: Macmillan, 1866. Inscribed to Robinson Duckworth. Collection of the Rosenbach, EL3 .D645a 866a.

Above is an inscription in the 1866 first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that Carroll gave to Robinson Duckworth. The “voyage” Carroll refers to is the fateful trip Carroll and Duckworth took with the Liddell sisters along the Thames on July 4, 1862. In collector parlance, a “presentation copy” is a book given to someone significant in its author’s life—but the Duckworth copy of Alice takes this into another dimension, as it is not only inscribed to Carroll’s friend, but to a character in his book.

Alice Pleasance Liddell was also a passenger on Dodgson and Duckworth’s Thames voyage, and famously entered Wonderland as the heroine of Carroll’s story. (One wonders how sisters Edith and Lorina felt about being relegated to the supporting roles of “Eaglet” and “Lory”). According to Duckworth, it was Alice herself who asked Carroll to record the story, and the first physical form it took was Carroll’s hand-lettered and personally illustrated gift to her, then titled Alice’s Adventures Underground. This manuscript proto-Alice—one of literature’s most sacred reliquaries—was briefly owned by Dr. Rosenbach, and is now enshrined at the British Library. Below you see a published facsimile from 1886, made from the original. Carroll’s handmade Christmas gift was copied and printed after being borrowed for that purpose from Alice—by then metamorphosed into a grown up Mrs. Hargreaves.

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. London: Macmillan and Co., 1886. EL3.D145al 866 MS Facsimile

Lacking both the “Pig and Pepper” chapter and the “Mad Tea Party,” Alice’s Adventures Underground is the closest thing in Carroll’s oeuvre to the incomplete first printing of Hamlet—the stunted double of a much-loved classic. Much like Hamlet’s “bad quarto,” Alice’s Adventures Underground is presented as live theater in the shadow of its better-known and much-filmed twin—most recently in a successful immersive production below London’s Waterloo station! The copy of Underground pictured above is another gift to Robinson Duckworth. It lives on Dr. Rosenbach’s shelf, and is inscribed to “the Duck, from the Dodo,” a reference to how Carroll himself first entered Wonderland in the form of an officious extinct bird.

Lewis Carroll. Alice’s adventures under ground. Facsimile 2. London: Macmillan, 1886. EL3 .D645al 866.

Alternate selves and parallel worlds recur in Carroll’s work from Wonderland to Looking Glass to his neglected late opus, Sylvie and Bruno. Given Carroll’s fondness for drawing friends down rabbit holes and creating fictional doppelgangers of them, it’s not surprising that themes of doubles and mirrored selves would permanently impact the identities of those who knew him. This occurs most poignantly in the case of the one passenger on the legendary Thames trip who became more famous than Carroll. The “real” Alice, Alice Pleasance Liddell—later Hargreaves—passed through all of life’s stages with a phantom self at her side, the immortal Alice she had inspired Carroll to create. Only one edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on Rosenbach shelves has a likeness of Alice on the spine, and fittingly, this is the one that contains the autograph, not of Carroll, but of Alice Hargreaves.

Lewis Carroll. Alice’s adventures in Wonderland. New York: Limited Editions Club, 1932. Signed by Alice Hargreaves. EL3 .D645a 932.

Mrs. Hargreaves’ tidy handwriting graces this 1932 Alice printed by the Limited Editions Club—a press that specialized in small runs (usually 1,500) of classic and contemporary works. Limited Editions Club books were often signed by their authors, illustrators, and designers, but not by their muses or characters. Alice Hargreaves—muse and character both—signed copies of the Limited Editions Club Alice in the midst of the receptions, speeches, honorary degrees and barrages of flash-bulbs she endured during the transatlantic centenary celebrations of Dodgson/Carroll’s birth. In photographs of her at the time of her American tour, Mrs. Hargreaves seems to regard her involvement in Carroll’s immortal story with a queenly tolerance, fitting for someone who had lived a full life in the real world, and would reign forever in Wonderland.

To discover more about Lewis Carroll’s muses, inspirations, and publications at the Rosenbach, have a look here, here, or here—but take care not to be spirited away to Wonderland forever!

One thought on “Ducks and Doubles in Wonderland

  1. Fascinating. I love that last image of her as queen in Wonderland.

    I’ve always had a fondness of Dodos. I had to look up when the Dodo went extinct and discovered it was in the 1600’s, but that
    it was Carroll himself who brought it to fame.

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