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Alice Pleasance Liddell (4 May 1852 – 16 November 1934), known for most of her adult life by her married name, Alice Hargreaves, inspired the children's classic Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Her family surname Liddell is .


Alice Liddell was the fourth child of Henry Liddell, Dean of Christ Church, Oxfordmarker, 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. One of her younger brothers died in infancy.

At the time of her birth, Liddell's father was the Dean of Westminster Schoolmarker but was soon after appointed to the deanery of Christ Church, Oxford. The Liddell family moved to Oxford in 1856. Soon after this move, she met Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who encountered the family while he was photographing the cathedral on 25 April 1856. He became a close friend of the Liddell family in subsequent years (see Relationship with Lewis Carroll below).

Liddell grew up primarily in the company of the two sisters nearest to her in age: Lorina, who was three years older, and Edith, who was two years younger. She and her family regularly spent holidays at their holiday home Penmorfa, which later became the Gogarth Abbey Hotel, on the West Shore of Llandudnomarker in North Walesmarker.

Alice Hargreaves in old age

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, but the evidence for this is sparse. It is true that years later, Leopold's named his first child Alice, and acted as godfather to Alice's son Leopold. (A recent biographer of Leopold suggests it is far more likely that Alice's sister Edith was the true recipient of Leopold's attention.) Edith died, possibly of measles or peritonitis (accounts differ), shortly before she was to be married to another suitor.

Alice Liddell married Reginald Hargreaves on 15 September 1880, at the age of 28 in Westminster Abbeymarker. 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. Liddell denied that the name 'Caryl' was in any way associated with Charles Dodgson's pseudonym. They also had one daughter: Rose Liddell Hargreaves. Reginald Hargreaves inherited a considerable fortune, and Alice became a noted society hostess.
The grave of Alice Hargreaves in the graveyard of the church of St. Michael & All Angels, Lyndhurst

After her husband's death, the cost of maintaining their home, Cuffnells, was such that she deemed it necessary to sell her copy of Alice's Adventures Under Ground. The manuscript fetched £15,400, nearly four times the reserve price given it by Sotheby's auction house. It 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 America that she met Peter Llewelyn-Davies, one of the brothers who inspired J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan). At 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 Librarymarker.

Late in life, she lived in and around Lyndhurstmarker in the New Forestmarker, and is buried in the graveyard of the church of St. Michael & All Angels, Lyndhurst.

Origin of Alice in Wonderland

On 4 July 1862, in a rowing boat travelling on The Isismarker from Folly Bridgemarker, Oxfordmarker to Godstowmarker for a picnic outing, 10-year-old Liddell asked Charles Dodgson (who wrote under the pen name Lewis Carroll) to entertain her and her sisters, Edith (age 8) and Lorina (age 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 not unlike 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.

In the meantime, Dodgson had decided to rewrite the story as a possible commercial venture. Probably with a view to canvassing his opinion, Dodgson sent the manuscript of Under Ground to a friend, the author George MacDonald, in the spring of 1863 . The MacDonald children read the story and loved it, and this response probably persuaded Dodgson to seek a publisher. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, with illustrations by John Tenniel, was published in 1865, under the name Lewis Carroll. A second book about the character Alice, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, followed in 1871. In 1886, a facsimile of Alice's Adventures Under Ground, the original manuscript that Dodgson had given Liddell, was published.

Relationship with Lewis Carroll

The relationship between Liddell and Dodgson has been the source of much controversy. Many biographers have supposed that Dodgson was romantically or sexually attached to her as a child, though there has never been any direct proof for this and more benign accounts assume merely a platonic fondness. Karoline Leach has claimed this supposition is part of what she terms the "Carroll Myth" and thus wildly distorted. The evidence for any given interpretation is small, and many authors writing on the topic have tended to indulge in a great deal of speculation.

Dodgson met the Liddell family in 1855. He first befriended Harry, the older brother, and later took both Harry and Ina on several boating trips and picnics to the scenic areas around Oxford. Later, when Harry went to school, Alice and her younger sister Edith joined the party. Dodgson entertained the children by telling them fantastic stories to while away the time. He also used them as subjects for his hobby, photography. It has often been stated that Alice was clearly his favorite subject in these years, but there is very little evidence to suggest that this is so. Dodgson's diaries from 18 April 1858 to 8 May 1862 are missing and may have been destroyed by his heirs.

"Cut pages in diary"

The relationship between the Liddells and Dodgson suffered a sudden break in June 1863. There was no record of why the rift occurred, since the Liddells never openly spoke of it, and the single page in Dodgson's diary recording 27-29 June 1863 (which seems to cover the period in which it began) was missing. Until recently, the only source for what happened on that day had been speculation, and generally centered on the idea that Alice Liddell was, somehow, the cause of the break. It was long suspected that her mother disapproved of Dodgson's interest in her, seeing him as an unfit companion for an 11-year-old girl.

In 1996, Karoline Leach found what became known as the "Cut pages in diary" document — a note allegedly written by Charles Dodgson's niece, Violet Dodgson, summarizing the missing page from 27–29 June 1863, apparently written before she (or her sister Menella) removed the page. The note reads:
"L.C. learns from Mrs. Liddell that he is supposed to be using the children as a means of paying court to the governess — he is also supposed soon to be courting Ina". (Leach, 1999)

This might imply that the break between Dodgson and the Liddell family was caused by concern over alleged gossip linking Dodgson to the family governess and to "Ina" (Alice's older sister, Lorina).

It is uncertain who wrote the note. Leach has said that the handwriting on the front of the document most closely resembles that of either Menella or Violet Dodgson, Dodgson's nieces. However, Morton N. Cohen says, in an article recently published in the Times Literary Supplement, that, in the 1960s, Dodgson's great-nephew Philip Dodgson Jacques told him that Jacques had written the note himself based on conversations he remembered with Dodgson's nieces. Cohen's article offered no evidence to support this, however, and known samples of Jacques' handwriting do not seem to resemble the writing of the note.

After this incident, Dodgson avoided the Liddell home for some six months but eventually returned for a visit in December 1863. However, the former closeness does not seem to have been re-established, and the friendship gradually faded away, possibly because Dodgson was in opposition to Dean Liddell over college politics. Other explanations involving romantic entanglements and broken hearts have also been put forward, but while there is some evidence to suggest these as possibilities, nothing definite is known. John Ruskin states in his autobiography Praeterita that after the rift between Dodgson and the Liddells, the sisters pursued a similar relationship with him.

Comparison with fictional Alice

Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

The extent to which Dodgson's Alice may be identified with Liddell is controversial. The two Alices are clearly not identical, and though it was long assumed that the fictional Alice was based very heavily on Liddell, recent research has contradicted this assumption. Dodgson himself claimed in later years that his Alice was entirely imaginary and not based upon any real child at all.

There was a rumour that Dodgson sent Tenniel a photo of one of his other child-friends, Mary Hilton Badcock, suggesting that he used her as a model, but attempts to find documentary support for this theory have proved fruitless. Dodgson's own drawings of the character in the original manuscript of Alice's Adventures under Ground show little resemblance to Liddell. Biographer Anne Clark suggests that Dodgson might have used Edith Liddell as a model for his drawings.

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?

Alice Liddell in other works

Several later writers have written fictional accounts of Liddell. She is one of the main characters of the Riverworld series of books, by Philip José Farmer. She is one of the titular characters (along with Wendy from Peter Pan and Dorothy from Oz) in the adult comic Lost girls by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie. She plays a small but critical role in Lewis Padgett's short story "Mimsy Were The Borogoves". Canadian poet Stephanie Bolster also wrote a collection of poems, White Stonemarker, based on her. Katie Roiphe has written a fictional (claimed to be based on fact) account of the relationship between Alice and Carroll, titled Still She Haunts Me. In Alice I Have Been, author Melanie Benjamin has written a fictional account of Alice's life from childhood through old age - focusing on her relationship with Lewis Carroll and the way the publication of Alice's Adventures Under Ground affected her. The 1985 movie Dreamchild deals with her trip to America for the Columbia University presentation described above; through a series of flashbacks, it promotes the popular assumption that Dodgson was romantically attracted to Alice. Frank Beddor wrote The Looking Glass Wars, which reimagines the Alice in Wonderland story and includes real-life characters such as the Liddells and Prince Leopold. Liddell and Dodgson are used as protagonists in Bryan Talbot's 2007 graphic novel Alice in Sunderland to relay the history and myths of the area. The 2008 opera by Alan John and Andrew Upton Through the Looking Glass covers both the fictional Alice and Liddell. In 2009, an episode of the Syfy production Warehouse 13 represents Alice as a lunatic trapped in a magic mirror (though the brief glimpse of that Alice more closely resembles the blond-haired character of John Tenniel's illustrations than the real-life Alice Liddell).

Alice Liddell is also the name of the heroine's ship in the book Take Back Plenty by Colin Greenland.


  • Gardner, Martin (1965). Introduction to Alice's Adventures under Ground by Lewis Carroll. Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-21482-6.
  • Gardner, Martin (ed.) (2000). The Annotated Alice (The Definitive Edition). Allen Lane The Penguin Press. ISBN 0-713-99417-7.
  • Gray, Donald J. The Norton Critical Edition of Alice in Wonderland, edited by Donald J. Gray [22127].
  • Official website

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