English Language and Literature: Wonderlands old and new: the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll's Alice

Prof Eugene Giddens, Zoe Jaques

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was first published in 1865, and 2015 marked the 150th anniversary of this world-famous book.

Prof Giddens’ and Zoe Jaques’ research on the history of Alice led directly to Wonderland Week, which ran from 15-19 September 2015 and featured events for actors, artists, musicians, teachers, families and more. It also informed their book, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass: A Publishing History.

Eugene Giddens

Prof Eugene Giddens

Eugene is Skinner-Young Professor of Shakespeare & Renaissance Literature at ARU. He teaches and researches Shakespeare, Renaissance drama, children’s literature, history of the book, and masculinity studies.

Find out more about Prof Eugene Giddens Explore ARU researchers' original work via our open access repository, ARRO

Research summary

Alice is one of Britain’s greatest cultural outputs. Yet to think of it as simply fun for children ignores the complex uses to which the text has been put. It has been used to reaffirm nostalgic senses of ‘Britishness’, and to offer resistance to adultist cultures of warmongering and capitalism.

The work of Giddens and Jaques traces the cross-cultural and multi-generational history of the text. It has generated new understanding of the historical impact of Lewis Carroll’s collected Alice works on creative culture, education, and childhood/youth studies.

Giddens’ and Jaques’ research led to a week-long series of events In Cambridge in 2015, called Wonderland Week. Focusing on ‘transformations’, the event featured a two-day conference, film screenings, a theatre show, and a family tea party.

Beneficiaries of Wonderland Week extended beyond the field of children’s literature to include artists, musicians, teachers, cinephiles, librarians, and the general public.

Giddens' and Jaques’ research on the history of Alice’s reception and adaptation has brought previously hidden materials – such as early theatrical designs or Carroll’s own licensed merchandise – to the wider public. It has also helped archives and libraries shape their collections’ dissemination strategies to reach a broader range of users, including children, parents, and teachers.

Their work includes the monograph Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass: A Publishing History, published by Ashgate/Routledge in 2013.

This title has helped a number of collections and exhibitions to widen public knowledge of different aspects of Alice and its long history. It shaped curatorial practice towards Harvard University’s 'Alice 150: Alice in America' exhibition, and the University of Michigan’s 'Curiouser and Curiouser' exhibition.

Meanwhile the Brighton Toy and Model Museum’s Alice collection holds a Through the Looking-Glass biscuit tin, which is examined for the first time extensively in Giddens’ and Jaques’ monograph. The museum relies upon these findings to explain the rare object’s significance.

More widely, the monograph is cited in the US Government’s account of Alice copyright, as it offers the most detailed investigation of Carroll’s rejection of the first edition, subsequently released in the US, why that rejection and publication occurred, and what American publishers did to promote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland subsequently.

Described as ‘highly recommended’ and ‘an important contribution to Carrollian reception history’, the book has also enhanced public understanding by being drawn on by many different online sources of information about the Alice books – from fandom sites to scholarly webpages.

The book ultimately underpinned many of the events held during Wonderland Week in 2015. A review of the various international celebrations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published in the Children's Book History Society Newsletter for December 2015, commented that Wonderland Week offered ‘[b]y far the most significant scholarly event in the UK’.

Illustration from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland showing Alice, the White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter at a tea party

Summary of the impact

  • To mark the 150th publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a conference, Alice through the Ages, assessed Alice's legacy and influence
  • Teachers and trainees attended workshops to discover how Alice can be used to shape learning outcomes
  • Film screenings, lectures, theatre shows and musical performances brought Alice to new audiences
  • A number of exhibitions explored aspects of Alice and the late nineteenth-century environment in which the book was produced

Impact

Multidisciplinary conference explored Alice’s influence and catered to academic and non-academic participants

In 2015 a three-day conference, Alice through the Ages, explored topics such as Alice’s influence on hotel design and the history of fashion. In doing so, it drew on one of the main concerns of Giddens’ and Jaques’ monograph – the ‘sociology of the text’.

The conference attracted speakers and delegates with a variety of interests, including substantive participation from non-academic members of the Lewis Carroll Society, which was a co-sponsor of the event. Macmillan, Carroll’s original publishers, sponsored the conference banquet. The Norfolk Children’s Bookshop was a local enterprise supplying the conference with an extensive Alice bookshop.

Training workshops delivered to teachers and teacher trainees

The Alice monograph discusses how Alice can be used to shape learning outcomes and, as part of Wonderland Week, The Children’s Literature Special Interest Group of the English Association sponsored a Wonderland in the Classroom workshop for teachers and trainees, held in Cambridge.

A half-day workshop, Alice in the Classroom, was also delivered to 45 primary teachers and teacher trainees.

Alice re-interpreted through film, theatre and music

As part of Wonderland Week, the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse offered a public lecture, Alice in Cinema, coupled with a double-bill screening of the earliest Alice film (Hepworth, 1903) and the (then) most recent (Burton, 2010), both of which are extensively analysed in the research team’s Alice monograph. The event was open to the public and aimed to enhance knowledge of Alice adaptation and cinema history.

The Mumford Theatre, on ARU’s Cambridge campus, hosted Kevin Moore’s one-man-show on Lewis Carroll, Crocodiles in Cream. The production was aimed at local families.

At the same time, cello octet Cellophony offered a public performance of their specially-produced musical version of Alice in Wonderland.

Exhibitions explore Alice's legacy and continued cultural significance

A guided exhibition, ‘Fantastical Victorians’, at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, was designed in close collaboration with Jaques and based upon the findings of the Alice monograph.

It sought to highlight the late-nineteenth century’s fascination with bold whimsy. It explored a culture surrounded by objects inspiring the imagination, which gave rise to Alice and the golden age of children’s literature. It included rarely seen materials such as sketches by Edward Lear.

Elsewhere in Cambridge, Alice’s importance in material culture was addressed by a public exhibition of translated and re-illustrated editions at Homerton College Library. The exhibition was based on the Alice monograph’s discussion of significant post-Macmillan editions and translations.

ARU hosted an installation of William Stok’s 24-metre drawing, Alice in Wonderland, accompanied by a public lecture from the artist. This was followed by a round-table discussion with children’s illustrators John Vernon Lord and Marcia Williams, who discussed the challenges and affordances of John Tenniel’s seminal work on Alice from the perspective of contemporary practice. This event was of particular value to Cambridge’s community of children’s illustrators.

About more about alice exhibitions.

See also

Prof Eugene Giddens: English literature research



Read the full REF 2021 impact case study for UoA 27: Wonderlands old and new: the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s Alice

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