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Book of the Month

March 2000

Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking Glass

London: 1872

Hepburn 99

This month's book is a first edition of Lewis Carroll's classic Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, published by Macmillan & Co. at Christmas, 1871 but post-dated 1872 on the title page. It is the sequel to the immensely popular Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Macmillan, 1866). This second book sold extremely well, with 15,000 copies being bought in the first seven weeks following publication. Most children's books of this time were instructional or were dry tales with a pious moral message so it is not surprising that the satirical and witty Alice books flourished, being enjoyed by adults as well as children.

Lewis Carroll was the pseudonym of the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), a shy mathematics don at Christ Church, Oxford. He was extremely fond of children and loved to entertain them with puzzles, games and stories he had devised. The Alice books were based on stories he told to entertain the three eldest daughters of the Reverend Henry George Liddell, Dean of Christ Church. Many of the characters in the book would be instantly recognisable to them as they were based on people they knew, in and around Oxford. Dodgson's favourite of the daughters was Alice and it was she who became the heroine of the stories.


The White Knight depicted on the frontispiece
with Alice is widely believed to be a caricature of Dodgson himself.

Alice with Red Queen
"curtsey while thinking what to say. It saves time."

The story of Through the Looking-Glass describes Alice's adventures as she moves symbolically from child to adult in a strange world entered through a mirror above her drawing-room fireplace. The landscape there is in the form of a giant chess board and Alice enters the game as a white pawn. She travels across the board until she is crowned queen at the eighth square. Along the way she encounters some of Carroll's most memorable and enduring characters, among them Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Walrus and the Carpenter, The Lion and the Unicorn, and the Jabberwock. The book is also filled with many fine nonsense poems and songs which are still quoted from today. As with Alices Adventures in Wonderland the story ends with Alice waking from a dream but the tone of the book is altogether more melancholy and is prefaced by an extremely sad poem which reflects Dodgson's own feelings about his young child-friends growing up and entering the adult world. By the time Looking Glass was published, Alice Liddell was nineteen years old and Dodgson rarely saw her, although he remembered her fondly for the rest of his life. He did, however, send three advance copies of the book to the Liddell family with "the one for Alice being bound in morocco" as he noted in his diary.

Railway Carriage
The man in the white paper hat is thought to be a caricature of Benjamin Disraeli. The drawing of Alice is a direct copy of the famous painting "My First Sermon" by John Everett Millais

Tweedledum and Tweedledee
"If you think we're waxworks, you ought to pay you know."

Back cover of binding (detail)

Our first edition of the book is an octavo volume in red cloth and gilt stamped, with fifty illustrations by Sir John Tenniel (1820-1914), the famous Punch artist. Carroll had first thought of writing a sequel to Alice as early as 1866 and approached Tenniel to illustrate, but Tenniel said he was too busy. It took a further two and a half years before Carroll could persuade him to take on the task. The relationship between author and artist had been volatile when Tenniel had illustrated Wonderland and was none the less so on this book as both men were perfectionists. This resulted in many changes, including the "Wasp in a Wig" chapter being dropped from the book after Tenniel said it was "beyond the appliances of art." The text of this, intended to appear at the end of chapter eight, was lost for many years but was found and eventually published by Macmillan in 1977. Tenniel's original frontispiece illustration of the Jabberwock was moved further into the text after Carroll deemed it too frightening for his younger readers and was replaced by the image of the white knight.
All the wood engravings for Tenniel's illustrations were made by George and Edward Dalziel who were the leading commercial wood engravers of the Victorian age; they worked with the most famous artists and illustrators of the period, such as Cruikshank, Millais and Burne-Jones. The original woodblocks for the Alice books were discovered in a vault of the National Westminster Bank in Covent Garden in 1985 and are now on permanent loan to the British Library. Most woodblocks of this period were broken up or re-used but these survived thanks to Carroll's concern for their safekeeping, probably due the large sum of money he had to pay for them. His contract with publisher Macmillan, which was by no means unusual for the time, meant that he had to bear all the costs of publishing the book, and even of advertising it. Macmillan simply sold it on commission. The association between author and publisher was a fruitful and enduring one which lasted some thirty-five years, until the author's death.

The last edition of Through the Looking-Glass to be published in the author's lifetime appeared in 1879 and included his final alterations.

As well as the Alice books, Dodgson also published some mathematical treatises and nonsense poems and parodies. His other fictional works include Phantasmagoria and other poems (1869), The Hunting of the Snark (1876), and Sylvie and Bruno (1889) but none have captured the public imagination so much as the Alice books which remain popular and influential over 130 years after they were first written.


Queen Alice

"to the Looking-Glass world it was Alice that said
'I've a sceptre in hand, I've a crown on my head
Let the Looking-Glass creatures, whatever they be
Come dine with the Red Queen, The White Queen and me!'"

Alice's adventures in wonderland and through the looking-glass fully illustrated in line and colour by Harry Rountree (London: Collins, 1928) Sp Coll Hepburn q20; The complete works of Lewis Carroll ; with an introduction by Alexander Woollcott and the illustrations by John Tenniel (London: Nonesuch Press, 1940) Sp Coll Hepburn 100; The hunting of the Snark; an agony in eight fits (London: Macmillan, 1876) Sp Coll Hepburn 97 and Sp Coll 913; The hunting of the Snark, an agony in eight fits illustrated by Mervyn Peake (London: Lighthouse Books Ltd., 1948) Sp Coll Hepburn 98; Sylvie and Bruno with forty six illustrations by Harry Furniss (London: Macmillan, 1889) Sp Coll 926; Sylvie and Bruno concluded with forty six illustrations by Harry Furniss (London: Macmillan, 1893) Sp Coll 927; The Lewis Carroll picture book; a selection from the unpublished writings and drawings of Lewis Carroll, together with reprints from scarce and unacknowledged work edited by Stuart Dodgson Collingwood (London: Unwin, 1899) Sp Coll 925
Autograph letter from John Tenniel to I. Dixon Spane (31 August 1881): MS Gen 1515 (item 22)

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Niki Pollock March 2000