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· Two vicars, three daughters, three miles up the Thames to Wonderland.

By ALBERTO MANGUEL [Threepenny Review] – Of all the miracles that pinpoint the histories of our literatures, few are as miraculous as that of the birth of Alice in Wonderland. The well-known story is worth repeating. On the afternoon of July 4, 1862, the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, accompanied by his friend the Reverend Robinson Duckworth, took the three young daughters of Dr. Liddell, Dean of Christ Church, on a three-mile boating expedition up the Thames, from Folly Bridge, near Oxford, to the village of Godstow. “The sun was so burning,” Alice Liddell recalled many years later, “that we landed in the meadows down the river, deserting the boat to take refuge in the only bit of shade to be found, which was under a new-made hayrick. Here from all three came the old petition of ‘Tell us a story,’ and so began the ever-delightful tale. Sometimes to tease us—and perhaps being really tired—Mr. Dodgson would stop suddenly and say, ‘And that’s all till next time.’ ‘Ah, but it is next time,’ would be the exclamation from all three: and after some persuasion the story would start afresh.” When they returned, Alice asked Dodgson to write out the adventures for her. He said he would try, and sat up nearly the whole night putting down the tale on paper, and adding a number of pen-and-ink illustrations; afterwards, the little volume, entitled Alice’s Adventures Underground, was often seen on the drawing-room table at the Deanery. Three years later, in 1865, the story was published by Macmillan in London under the pseudonym of “Lewis Carroll” and the title Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The Reverend Duckworth recalled the excursion precisely: “I rowed stroke and he rowed bow in the famous Long Vacation voyage to Godstow, when the three Miss Liddells were our passengers, and the story was actually composed and spoken over my shoulder for the benefit of Alice Liddell, who was acting as ‘cox’ of our gig. I remember turning round and saying, ‘Dodgson, is this an extempore romance of yours?’ And he replied, ‘Yes, I’m inventing as we go along.’”

Continued at The Threepenny Review | More Chronicle & Notices.

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