Down the rabbit hole with Alice in Fryer

In which the Fryer library unearths five versions of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and transcribes a holograph of a note about a piano.

Every year the city of Oxford transforms into Wonderland on Alice Day to commemorate the afternoon of July 4 in 1862, when Charles Lutwidge Dodgson first told a story of Alice's adventures under ground to the three Liddell sisters.

In 1865, it was published as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, with illustrations by John Tenniel. Countless versions have followed: from facsimiles of the Underground manuscript in the British Library to iPad editions.

Come with us as we go down the rabbit hole of Fryer collections to discover some of Alice's Adventures in the antipathies (or should that be antipodes?)

Alice in the Hayes Collection

I shall have to ask them what the name of the country is, you know. Please Ma'am is this New Zealand? Or Australia? - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

There are at least two copies of Alice that arrived at Fryer from The Hayes Collection. Both copies date from the 1890s and attest to the universal popularity of the title during this period. The first, simply entitled Alice in Wonderland is a mass produced edition by The Children's Press (London) with contemporary, comical illustrations by New Zealander Harry Rountree. It is charmingly inscribed with the owner's name and her town, 'Oakey'.

It is easy to mistake the text of the second example as Looking-glass language, but it is in fact a textbook copy of Alice, complete with Tenniel illustrations, in intermediate shorthand. (For a similar example, see the Central Library copy of Alicia in terra mirabili).

The start of chapter seven of Alice in Wonderland written in shorthand

A curious letter

Before George Sampson, fellow of the Royal College of Organists, migrated to Brisbane to become the organist and choirmaster of St John's Cathedral, he offered to assist a certain CL Dodgson purchase a piano: Mr Dodgson specifies 'a really good "cottage" Broadwood' for his cousin Mrs Hitchcock.

A holograph of the letter from Dodgson (and of a letter authenticating the original letter) remains in Fryer's collection of Sampson's correspondence (UQFL50, box 1, items 6a and 6b).

'I'VE been to a day-school, too,' said Alice; 'you needn't be so proud as all that.'
'With extras?' asked the Mock Turtle a little anxiously.
'Yes,' said Alice, 'we learned French and music.'
'And washing?' said the Mock Turtle.
'Certainly not!' said Alice indignantly. - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

The first Australian Alice?

The artist and historian George Collingridge is believed to be one of the first Australian artists to adapt Alice.

Alice in one dear land follows Alice through the rabbit hole to Alice Springs, where she meets Australian counterparts to Wonderland characters, such as native bear, bower bird, lyre bird, and emu. Similarly, the text attempts to echo the nonsense and word play of the original; albeit with a distinctly Australian flavour (Alice will eat anything the native bear will choose, the native bear chews gum leaves). However, the most successful element is Collingridge's distinctive woodcuts as illustrations, which portray Alice in bush landscapes.

Fryer Library's edition is a handmade book with tipped in plates (including colour illustrations) believed to have been privately published in 1922.

Alice and the Native Bear take a walk in the bush
A coloured plate from Alice in one dear land

Alitji in Dreamland

It is calculated that the Pitjantjatjara language version Alitjinya Ngura Tjukurmankuntjala is the forty-fourth translation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In Alitji in Dreamland the story unfolds in parallel text, English and Pitjantjatjara. A tired Alitji, sitting in the creek bed playing a story telling game with her sister, suddenly sees a white kangaroo…

Fryer holds two editions of this text: the first edition produced by the University of Adelaide (1975) and a second edition with colour illustrations by Donna Leslie (1992).

In a Wonderland, created by Charles Blackman

Another Alice, in the Fryer collection, was published in 1982 accompanied by the illustrations of Charles Blackman. An important Australian artist and member of the Antipodeans group, he is most famous for his School days and Alice in Wonderland series. The fiftieth anniversary of the Alice paintings was celebrated by the NGV in 2006.

The catalogue from this exhibition is also held by Fryer; it describes how the paintings drew inspiration not only from the Carroll's text, but from Blackman's personal experience.

In looking-glass country

Now often combined with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there was equally as popular when published in 1871; still being reprinted in 1877 by Macmillan. This "forty-fourth thousand" printing is the last to include the incorrect chess diagram, which Dodgson discovered and pressed his publisher to correct by reinstating the missing kings. (The incident is documented in Lewis Carroll and the house of Macmillan.)

The edition contains fifty classic Tenniel illustrations and of course, Alice's memorable encounter with the White Queen, where she is encouraged to believe impossible things:

'I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast'. - Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871)

Interested in Alice?

If you haven't read Alice, or want to learn more, the Library has plenty of books and articles available at Central Library and online.

The annotated Alice
The Alice behind wonderland
• The diaries and letters of Lewis Carroll
The place of Lewis Carroll in children's literature
The Illustrators of Alice in Wonderland and Through the looking glass
Alternative Alices: visions and revisions of Lewis Carroll's Alice books

Last updated:
7 June 2021