Lewis Carroll photographs acquired by the Bodleian Libraries

Just in time for Alice’s Day, the Bodleian Libraries is pleased to announce the acquisition of two photographic portraits of Alice Liddell by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll) as part of the library’s growing photography collection. The acquisition comprises one original albumen of Alice Liddell as ‘The Beggar Maid’ (1858) and one original glass wet-plate collodion negative of ‘Alice Liddell Wearing a Garland’ (1860).

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832–1898) was a mathematician and photographer, best known for his work as an author and poet under the pseudonym ‘Lewis Carroll’. His most notable works, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871) are both global sensations, widely acknowledged to have been inspired by the daughter of Henry Liddell (the Dean of Christ Church), Alice Liddell (1852–1934), who is the model in both portraits.

These photographs were donated by a private individual, who had previously acquired the pieces from the Sotheby’s London sale of Lewis Carroll’s Alice: The Photographs, Books, Papers and Personal Effects of Alice Liddell and Her Family, on Wednesday, 6 June, 2001 (Lot 00022 and Lot 00037). Before this time, they were with the family of Alice Liddell.

Both images were taken at a time when Carroll was very close to the Liddell family. Carroll’s relationship with them, and his subsequent portraits of Alice, have sparked controversy in recent years, particularly around the nature of his interest in the child. In ‘The Beggar Maid’, Alice is six years old and wearing what appears to be rags. The image was most likely inspired by a poem written by Carroll's favourite living poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The second image, shows an eight-year-old Alice, wearing a flower crown in her hair.

While the portraits are not necessarily straightforward, they offer historic insights into Victorian photography in general, and demonstrate the social custom of dressing wealthy Victorian children up in themed costumes for their portraits.

On the weekend of 6–7 July 2024, visitors will have the chance to scrutinise the images and make up their own minds, when, as part of the libraries’ Alice’s Day celebrations, the photographs will be on public display in Blackwell Hall in the Weston Library.

The Weston Library will be celebrating all things Wonderland on Saturday 6 July from 10.30am – 3pm, with free events for families, including storytelling, craft activities, and – of course – books, on the theme of ‘Curious Creatures and Fabulous Monsters.’ In addition, the Lewis Carroll Society will be hosting a series of free lectures about the life and work of Lewis Carroll.

Of this important photographic acquisition, Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian, said: 'When people think of Alice in Wonderland, they think of Oxford University and vice versa, and we are absolutely thrilled not only to hold these items within Bodleian collections, but to be putting them on public display for fans of the franchise to enjoy, during Alice’s Day.'

See the images here: https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/6658080a-0d64-4fba-ba66-84887a4259b1/ and https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/24b43752-1888-469b-b99b-3352cf39f631/  (negative shown as a b/w positive online)

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