The best books about Lewis Carroll and Alice

Who am I?

I am an Oxford local historian, and the only Oxford guide endorsed by the Lewis Carroll Society. I have helped shape Oxford’s annual Alice’s Day since the first one in 2007, and have participated in French, Dutch, Canadian, Brazilian and British TV and radio documentaries, most notably for BBC 2 and BBC Radio 4. My interest is mainly the many Oxford realities which are hidden away within the apparent fantasy of the ‘Alice’ books, an angle which has enabled me to lecture on this internationally famous topic as far away as Assam in India. Subsequently, my appreciation of Carroll’s versatility as a mathematician, photographer, inventor, diarist, and letter writer has grown steadily over the years.

I wrote...

Alice in Waterland: Lewis Carroll and the River Thames in Oxford

By Mark Davies,

Book cover of Alice in Waterland: Lewis Carroll and the River Thames in Oxford

What is my book about?

An appraisal of a world-famous Oxford story from a new angle: the fundamental influence of the River Thames in the creation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Lewis Carroll (the Christ Church don Charles Dodgson) entertained Alice Liddell and her sisters (the daughters of the Dean) with impromptu stories on rowing trips over seven summers, and it was on the river that the story of Alice had its birth.

Alice in Waterland sets the Oxford scene by combining excerpts from Carroll’s diaries and both Alice books with contemporary images, memoirs, and fiction on a literary journey of discovery along some ten miles of the picturesque river of which ‘the merry crew’ were all so fond. The book also sheds new light, and corrects some long-standing misconceptions, on the real places, people, and events which stimulated Carroll’s extraordinary imagination. "This is a splendid book." Philip Pullman

The books I picked & why

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After Such Kindness

By Gaynor Arnold,

Book cover of After Such Kindness

Why this book?

A teasingly insightful glimpse of the Victorian Oxford of Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell, the two protagonists – and yet they aren’t! Yes, there is an Oxford University don with a penchant for photography, and yes his favourite subject is a ten-year-old local girl, and yes the text is scattered with subtle Wonderland and Looking-Glass references, but this is otherwise a quite different, very cleverly contrived, story. Structured as the inner thoughts of the main characters, After Such Kindness engagingly explores the dilemmas posed by the unusual friendship between a mature clergyman bachelor – Arnold convincingly captures Carroll’s playful sense of humour – and an inquisitive and trusting young girl, while sustaining a lurking sense of foreboding through to a thought-provoking finale.

The Looking Glass House

By Vanessa Tait,

Book cover of The Looking Glass House

Why this book?

This fictional interpretation of the creation of Alice’s Adventures is seen from the viewpoint of a constant, yet largely unremarked, fixture during these critical years: the Liddell family governess, Mary Prickett. The Oxford context of the time is convincingly depicted, and some of the burning issues of the day – Darwinism and Nonconformism, for instance – are interwoven with the more immediate tensions within the Liddell household, interpreted by an author who has more right than anyone to comment because Tait is the great-granddaughter of the real Alice herself. To sustain the pace she condenses the real events of 1857 to 1863 into a single fictionalised year, drawing on many well-known facts and suppositions – including Carroll’s rumoured amorous interest in Miss Prickett – and some lesser known details from her own family’s archives.

Lewis Carroll's England

By Charlie Lovett,

Book cover of Lewis Carroll's England

Why this book?

Although this guide to the many English towns and cities associated with Charles Dodgson, the author of Alice, is now more than 20 years old, it remains the most accessible and comprehensive Carrollian guide for the literary tourist. Lovett, a former President of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, provides admirably clear directions accompanied by over 200 illustrations and photographs, many coming from his own extensive collection. To quote from the cover text, Lovett takes the reader ‘from the tiny Cheshire village of Dodgson’s birth to the Surrey hillside that provides his final resting place … on a journey through Victorian Britain like no other’. True enough, and in between come locations in, most importantly, Yorkshire, Rugby, Oxford, London, the Isle of Wight, and Eastbourne.

Lewis Carroll's Diaries: The Private Journals of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson

By Lewis Carroll,

Book cover of Lewis Carroll's Diaries: The Private Journals of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson

Why this book?

Actually, it is ten books, covering 1855 to 1897 (with a reconstruction of the missing journals of April 1858 to May 1862 – their disappearance being the cause of countless conspiracy theories!). These diaries are the principal source of practically every piece of Lewis Carroll/Alice analysis that has ever been published, and provide a uniquely revealing chronology of the genesis of one of the world’s classic works of literature. These volumes mean that the enigmatic genius of Lewis Carroll is not the sole preserve of academics or historians; through them, he becomes accessible to us all. Transcribed and fully indexed by Edward Wakeling, a renowned world expert, whose extraordinarily detailed and insightful bibliographical and contextual notes provide an unparalleled insight into Victorian Oxford (London, Surrey, Yorkshire, Sussex, and more).

Some of these volumes are hard to get, but there are some remaining copies at the Lewis Carroll Society if interested. 

Lewis Carroll: Photographer

By Helmut Gernsheim,

Book cover of Lewis Carroll: Photographer

Why this book?

Mention the name ‘Lewis Carroll’ and most people will immediately think of the two Alice books. Very few would equate the name to Charles Dodgson, the photographer. This, however, is the aspect of the multi-talented Oxford don which Gernsheim, a professional photographer himself, appraised in his 1949 first edition for the very first time, concluding that Dodgson was ‘the most outstanding photographer of children in the nineteenth century. Many of the black and white plates substantiate this claim, but equally, Dodgson’s mastery of this new invention enabled him to meet and photograph (sometimes uniquely) numerous famous writers and artists, as well as many Oxford contemporaries. As an aside, Edward Wakeling’s 2015 Catalogue Raisonné is a comprehensive listing of every one of Dodgson’s hundreds of known photographs.

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