The Alice Behind Wonderland, by Simon Winchester, Oxford University Press, RRP£9.99, 128 pages
How appropriate was the friendship between Lewis Carroll and his muse, Alice Liddell? It is a question that has sustained a string of literary biographies – not to mention a fair amount of acidic gossip. Simon Winchester formulates his appraisal around a single photograph taken in 1858.
An enthusiastic amateur photographer, Lewis Carroll – aka Charles Dodgson – shot Alice dressed as Tennyson’s “beggar maid” at his Oxford college. Clothed in rags and with her chest exposed, Alice, then just six years old, begs coquettishly to the camera. It’s an unsettling image.
The title of this slender volume is quite inappropriate; the private life of well-to-do Alice barely figures. Instead, and with remarkable clarity and eloquence, Winchester uses this photograph as the focal point for an examination of the man behind Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Level-headed throughout, this book is accessible, pellucid and engaging, even to the most casual Carroll admirer.