'Alice in Wonderland' at 150, more than child's play and tea parties

Sun Feb 8, 2015 8:59am EST
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By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - As the celebrated children's book of Britain's Victorian era turns 150, an exhibit in Texas traces its history to show how "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" adapted and transformed through now-familiar concepts of merchandising and multimedia.

The Lewis Carroll book swept children's literature when it was published in 1865, and the popular work was soon adapted for the theater, Alice-themed toys and eventually films during the early days of the industry.

"The book did not have a conventional moral. Carroll played with standard moral tales of his day and turned them on their heads," said Danielle Brune Sigler, the curator who helped put together the exhibit that opens on Feb. 10 at the University of Texas in Austin.

The exhibit, at the Harry Ransom Center, a global leader in its holdings of manuscripts and original source materials, contains more than 200 items, including rare publications, drawings and letters and photographs by Carroll, the pen name for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.

The exhibit shows how Dodgson, the University of Oxford mathematician who composed the story for the daughters of his Oxford dean, tried to balance his life in academics with his alter ego as the author of a widely popular book.

Dodgson was an avid amateur photographer, when the craft was in its infancy, who also dabbled in drawing. The mathematics professor also kept up correspondence with children, and the exhibit includes letters in which he challenges them with games, puzzles and codes.

His photographs, a few of which will be on display, including one of the story's inspiration, Alice Liddell and her sisters, were well received. But Dodgson knew his drawings for "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" were not up to snuff and turned to one of the pre-eminent illustrators of the day, John Tenniel, for help.

The exhibit shows how both, at times, grew weary of Alice as its popularity grew. Dodgson reportedly often would not answer letters addressed to Lewis Carroll.   Continued...

John Tenniel's illustration of the "mad tea-party" from the first published edition of Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" is shown in this image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas released on February 7, 2015. REUTERS/University of Texas Harry Ransom Center/Handout via Reuters