Whatever could be written about Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece, Alice In Wonderland? Speculations over the years have been endless, but here is another, much more authentic in its fictional take on fact. The author is the great-granddaughter of the real Alice, Alice Liddell, and she has had access to family papers, letters and recollections never before used in this way. The result is quite fascinating, particularly to those of us familiar with the marvellous, mad, imaginative story.
The book has never been out of print, and is never likely to be, as it remains a firm favourite around the world, with both children and adults. Vanessa Tait has chosen to relate her spin on the original through the eyes of Mary Prickett, governess to the Dean’s children at Christ Church in Oxford, a position she held until 1871 when she left to be married. This is a clever device, because Mary sees what is happening as Charles Dodgson, a maths tutor at Christ Church, becomes ever more friendly with the young Liddell daughters through observant, objective eyes. Mrs Liddell’s statement “he is fond of you,but I don’t want him coming over to the Deanery . These last few months he has practically lived here”, makes a great deal of sense to Mary, all too aware of his love for the girls, especially spunky Alice. His taking constant photographs of his childish friends also came under suspicion, possibly rightly so.
In her clever reconstruction of the truth, and the fiction, there are delightful glimpses of what might have been. Just one charming example. “You are always late, Henry, always in a hurry, always looking at your pocket watch. People must expect it by now.” Could Mr Dodgson have noticed the Dean’s constant habit, and used it for his hurrying White Rabbit? There are echoes abounding which add to the enjoyment of this narrative. Most of the characters are founded upon real people, though Mr Wilton, Mary’s mother and gossipy, beautifully named Mrs Chatterworth are all fictional.
If you would like to relive a part of Alice’s life, and the transformation of Charles Dodgson into Lewis Carroll, here is the book for you. An intriguing footnote is that Alice Liddell named one of her sons Caryl, surely remembering her tutor friend, who wrote her into the history of literature. Caryl was Vanessa Tait’s grandfather. Can there be anything more down this particular rabbit-hole? I think not.
THE LOOKING GLASS HOUSE by VANESSA TAIT PUBLISHED by CORVUS for a recommended $27.99