AIW 1 blog Alice-in-Wonderland AIW 2 copy

Written by: Caressa Losier

If author Lewis Carroll were still alive and you could ask him anything, what would you like to know about Alice in Wonderland? The Morgan Library & Museum in New York City launched an exhibit unveiling an glimpse behind the classic children’s story to soothe our curios minds, just in time for its 150th anniversary. In addition to their discoveries, below are a few interesting secrets I also uncovered about the making of Alice in Wonderland.

Wonderland, meet Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll

Photo: Courtesy of

Born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the 1865 release of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland introduced Dodgson to the world as an author for the very first time under the pen name of Lewis Carroll. Carroll was modest, secretive and he cherished his privacy so much that letters addressing him as his pen name and sent to his office were actually denied and refused. Prior to the great success of Alice in Wonderland, he was a mathematician lecturer at Oxford and with the encouragement of his very petite friend, Alice Liddell, he published his very first story that lives on as a worldwide classic in over 70 countries!

“After the bible and Shakespeare, Carroll is the most quoted author on Earth.” – The Secret World of Lewis Carroll 

Carroll and Alice, Friends?

During the prime of Carroll and Alice’s relationship, she was 4 and he was 24 years old. While people in 2015 would assume that he’s simply gone mad, society in 1865 saw no harm in the 20 year age difference. After all, Carroll was their neighbor and was also good friends with her sisters, Lorina and Edith, but to him, Alice was very special. Often described as having a commanding presence, Alice demanded that Carroll tell them a story during their boat travel. Unwillingly he submitted, then began with the topsy-turvy story we all know and love using little Alice as his muse. While that isn’t solid evidence of Alice and Carroll’s romantic involvement, it has also been said that he once went as far as asking her for a lock of her hair. Things got even more complicated when the final manuscript appeared and Carroll’s illustrations primarily depicted a girl that didn’t resemble Alice at all. 

Alice Liddell child

Photo: Drawing of Alice taken at The Morgan Library & Museum

Alice Liddel greyscale

Photo: Original greyscale of Alice taken at The Morgan Library & Museum

Speaking of images, another questionable hobby of Carroll’s was to photograph children – some of them in the nude. During his time with Alice, he received his first camera and as a result, took hundreds of photographs of her as a young child. Even after Alice, Lewis Carroll remained a child-magnet, attracting them with games in his pockets and he’s acquired hundreds of child-friends in his lifetime. While some call it an “obsession with childhood innocence”, others call it “repressed pedophilia”, but no one was too sure of what to think when years later, an adult Alice Liddell decided to name her baby boy, “Caryl”, after Lewis Carroll.

Getting to Wonderland 

As a child, I always wondered how I could enter this fantasy place called Wonderland. Where would one find a rabbit hole that a human being can fit into? Later, I learned that in Wonderland nothing is ever what it seems, so in order to think like Lewis Carroll, one must get inside the mind of Lewis Carroll – although he suffered from some serious migraines. Coincidentally, this is also the most common symptom of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS), a condition which temporarily distorts your perception. As Alice experienced, objects may appear much smaller and larger than they actually are in reality. Over 80 years after the release of Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, British psychiatrist John Todd named the condition after the story’s experience in 1955, which is why another name for it is Todd’s syndrome.  

‘“But I don’t want to go around mad people”, Alice remarked. “Oh, you can’t help that”, said the cat. “We’re all mad here – I’m mad, you’re mad.” “How do you know I’m mad”, said Alice. “You must be”, said the cat, “Or you wouldn’t have come here.”’ – Alice in Wonderland

Did you know: The first case of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome was reported after an LSD trip

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome Symptoms

AIWS is characterized by four frequent visual illusions:

1. Macropsia –  causes objects to appear larger than normal, causing the you to feel smaller

2. Micropsia – causes objects to appear much smaller than normal

3. Pelopsia – causes objects to appear nearer than they are

4. Teleopsia – causes objects to appear much further away than they are

Through the Looking Glass

Through Looking glass book

Photo: Taken at The Morgan Library & Museum

After Alice in Wonderland, Carroll continued Alice’s adventures with a sequel entitled, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. In his latest, he continued to dissect the perception of little Alice as she descended into madness. Like his fascination with being behind the lens and perceiving child behavior with his camera, he also had a deep interest in observing insects and other living organisms under a microscope.

Lewis microscope

Photo: Image of Carroll’s microscope was taken at The Morgan Library & Museum

Reflecting back on the two stories, the conclusion can be drawn that he is expressing his own thoughts vicariously through the young mind of Alice, and she might not be his muse at all, but instead the core of his madness. By this time the camaraderie between Alice and Carroll had faded away, but the epiphanies in Carroll’s ever-observing brain continued. While themes from the sequel that have captured the loneliness of growing old and the power of strategy from Alice’s perspective bombard the reader,  Charles Lutwidge Dodgson can rest assure in knowing his own confessions lie heavily encrypted and shared with the world while sealed in ink by the hands of his pen alias, Lewis Carroll. Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There in 1871 was his last published story to date.

Morgan Library Museum

For more interesting discoveries on Alice in Wonderland, head to The Morgan Library & Museum to view the exhibit through October 11, 2015!