Happy (Un-) Birthday, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland!

IMAG24031Digital Annotated Alice & ‘Alice’s Day’ mark sesquicentenary - By Fran Kohlt

"As this year marks the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s children’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, birthday (and un-birthday) parties are well under way all over the world. In July ‘Alice’s Day’, a massive collaborative effort of Oxford's Story Museum, The Bodleian Libraries, The Lewis Carroll Society and many other institutions, celebrated the day of the story’s first telling in Oxford, using Radcliffe Square (where Brasenose College is located) as a stage for a gigantic Alice puppet to re-enact her famous dream. A blue caterpillar gave advice at the Oxford fountain of knowledge, the Weston library, and Alice and crustaceans of all ages joined the Lobster Quadrille at the Natural History Museum .  

This month, a digital edition of the novel, each chapter annotated by one of 12 internationally renowned Lewis Carroll scholars, is being published (including funky new illustrations) on Medium, the Social Media platform created by Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, as part of the celebrations.

As one of the curators, which include Carroll biographer Jenny Woolf, curator of the V&A ‘Alice & Fashion’ exhibition Kiera Vaclavik and author, broadcaster and President of the Lewis Carroll Society, Brian Sibley, I have been involved in both ‘Alice’s Day’ and the Digital Annotated Alice. I annotated my favourite, and arguably the book’s most famous chapter, the ‘Mad Tea-Party’ and had the chance to get some of my doctoral research out to the public.

In my thesis, I investigate links between the development of the psychological sciences in the nineteenth century and Victorian fantastic literature. While that sounds surprising to many at first, Lewis Carroll – like many other writers of fantastic literature such as Charles Kingsley or H.G. Wells – was actually a scientist, and even for a short time worked for the Natural History Museum as a photographer. He owned a large number of books on the emerging ‘sciences of the mind’ consequently, and the ‘Mad Tea-Party’ draws on many (then) popular ideas of madness and dream-theory. Such links are absolutely crucial to the story and make it far more than just a children’s book – it is an incredibly complex document of Victorian intellectual culture – which I have explained in a Radio-Interview with CBC, who were keen to hear more on the History of Alice – you can listen to the full show here.

I’m very excited about this open source project which will make expert-commentary accessible to everybody completely for free – you can even join the discussion. The project has so far had over 12000 views and more than 5000 reads. Likewise, Alice’s Day was a fantastic event which unlocked spaces to visitors from all over the world to discover how Oxford inspired one of the most famous books in the world – and it’s here to stay! If you missed it this year, it will take place every year on a weekend around the 4th of July."

Fran is a doctoral student at Brasenose College and the English Faculty, working on a thesis which explores visions experienced in alternative states of consciousness in Victorian science and fantastic literature. She is the founder and convenor of the TORCH Literature and Science Early Career Researchers’ Forum. You can follow her work on twitter (@frankendodo), and join the Alice celebrations using the hashtag #alice150.

See here for more info on Literature and Science related activities in Oxford and here for more on Alice's Day. The author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, came to Oxford to study mathematics in 1851, and stayed here for the rest of his life as a student and then tutor.

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