The Afterlife of Alice In Wonderland Exhibit: Early Editions of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

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    Lewis Carroll's Alice from Alice's Adventures UndergroundIt was during a river boat excursion on July 4, 1862, that Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, told the three young Liddell girls the story of Alice, a little girl who fell into a rabbit hole and arrived in a place where nothing quite made sense.  The girls were so charmed with the story, they begged Carroll to write it down for them, and in the following months he did just that.  The manuscript, illustrated with Carroll’s own drawings, was completed early in 1863 and Carroll began looking for a publisher and an illustrator.  In April, 1864, John Tenniel agreed to illustrate Carroll’s text.  Clarendon Press of Oxford University agreed to print the first edition with The Macmillan Company serving as publisher. Carroll himself underwrote the cost of the printing.

John Tenniel AliceOn June 30, 1865, Clarendon Press sent Carroll 2,000 sets of unfolded sheets, which Carroll delivered to Macmillan, asking for 50 bound copies as soon as possible, to give away as presents, and one copy bound in white vellum for Alice.  He sent Alice this copy on July 4, 1865, and distributed the other copies to friends in the following days.   However, on July 19, Carroll received a letter from Tenniel, expressing dissatisfaction with the quality of the printing of his illustrations.  Upon closer inspection, Carroll agreed that the printing was sub-standard and spoke to the publisher.   Carroll and Macmillan decided to reprint the edition with a more commercial printer, Richard Clay of London, who reset the type and printed a second edition which, although post-dated 1866, was issued by Macmillan in December, 1865, in time for the Christmas trade.  Another printing of 3,000 copies was announced by Macmillan in August, 1866.

It was originally agreed that the first unsatisfactory printing would be sold as waste paper, but when an offer came from D. Appleton, a publishing firm in New York, to buy up the original 2,000 copies, the printed sheets were folded and bound in red cloth bindings with a gold stamped vignette on the front cover. The Macmillan title page, with the imprint dated 1865, was removed from each book and a new title page with the Appleton imprint, dated 1866, was tipped in and the whole lot, minus the few books Carroll had distributed and not gotten back, was shipped to D. Appleton in New York. This first edition was issued in the United States in early 1866. The true first edition, thus, was issued in America several months after the second edition was issued in England.

In 1886, Carroll arranged for his hand written manuscript with his illustrations to be printed and distributed under the title of Alice’s Adventures Underground. Twenty-five years after the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published, Carroll re-wrote his text in simpler language for younger children. This effort was published by The Macmillan Company in 1890 as The Nursery Alice.  It included twenty of Tenniel’s original illustrations, enlarged and colored, and featured a cover illustration by E. Gertrude Thomson, a friend of Carroll. ~ © 2007 Rita Smith

Sources: 

  • Muir, Percy.  English Children’s Books, 1600-1900,  London:  B. T. Batsford, 1954.
  • Schiller, Justin.  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: An 1865 Printing Re-described, Privately Printed for The Jabberwock, 1990.
  • Wikipedia, “The Nursery ‘Alice,’”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nursery_%22Alice%22