150 years of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

John Tenniel's picture of Alice with flamingo

John Tenniel’s picture of Alice with an annoyed flamingo.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland  is 150 years old this year. Published in 1865 by Macmillan, the author was Charles L. Dodgson (1832-1898).

Charles L. Dodgson, 1857

Charles L. Dodgson, 1857

Dodgson was allowed to use his pen name of Lewis Carroll and alternative names for the book like ‘Alice Among the Fairies, and ‘Alice’s Golden Hour’ were binned. In its 150 years Alice has been reimagined many times in plays, musicals, films and simplified picture books. Part of the story’s appeal must be down to not just the wonderful writing by Carroll, but the glorious pictures.

John Tenniel, Self-portrait

John Tenniel, Self-portrait

The artist was John Tenniel (1820-1914). He was already well known in his time for his illustrations for Punch, a political magazine. Carroll had admired his pictures of animals in a version of Aesop’s fables and with the high animal count in Alice Tenniel was an obvious choice of artist.

For Alice all Tenniel’s paper drawings had to be carved into woodblocks by engravers, which were then used as masters to create electrotype copies in metal. This was a new process, but it transformed how things could were printed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrotyping Electrotype ensured printing of the books was quicker and more precise and this was a good thing as the book was very popular right from the start and the entire first print run sold out.

The White Rabbit

The White Rabbit

The book was and still is popular with both children and adults (Oscar Wilde and Queen Victoria were fans) because of its humour, fantasy and clever wordplay. It marked a change in children’s books by allowing fun and silliness rather than just teaching reading or moral instruction.

A new stage adaption this year is the musical wonder.land where the story is based in the internet, the ultimate rabbit hole leading to all manner of wonders and dangers. With book and lyrics by Moira Buffini and music by Damon Albarn this is currently playing at the National Theatre in London. http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/wonder.land

There have already been lots of events this year celebrating 150 years of Alice and I’m hoping tea parties formed part of that. If you missed them and feel left out make some tea and invite some interesting characters round (animal and human). Mad Hats are of course necessary. And see the 2010 film by Tim Burton with Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter for inspiration.

Depp in Tim Burton Alice

Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter

Oh, and don’t forget to read the original book as well…

Man Booker Prize 2015 and Penelope Fitzgerald

down by the river

down by the river

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction shortlist 2015 was announced last week. See the list here: http://themanbookerprize.com/man-booker-prize-2015.

If you work in publishing or at a bookshop you will already know about the shortlist and have seen tables piled up with the six shortlisted books. For everyone else, it depends on whether you read books and if you do how much you know or care about big literary prizes. I’ll assume you have a passing interest…

The Booker (no one I know would call it the ‘Man Booker’ as the ‘Man’ sponsor was only added in 2002) is seen as equivalent to the Oscars in terms of sales and prestige. Despite this the prize has always been followed by controversy, which I would suggest is the same with the Oscars. Booker judges have been accused of choosing a bad winner, having a conflict of interests (e.g. being in a relationship with an author?) or always choosing men (since the prize started in 1969, 30 men and 16 women have won the prize). It’s probably getting better as Hilary Mantel has won twice!

I have to admit that I haven’t read loads of the Booker Prize novels, but one that I have read is the 1978 winner, Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald. It’s set in the 1960’s and is about a group of people living in riverboats on the Thames. The selection of Fitzgerald’s book as a Booker winner was criticised at the time as the novel is fairly short and the story is concentrated on domestic issues like family life, relationships, outsiders and how poverty can decide whether you sink or swim. I found it wonderful, a great evocation of the times and often very funny. I also love the fact it’s partially based on her own life with her two young daughters on a barge that sank!

Offshore bookcover

Penelope was also very inspiring as she didn’t start writing novels until she was sixty. More on Penelope here: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/nov/17/penelope-fitzgerald-biography-hermione-lee