By Alexandra Bass
The titular heroine of Lewis Carroll’s whimsical classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass has changed to reflect the aesthetics of the times outside her fictional word. The fantastical nature of the story allows a certain freedom of temporality: although the narrative was written to occur in Victorian Britain, there are no specific indicators of the year, and the story could just as easily have been set in the twenty-first century. The changing visual depictions of Alice reflect this sense of timelessness. Having a contemporary-looking Alice makes it easy for younger audiences to relate to her and helps to explain Wonderland’s enduring popularity.
First published in 1865, Sir John Tenniel’s iconic illustrations imagine Alice in a contemporary mid-Victorian pinafore, apron, and stockings. Tenniel’s depiction of Alice was the standard for the rest of the 1800s, but by the turn of the century, when the book went out of copyright, other illustrators reimagined the tale. Bessie Gutmann created Nouveau Alice in 1907, who wears a white, high-necked dress with full, long sleeves; her hair is long, swept up, and adorned with a flower.
In the 1920s Alice became a sporty flapper. Willy Pogany’s 1929 illustrations depict a lanky Alice, somewhat older than previous representations, wearing a short, plaid skirt, short sleeve top with a tie at the neck, and knee socks. Her hair is bobbed and boyish, as per the androgynous Jazz Age fashion.
Mid-century Alice reverts to the traditional, much like popular culture at the time. Disney released the animated Alice in Wonderland film in 1951, in which Alice dons a blue dress, white apron, and a black ribbon in her hair, very similar to Tenniel’s depiction. Subsequent illustration from the period shows Disney’s influence.
During the 1960s and ’70s, Alice adapts to the fashion of the period. One 1970 edition puts an older-looking Alice in a hot pink minidress with a Brigitte Bardot-esque bouffant; another illustration from the same year makes Alice look like she walked off of the set of The Brady Bunch, in a floral-accented minidress, knee socks, and long, straight hair.
The continued success of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is related to its ability to stay relevant and fresh to generations of readers. The story itself is not rooted in any particular temporal setting, and thus Alice has the ability to change her style to look like her readers. Although Alice was created in the Victorian era, she is anything but drab and prim: she is, more than many other literary heroines, thoroughly modern.
See examples of some of these book covers in the Ransom Center’s current exhibition Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, on view through July 6. Share “Thoroughly Modern Alice” with #aliceinaustin.
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By Marlene Renz
2015 marks the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s classic story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Since its publication in 1865, the book has never been out of print. It has been translated into countless languages and has become a work that truly transcends the time and culture in which it was written.
In honor of the book’s legacy the Harry Ransom Center presents Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This exhibition follows the evolution of Carroll’s story through time, around the world, and across different types of media, from stage and screen to children’s toys. The exhibition offers something for everyone and provides interactive opportunities throughout. Highlights of the exhibition include a rare copy of the 1865 “suppressed” edition, Carroll’s own photograph of Alice, Edith, and Lorina Liddell, the sisters who inspired the story, and Salvador Dalí’s 1969 illustrations.
View the Ransom Center’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland video preview.
Museums and libraries around the world are joining in the observance of Alice’s sesquicentennial. In New York City, the Morgan Library & Museum will display Dodgson’s original manuscript (on loan from the British Library) in its upcoming exhibition Alice: 150 Years of Wonderland, while Vassar College Archives and Special Collections Library will exhibit an early printing of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland alongside other works of fantasy from the period. John Tenniel’s original drawings will be shown at Harvard’s Houghton Library, and Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum & Library will exhibit Carroll’s letters to publisher Alexander MacMillan and a first edition of the book from his library.
Browse upcoming Alice-related events on this list, compiled by The Lewis Carroll Society and the Lewis Carroll Society of North America.
Share your exhibition experience with #aliceinaustin.
By Marlene Renz
Meet the Staff is a Q&A series on Cultural Compass that highlights the work, experience, and lives of staff at the Harry Ransom Center. Ken Grant received a Bachelor of Science in Geology from the University of Iowa and then worked as a logging geologist in the oil field for six years. In 1992 he started at the State University of New York College at Buffalo where he later received his Master of Arts in Paper Conservation. He joined the Ransom Center in 1997 and has worked as Assistant Paper Conservator and Paper Conservator, but he now serves as Exhibitions Conservator and Head of Exhibition Services.