Alice in Wonderland

Just eight miles from the country cottage where I’m staying in the heart of rural Cheshire is the small village of Daresbury. This was the childhood home of Charles Dodgson, a very clever young man who went on to study and teach Maths at Oxford.

Dodgson was also a writer and a dreamer, he wrote one of the most influential children’s books of the Victorian era. Writing under the pen name of Lewis Carroll, he wrote ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ first published in 1865 by Macmillan. For generations of children this book introduced a series of characters that have stayed with them for life. I include myself as one of those children.

Alice's Aventures in Wonderland - Alice meets the Cheshire Cat. Illustration John Tenniel
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Alice meets the Cheshire Cat. Illustration John Tenniel

In Wonderland Alice met the White Rabbit, Cheshire Cat, Queen of Hearts, Mad Hatter and the Dormouse. All these characters were brought to life in our hearts and in our imagination by the superb illustrations by John Tenniel. Long before Disney created the animated films these fabulous drawings fuelled our dreams. Their appeal reached from children to adults.

Alice in Wonderland - The Mad Hatter's Tea Party
Alice in Wonderland – The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party – iconic illustration by John Tenniel

The Church of All Saints in Daresbury nestles in a typical english village. It is surrounded by trees and gravestones. Inside the church there is a very beautiful memorial to Charles Dodgson. It is a stained glass window that features the characters from Alice in Wonderland. It’s a delightful, surprise encounter on a miserable, rainy, winter’s day.

Stained glass with a difference! Alice in Wonderland characters across the base of the windows
Stained glass with a difference! Alice in Wonderland characters across the base of the windows

This unique stained glass window features a traditional nativity scene across the top lights, including Mary, Jesus and Joseph (centre). However the beady eyed viewer will spot Dodgson and his creation Alice, kneeling to the left of the scene. The shepherds are on the right. Then the all important characters are along the bottom, starting with the White Rabbit, Caterpillar, Mad Hatter and March Hare, Queen of Hearts and Mock Turtle. Even the Dormouse has an important position in the centre, peering sleepily from the teapot.

As I come to terms with a very strange winter, a very strange winter indeed, surrounded by unwanted laws and regulations that would have been unthinkable just a year ago, I think I’ll revisit Alice’s journey and possibly spend time with that Caterpillar. If I remember rightly he’s got opium in that pipe and I’m thinking that in life it’s always important to be open to new experiences….and to embrace new challenges head on………………

Alice meets the Caterpillar, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Alice meets the Caterpillar, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

You’ll see from this article that I too keep tumbling into the rabbit hole, the more I try to finish and conclude elegantly the more I’m drawn to make just one further point………..

Notes:

  • Now might be a good time to read Thomas de Quincey’s ‘Confessions of an Opium-Eater’ an autobiography first published in 1821, when a laudanum addiction was almost essential in polite society.
  • For thoughts and tales from Italy, The Alps, British Isles why not investigate further www.educated-traveller.com
  • If escape is on your mind I’d suggest Leonora Carrington’s surrealist paintings: Leonora Carrington – Surrealist artist
  • All observations are tongue in cheek and designed to brighten your day!!

A little more detail on the stained glass window at All Saints Church, Daresbury, from the church’s own web site:

The Daniell Chapel contains one of the best-known features of All Saints’, the Lewis Carroll Memorial Window. To mark the centenary of his birth, Carroll enthusiasts from all over the world subscribed to a memorial fund, which resulted in a gift to All Saints’ of this striking and unusual stained glass window, dedicated in 1935.

The window was designed by the stained glass artist Geoffrey Webb and depicts a Nativity scene, at which both Carroll and Alice are present. Below the Nativity scene are 5 panels illustrated with characters and scenes from Alice in Wonderland including the White Rabbit, the Lizard, the Dodo, the Caterpillar, Fish-Footman, Mad Hatter, Dormouse, March Hare, Duchess, Gryphon, Mock Turtle, Knave and Queen of Hearts. The famous Cheshire Cat can be found in the centre of the fifth panel. The 3 centre panels contain verses from Lewis Carroll’s poem ‘Christmas Greetings (From a Fairy to a Child)’.

Geoffrey Webb’s mark was a spider’s web that he would incorporate into the design of his windows. The web can be found in the fifth section of the Window, just above the Queen of Hearts and includes the date ‘1935’. Other examples of Geoffrey Webb’s work can be found at Manchester Cathedral, Tewkesbury Abbey, Woolwich Town Hall, St John the Divine, (Felbridge) St Mary’s (East Grinstead) St Mark’s Cathedral (George, South Africa) St Nicholas (Kingsley, Hampshire), and windows in the parish churches of Cowfold, Lindfield and Oxted. Geoffrey Webb died in 1954.

Stained glass with a difference! Alice in Wonderland characters across the base of the windows
Stained glass with a difference! Alice in Wonderland characters across the base of the windows

A FURTHER NOTE: My fellow blogger Sandra Hutchinson pointed out to me that Christ Church also has an Alice Window, which I’m looking forward to discovering. The window features characters from Wonderland and a portrait of Alice. There’s also an informative blog by Jim Godfrey, posted on the Christ Church web site (July 2018). https://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/blog/alice

Part of the Alice Window – Christ Church College, Oxford – where Lewis Carroll was a tutor, student and encountered Alice Liddell (his inspiration for Alice) – with thanks to Sandra xx

Sandra Hutchinson writes an interesting and well constructed blog. I’d recommend it. Here’s the link: www.sandrahutchinson.com she wrote fairly recently about ‘living like a student in Oxford’ which I throughly enjoyed and was better than anything I’ve written on the subject.

Oh no, here we go down the rabbit hole…….again………..

  • Written: 22nd November, 2020
  • Amended: 24th November, 2020
  • Updated: 29th December, 2020
Oxford - Christ Church Library, Carroll Globe and Wonderland characters
Oxford – Christ Church, Carroll Globe and Wonderland characters http://www.educated-traveller.com

A final word has to go to the Mad Hatter who’s incantation sums up perfectly this crazy, covid year………

The Mad Hatter shares his wisdom with those that will listen
The Mad Hatter shares his wisdom with those that will listen – illustration by John Tenniel

The wonderful illustrations which so many of us associate with Alice in Wonderland date from the 1860s and were created in very close collaboration with Lewis Carroll by John Tenniel. He was already a successful illustrator at Punch magazine – one of the most famous magazines of the day, combining wit, humour and quality writing with cartoon-like drawings.

Here’s a brief extract from Tenniel’s wikipedia entry: Sir John Tenniel (28 February 1820 – 25 February 1914)[1] was an English illustrator, graphic humorist and political cartoonist prominent in the second half of the 19th century. He was knighted for artistic achievements in 1893. Tenniel is remembered mainly as the principal political cartoonist for Punch magazine for over 50 years and for his illustrations to Lewis Carroll‘s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871).

John Tenniel (1889) – a self portrait

That’s it from me: 29th December, 2020

12 thoughts on “Alice in Wonderland

  1. Hi, Janet

    Another inspired and fascinatinbg account,m for which many thanks – and one to which I can perhaps add a bit of further background of which – surely not?! – you may not have been aware?! I can’t compete with your local knoweldge of the Church of All Saints in Daresbury, and the irrefutable connection with Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) – but I can add a bit of relevant local knowledge of Ripon Cathedral, where Lewis Carroll’s Father, the Reverend Charles Dodgson, was the Canon from 1852 until 1858.

    In particular, it is reasonable to assume that Rev Dodgson’s Son probably drew his inspiration for Alice’s adventures in Wonderland from his experiences as a young boy, sitting dutifully week after week in the pews of Ripon Cathedral. Small wonder that the young Charles’s attention may have wandered away from his father’s interminable sermons, and may have fixed itself on some of the awe-inspiring physical aspects of the Cathedral surrounding him.

    He would undoubtedly have gazed regularly at the misericords on the back of the pews, and many of the other ornate carvings. Many of these carved images would almost certainly strike a (miseri?!)-chord with today’s visitor to this lovely old Cathedral – a carved feline creature sitting in the rafters and apparently smiling down at the congregration – a griffin chasing a rabbit down a hole on one misericord – a small contorted character on another misericord who looks as if she must have swallowed a “drink me” instruction and shrank. Grinning cats? – Griffins? – Rabbits going down a hole? – shrunken chidren? – ring any bells?!

    Perhaps the most vivid and lasting impression on young Charles would have been made by the crypt. To gain access to the crypt, the visitor must locate the small entrance – a veritable rabbit-hole, leading down a steep passage and along a small underground corridor, untill you finally reach the small round crypt itself – just big enough to accommodate two or three small people – or perhaps a breed of white rabbits?! – see https://www.riponcathedral.org.uk/anglo-saxon-crypt/. Small wonder then, that in August his year, Ripon Museum Trust was due to celebrate the link between Ripon and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with an outdoor performance which we can only hope will be repeated sooner rather than later!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. John I absolutely love this. In fact young Charles was subjected to endless pathos in his life. Ripon Cathedral followed by Daresbury and then the gloom and doom and Gothic symbolism of Christ Church’s medieval dining hall. Not to mention Ch Ch Cathedral. Then of course the Liddle family and the enchanting Alice playing in the quads and meadow at Christ Church where Dodgson (Carroll) was a student and then a lecturer in Mathematics….

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Janet, gret article and also great comment to follow! Yes, this very wierd year which often finds me wishing I could go back to pre-Corona times, seems to have overtones of Alice’s adventures. It is well epitomised in this brief quote “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” So we all go forward and try to adapt …. Lovely to be reminded of the apparently absurd, possibly just a different take on someone else’s “real” and “normal”.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I have just put All Saints, Daresbury onto my list of places to visit. I had no idea about the Alice windows, even though I grew up within 20 miles of there. I guess these things were not so easy to find out about in the days before the interweb.
    I have been to Ripon Cathedral in the dim-and-distant past, but had no idea about the Dodgson connection there either. Fascinating.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. A wonderful post, Janet! Last fall when I was lucky enough to stay at Christ Church College, I learned of many of the connections between Dodgson and the college, its buildings and gardens, and of course, Alice, the daughter of the Dean. I noted some of these connections in my post here: https://sandrahutchinson.com/2019/12/07/live-like-a-student-at-oxford-university-bb-at-christ-church-college/ Your readers may be interested to know that when the stained glass windows in Christ Church’s Great Hall were redone in the 1980s, images of Alice and characters from Dodgon’s books were included in the windows. https://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/visiting-christ-church/hall There is also a portrait of Dodgson at the rear of the Great Hall.
    Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you to so much Sandra – I loved your article about living like a student in Oxford. In fact I’ll revisit it. I’ll also check out the Christ Church website. The more I think of Alice’s Adventures the more I think it is perfect for our topsy turvy times!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Me too – I’ve just added a link to your article at the bottom of the Alice piece, I’ve also added a detail of the Ch Ch Alice window. Last but not least I remembered that I had taken a photo of the Carroll Globe and figurines when visiting Ch Ch as part of one of the Alumni groups a few years ago – worth a quick look – very charming!

        Liked by 3 people

  5. Oh my goodness thank you Janet! I loved reading your other Oxford posts. I dream of returning, post-Covid. I was checking the Oxford Adult Education web site and saw that they are offering a short course next summer on Dodgson! And I believe the lodgings are at Christ Church. Wouldn’t that be great?

    Liked by 2 people

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