Posted by: gaurikaushik | December 13, 2021

Alice in Wonderland and Oxford

One thing that I always think about whenever Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland is brought up is the effect that the scenery of Oxford had on Charles Dodgson. When I was studying at Oxford over a summer in high school, I took it upon myself to take myself on a tour of all the famous writers that found inspiration in their surroundings in Oxford, such as the door that inspired C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, J.R.R. Tolkien’s grave, and the river where Lewis Carroll took his boat trips with Alice Liddell and his children, as well as Christ Church (Alice Liddell’s father was a Dean). 

Andy Haslam for The New York Times

The downside of visiting these places was the erasure of the magic of total imagination that I believed these authors had. Of course, their work and creativity still amazed me ⏤ Wonderland is, after all, thought to be something that was inspired by psychedelics. But things like the illustrations of Alice’s abnormally long neck looked a little too similar to the brass andirons with women’s heads perched on top of them in the Great Hall of Christ Church.

The discovery of these possible inspirations for Carroll’s story invariably begged other questions, though. For example, as the sub-librarian of Christ Church, Dodgson’s office could look directly into the deanery garden in which Alice Liddell often played. The wooden door set into a stone wall in the garden may have served as further inspiration in the creation of Alice in Wonderland, but what was Dodgson doing watching a little girl playing in the garden?
Of course, Dodgson could have had completely innocent intentions in his writing. Perhaps it really was, as he put it, just “nonsense.” His stories are still, after all, presented as pure, innocent, and still wildly popular children’s literature. But there are still questions of his attraction to Alice Liddell as his photographic and creative muse. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland could also be rife with sexual imagery in some interpretations (Kaigh, Georgetown University). There are many ways to interpret Dodgson’s relationship with Alice Liddell, and even Liddell’s influence on Dodgson’s stories. I think it’s interesting to point out that Liddell was not the only subject that inspired Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, though. The city of Oxford and little things like doors or fireplaces also played a role in creating the fascinating world that is Wonderland, which I often think is completely removed from reality.


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