A Woman to Know: Alice Liddell Pleasance Hargreaves

But oh my dear, I am getting tired of being Alice in Wonderland. — Alice Liddell Pleasance Hargreaves

But oh my dear, I am getting tired of being Alice in Wonderland. — Alice Liddell Pleasance Hargreaves

(image via The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Alice grew up in her own kind of Wonderland. As the daughter of the dean of Christ Church College in Oxford, Alice explored the legendary university as her playground.

Family friend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (you’ll recognize his pen name: Lewis Carroll) would visit the Liddell house and tell stories to the dean’s young daughters. As the story goes, 10-year-old Alice asked him to write these fantastical tales down, and in 1865 Dodgson published them as the beloved Alice in Wonderland series still read today.

But modern historians question the relationship between author and child. Dodgson frequently took Alice out for excursions, leaving the other children at home. At the time, Victorians didn’t question his intentions. As one newspaper wrote, “Like many bachelors, he was very popular with children and very fond of them.” He posed Alice for provocative photographs, including the one above, and while Victorian sensibilities permitted nude and semi-nude photographs of children to be showcased in the home, the images appear disturbingly sexual.

Before Alice published, the Liddell family distanced themselves from Dodgson. He visited with the adults but not the children, until he gifted Alice her own copy of Wonderland in 1865. She later told her sister she resented the literary association:

But oh my dear, I am getting tired of being Alice in Wonderland. Does it sound ungrateful? It is. Only I do get tired.

She went on to pose for renowned photographer Julia Ward Cameron, and her love affair with the young son of Queen Victoria fed the Oxford rumor mill for years. Alice eventually married, settled down and disappeared from public life.

In 1932, when she was 80 years old, she traveled with her sister to America, where Columbia University honored her for “awaking with her girlhood’s charm the ingenious fancy of a mathematician familiar with imaginary quantities, stirring him to reveal his complete understanding of the heart of a child.”

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