On Friday the 25th of April, 1856, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carroll) and Alice Liddell met for the first time.
He, together with a friend, Reginald Southey (nephew of the poet Robert Southey) had gone to the garden of the deanery of Christ Church college, Oxford, in order to try out a camera that Dodgson had bought a few days earlier. He hoped to take views of the adjacent Cathederal tower.
That day’s photography turned out to be a failure. But, despite this, Dodgson wrote in his diary that evening:
” The three little girls were in the garden most of the time, and we became excellent friends: we tried to group them in the foreground of the picture, but they were not patient sitters.”
The three little girls were the three youngest daughters of Henry Liddell, the dean of Christ Church College: Lorina (whom Dodgson had already met), Alice, who was approaching her fourth birthday, and Edith, who was still a baby.
To quote from Simon Winchester’s “The Alice Behind Wonderland”:
“It was a moment Dodgson was both to recognise and memorialize. “I mark this day,” he would later write, once having succumbed to the astonishing charms of the three-year-old Alice Liddell, “with a white stone.”
The ‘white stone’ refers to Dodgson’s practice of, whenever he’d had a particularly memorable or happy day, taking a smooth white stone and adding it to the stones already in a very large clear jar.
In 1885 almost 30 years later (Dodgson would have been 53 and Alice 33) – after Dodgson’s estrangement from the Liddell family and Alice’s marriage to Reginald Hargreaves, after her long disappearance from his life, and long after their friendship and the now-legendary events that gave rise to the Alice books, Dodgson sent Alice a letter in which he hinted at the depths of his feelings for her:
“My Dear Mrs. Hargreaves,—
I fancy this will come to you almost like a voice from the dead, after so many years of silence, and yet those years have made no difference that I can perceive in my clearness of memory of the days when we did correspond. I am getting to feel what an old man’s failing memory is as to recent events and new friends, (for instance, I made friends, only a few weeks ago, with a very nice little maid of about twelve, and had a walk with her—and now I can’t recall either of her names!), but my mental picture is as vivid as ever of one who was, through so many years, my ideal child-friend. I have had scores of child-friends since your time, but they have been quite a different thing.”
The world rightly remembers the products of that love – the Alice books, the poems and the photograph of Alice as a beggar child.
But we Kinds, we MAPs, we paedophiles have something more which to be grateful to Charles and Alice for: the example they offer us of what a beautiful, good and fruitful thing the love between an adult and a child can be.
Their love changed the world and made it a better place.
Not even the hate and hysteria of the dark times we’re living and dying through can change or obscure that fact.
Happy Alice Day!