In one of those serendiptous moments, I discovered that there was an Alice day being organised for today by the Story Museum, a virtual museum which celebrates telling stories until a building can be built in Oxford.
Alice is too deeply engrained in culture to rehash but this was a chance to see copies of the actual books and have a trip into various museums I’ve seen at night (with a former job as a bookseller) or walked passed.
I started at Christchurch College‘s library, which is normally closed to the public (though open again on September 15th for an open day). Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was sub-librarian there and the fabled trip which turned into the first Alice novel began just around the corner on Folly bridge. The Oxford libraries are a marvel of complete antiquarian and out dated systems mixed with computer systems and databases though this does pale against the short tour I once had of the old Bodleian library. Seeing the versions of the mouse’s tail poem reminded me of the concealed commentary of Liddell’s modernist reforms of Christchurch college whilst coming up with an extraordinary piece of art and a fun tale. Children’s literature is, and should remain, subversive. (Christchurch is also the scene of the dining hall in Harry Potter)
I was hoping to get to the Museum of Oxford for the A-Z of literary Oxford tour but it didn’t open until after I needed to leave town this time (though I do intend to follow this up in later blog posts with a Flickr stream). Instead I popped into the Museum of the History of Science where they had some of Dodgson’s photography kit on display. He used the wet collodion method which had been invented in 1856. As well as a fantastic writer of children’s books, Dodgson was also a renowned photographer and took part in the Victorian practice of child nude photography. What needs to be remembered was this was also part of the cult of childhood, that the child was closer to perfection than adults, rather than paedophile urges.
Next up was the Museum of Natural History with their Dodo skeleton which weirded me out. Think about it, it has been extinct for a while and the museum has a stuffed version and a skeleton. (The museum is best known as the place where the great evolution debate took place.)
A quick trip via Blackwell‘s took me past various booksellers dressed as characters from the first book but the hoardes of people outside the old Bodleian library put me off going in to see the first editions (including the suppressed 1856 edition) so I trekked off to the University of Oxford Botanic Garden where Alice Liddell and Dodgson met up. As far as I can make out, Dodgson became a temporary surrogate father to Alice Liddell and, it is conjectured by Karoline Leach, very close to Liddell’s mother – perhaps supported by the retention of Dodgson at Christchurch though he should have stepped down having declined to take up orders as he should have done.
I’m hoping that we can do this kind of day again Oxford as it has such an important heritage that needs to be brought out rather than taken for granted.