Title: Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser
Author: Kate Bailey
Genre: Non-Fiction/Exhibition Guide
Publisher: V&A Publications
Published: 2nd July 2020
Synopsis: Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is a cultural phenomenon. First published in 1865, it has never been out of print and has been translated into 170 languages. But why does it have such enduring and universal appeal for both adults and children?
This book explores the global impact of Alice in Wonderland across art, design and performance from the nineteenth century to today. It shows how Alice has been re-imagined and reinterpreted by each new generation: from the original illustrations by John Tenniel to artwork by Peter Blake and Salvador Dali, and from the 1951 Disney movie to Tim Burton’s latest interpretation.
This beautiful, playful publication also includes specially commissioned interactive illustrations by award-winning artist Kristjana S. Williams, as well as quotes from an array of cultural creators from Stephen Fry to Tim Walker, Ralph Steadman to Little Simz about the profound influence of Alice on their work.
Ever since the 1860s, Lewis Carroll’s beloved Alice stories – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its follow-up, Alice Through the Looking Glass, have captured the imaginations of readers and artists for over one hundred and fifty years. Originally told in episodic form, the Alice stories have been recreated in art, in writing, in movies and performance for as long as the books have been around, and as this study into the reception and retellings of Alice discusses, Lewis Carroll was not averse to these retellings, yet perhaps one of the things that can trip up those reimagining the stories is the episodic format, and how to make these flow into a singular narrative, or how to translate a story based around word usage into a performance like ballet that doesn’t use speech, but movement, to tell the story.
Alice has been part of the world collective consciousness for almost one hundred and sixty years, and there are many aspects that we know intrinsically: Wonderland, Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter – they all evoke an image for us – whether it is the Tenniel illustrations, the 1951 Disney animation and beyond – there is always something in our zeitgeist or knowledge that harkens back to Alice.
As this exhibition guide does, it tells us of the origins of Alice – stories that Lewis Carroll – Charles Lutwidge Dodgson – told to the Liddell girls on an afternoon boating trip while he taught at Oxford. These stories are full of nonsense, and the retellings work to use those aspects to their fullest extent.
The exhibition guide for Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser was set for the exhibition’s June 2020 to January 2021, however a quick perusal of the Victoria and Albert Museum website shows that the exhibition has been moved to 2021 due to the pandemic. But for those of us who cannot get to exhibit, this book offers access to the items on display – the new illustrations, the various interpretations and advertising, performances and fashion, and everything in between. It evokes a sense of wonder, and the nonsense that Lewis Carroll created, and that began the Golden Age of Children’s Literature, which saw a move away from the didactic nature of children’s books until the publication of the Alice books, which then saw a move into other well-known works.
The legacy of the Alice stories is also touched on, and how this has impacted the Liddell family. There are many facets to this story, and this exhibition and the accompanying guide bring some of the endearing and enduring aspects of Alice to life, and a quick Google search shows the many books surrounding Alice, Lewis Carroll and the multitude of editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, some of them coming out to coincide with the significant anniversaries over the past few years, and examining a variety of aspects of the legacy of Alice. This is one example of how Alice in Wonderland has become one of the most well-known works, never out of print since publication and a work that has inspired many interpretations and creations, and if travel were possible or if I lived in London, this would be an exhibit I would love to attend. I will settle for the exhibition guide, as it allows me to explore the story and exhibits from the comfort of my own home amidst a pandemic. It is a book to be treasured and revisited, to be dipped in and out of, or explored cover to cover. It combines the scholarly investigation, and the history of Alice, Lewis Carroll, and its journey of interpretations with the nonsensical and whimsical feel of the original and the way it has been interpreted. An excellent addition for fans of Alice in Wonderland. I loved this book, and will be revisiting it.