Thursday, October 18, 2018

Photographing Alice

Simon Winchester's small book, The Alice Behind Wonderland (2011), is deceptively titled and presented.  With the famous 1858 photograph by Lewis Carroll of six-year-old Alice Liddell (who was the inspiration of Carroll's famous Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) gracing the cover, and with the title as it is, one suspects a book more about the real Alice than anything else.  Yet this book turns out to be a potted biography of Lewis Carroll, emphasizing his hobby of photography, with only a short chapter at the end recounting the life of Alice Liddell Hargreaves when she visited America in 1932 at age eighty and was overrun by news reporters and photographers. Which wouldn't be a bad thing (there is a good chapter describing how the camera Carroll used worked), but even this coverage is hampered by the fact that there are no other photographs in the book, despite numerous descriptions and analyses of them. It left me resorting to the internet to find the examples that Winchester describes in order for his argument to register.  As an introductory biography of Lewis Carroll, this book seems okay, but if one wants something more thorough and rigorous (as I wanted) this book doesn't meet those larger expectations. 

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