‘Alice in Wonderland’, British Library exhibition


Drawing of Alice from Lewis Carroll’s manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, written between 1862 and 1864. Image courtesy of the British Library.


Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with its iconic characters and phantasmic events, is a compelling classic that still holds our imaginations 150 years after its publication. The story’s influence has spiralled down the ages from the original memorabilia that was produced shortly after its publication through to a sudden plethora of editions in 1907 after the copyright expired. Written by Lewis Carroll for Alice Liddell, the original manuscript itself had an interesting journey, being purchased by American bibliophiles before it was given back to the British nation by the Library of Congress in recognition of the Britain’s role in World War II. The manuscript now lives at the British Library and it is on display in their exhibition commemorating 150 years of Alice’s publication.

The exhibition is framed by a series of constructions using gorgeous playing-card graphics and illustrations from the book. These signposts pick up on the fact that while many of us instantly recognize the characters and events from the tale, we often forget in which order the story happens.

The theme of this exhibition focuses on how the story has been re-imagined over the 150 years. Divided up into three sections, the playing cards direct visitors from the original manuscript, Carroll’s photo album and correspondence relating to its sale and return to Britain. ‘Turn the page’ technology displays a digitized copy of the manuscripts which allows visitors to get a closer look at the original and is a great interactive feature for children. The second section features re-writings of the first publication, early translations and Carroll’s handwritten diary, along with the original woodblocks. The rest of the exhibition illustrates how the story has been re-interpreted, right up to the current day. A kaleidoscopic array featuring versions of the book are on display which shows the story being used as political parody, a symbol of the counter-culture featuring in 1960s psychedelic posters, audio clips of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit song and Jan Svankmajer’s 1988 animated film. There are a number of different illustrations by Salvador Dali, Mervyn Peake, Ralph Steadman, Leonard Weisgard and Arthur Rackham. The story continues to pervade artists’ imaginations – the most recent items on display are computer games and artists’ books.

There is also a fabulous pop-up shop, which is beautifully displayed. Much like the story itself this exhibition would appeal to children, artists, and bibliophiles alike.

Open until Sun 17 Apr 2016. Free admission


Rachel Brett, British Library