Amid the crowds and bustle of Christ Church College’s splendid 16th Century dining hall, one portrait, just to the right as you enter, can so easily be missed. It’s of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known to the world as Lewis Carroll.
In a world of not Hogwarts’ dining hall but it’s filmatic inspiration, the kids who shuffle through, no dawdling please, perhaps have no idea, or very little, about who Dodgson is or that he wrote a book called Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the most influential and popular children’s fantasy ever written.
And shy, conservative, stammering, yet wickedly brilliant Dodgson (how does he put up with all that daily visitor bustle and hustle, I wonder), is back in the spotlight this week. An extremely rare, mint condition First Edition of Alice’s Adventures is due to be auctioned in New York next month (june 2016), and anticipated to fetch around $2m to $3m (£1.3-£2m).
Two thousand copies of the first edition were printed in June 1865. Macmillan & Co, planning to release it on 4 July, sent 50 advance copies to Dodgson to use as promotional gifts. Enter the book’s illustrator, one Sir John Tenniel, who declared he was “entirely dissatisfied with the printing of the pictures,” so much so that Dodgson was forced to recall the print run and ask for the advance copies he had sent out to be returned.
“Finally decided on the reprint of Alice, and that the first 2,000 shall be sold as waste paper, ” reads his diary of 2 August. Of the 50 copies Dodgson gave out, naturally, some were never returned.
He was obviously not amused by the situation and ever the mathematician, did some sums to reassure himself that he would not be out of pocket by this unexpected turn of events. Don’t forget no one knew at this stage, including its author, what an unbelievable hit the book would prove to be.
On 16 June in New York, Christie’s will auction a mint copy of one of the surviving copies of what they describe as the “excessively rare” even “legendary” 1865 edition. Sixteen of the known copies are in institutional libraries, and six in private hands.
The edition under the hammer was given by Dodgson to George William Kitchin, a chum of his at Christ Church who gave it to his daughter Alexandra. A photo of Alexandra taken by Dodgson, also an extremely well-known, if today somewhat controversial, photographer, is to be auctioned with the book.
One wonders what the real Alice might have thought of it all: after all, as an old lady she was forced to tour America giving lectures about the book and herself to make ends meet. Plus ça change!
All photos courtesy of Wikipedia