Alice in Wonderland at the British Library
Few books have sparked the imagination of so many readers, writers and illustrators over the years as Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll’s work gained cult status from the very start and became a source of inspiration transcending the changing times and lending itself to reinvention throughout its 150 years of existence. The original work remains unparalleled, however, and it is now being celebrated in all its facets at the British Library in an exhibition that retraces the book’s journey through a collection of rare objects and artworks.
Divided into three sections, visitors are first introduced to everything related to the story’s inception, starting with Carroll’s meeting with his friend’s daughter, Alice Liddell, and the fairy-tale he invented to divert her, which was later developed into his infamous book. The highlight of this section is the original manuscript hand-written and illustrated by Carroll himself. The evolution of the text is then documented in the second part of the exhibition, which is dedicated to its publication. Carroll was fully involved in all stages of production and even kept a diary detailing everything related to the practical side of the book’s making, such as his concerns and ideas about the illustrations, the printing, the binding and even the final selling price.
The book immediately became the subject of spin-offs and memorabilia, always under the supervision of Carroll himself, who almost single-handedly initiated the marketing phenomenon that still surrounds Alice in Wonderland today. The final section of the exhibition offers a taster of all the works inspired by Carroll’s book since his death. From countless reimagined versions of the illustrations to literary reinterpretations and film versions, such as Disney’s famous rendition, which cemented a vision of the characters as they are generally known today. The opportunity to test out Alice-inspired video games and the addition of other interactive features lends the exhibition a playful dimension, ensuring that the experience appeals to all tastes.
A complex book in the guise of a simple tale, Alice in Wonderland’s content is so multi-layered that it continues to offer seeds for new creative endeavours. Combining elements of magic, dreams, surrealism, linguistics and even politics, the story’s depth becomes more apparent when contemplating the endless flow of literary and artistic creations directly inspired by the text. While the exhibition, taking place in the Library’s entrance hall, is not as grand as one would imagine, considering the abundant possibilities that the book’s themes offer, it is nevertheless a real treat for anyone fascinated with Carroll’s work. It also offers an interesting perspective on how a single literary work can inspire and thus link different artists over time, to the point that the work no longer belongs to the author alone, but becomes the patrimony of an entire culture.
Alice in Wonderland is at the British Library from 20th November 2015 until 17th April 2016, for further information visit here.