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Wonderland on the Auction Block

AuthorJohn Cech (read by Fiona Barnes)
Air Date6/5/2001

Wonderland on the Auction Block Transcript

Tomorrow, Sotheby’s in London will be auctioning off nothing less than …. Wonderland itself — a unique copy of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (the title of the story before it became Alice in Wonderland), inscribed by its author, Lewis Carroll, to “her whose namesake one happy summer day inspired his story.” The book belonged to Alice Liddell, the young daughter of Carroll’s dean at Oxford, where Carroll taught mathematics. Carroll was a family friend, and it was Alice who became his muse; he had told his stories to her, and she urged him to write them down. In a letter, Carroll later said to her mother that “without [Alice’s ] infant patronage [he] might possibly never have written at all.”

This and other letters are part of the sale as well, along with a good number of Carroll’s photographs, including the famous picture he took of Alice in which she is dressed to look like a street waif. Along with being perhaps the best known writer of fantasy in the Victorian era, he was also one of its most recognized (and now highly collected) portrait photographers. This cache of Carrolleana has been in Alice’s family for well over a century, and it is finally being sold by her grand-daughter, Mary Jean St. Clair, who inherited it from her father, Alice’s son.

As an older woman who was often pushed unwillingly into the limelight because of her connection with Carroll’s stories, Alice once wrote her son to say, “oh my dear I am tired of being Alice in Wonderland.” That fame-induced fatigue is a major theme of I, a small masterpiece of a movie, that’s available at most video stores. The film is set during a trip that the elderly Alice makes to America in 1930 to help commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Carroll’s birth. During the course of her journey, Alice, played by Coral Browne, returns through the looking glass of memory, back to her childhood and is finally able to reconstruct what it was that led the stammering, awkward Carroll, played by Ian Holm, to write his stories for her in the first place. It’s an adventure that will take you to places that can’t be auctioned off — at any price.

Posted in Film, Literature