Fictional Autobiography of Alice Liddell

(as it might have been) told by her

This is part of a site about the "Alice in Lyndhurst" play. A play about the life of Alice Hargreaves/Liddell

 

This is a fictional autobiography written by Nick Mellersh in 2008 as a precursor to writing a play about her life. It really needs editing (as of September 2009) and perhaps one day I will do it, or perhaps not. The facts in it are true to the best of my knowledge and it is an easy way to get into the life and times of Alice. I hope, one day, to complete it by adding some of the pictures we used when we were producing the play in 2009. - Who knows today may be the turning point in my life when I start doing the things I mean to do!

I, Alice Pleasance Liddell, was born in 1852 into an academic and clever family and quite a rich one. I was christened Alice Pleasance Liddell. My father was Henry Liddell, Dean of Christchurch College Oxford and vice chancellor of Oxford University. The first house I remember was Christchurch College Oxford, a huge place. Papa was in charge and we had the big house in the grounds. It had lots of rooms, all big. We saw quite a lot of Mama but little of Papa, he was busy running the College. I had a big brother and an older sister and then, when I was two, a younger sister, Edith, was born. Edith for some reason was always known as “Tillie”.

We three girls played in the college gardens and were taught by a governess we called “Prics”. She was strict but we liked her - most of the time. We learned the usual things and Mama and Papa were keen that we could read and do our sums. Mama encouraged us to sing and to play music. As we grew older we learned French and Latin and Greek.

Lots of famous people used to visit us. When I was about four or five we met this man called Dodgson. He was a lecturer at the college and he had a camera which he used a lot to photograph people. Cameras were new then and very expensive and took a lot of fiddle to manage so Mama was pleased when he offered to photograph us girls and Edward Henry our older brother. Dodgson was really nice to us children and he used to play with us, and invent games and tell us stories.

One day all of us (that is us three girls, Mr Dodgson and his friend Mr Duckworth) went on a boat trip up the Isis. The Isis flowed at the bottom of the college grounds so it was easy. We begged and begged Mr Dodgson to tell us a story and finally and he told this lovely story about me falling down a rabbit hole and having all sorts of adventures. I begged him to write it down. It turned out that that day and that story were one of the most important things in my life.

Well after that we saw a lot less of Mr Dodgson. I never knew why. Mama just said he was not a suitable friend. She'd never liked him really, Prics was the one who encouraged him. I think Mama thought he made us girls too excited and silly. Some say he'd fallen out with Papa about college politics, but I think Mama was behind it. We missed him at first, but when you are young you expect things to change and we had lots of other things to think about. But about two years later at Christmas he gave me a copy of the story all written out by hand and with pictures he had done. I was thrilled. It was called “Alice Underground” and it was one of my treasures.

At that time my sisters and I had started to take a real interest in art. Daddy was very friendly with this famous man called Ruskin. He encouraged me a lot and I have loved sketching all my life. People tell me I am very good.

Anyway the next thing is that Dodgson published a version of the story he told us in the boat and calls it “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. ” Slowly it gets quite famous. People start talking to me about it and asking me “Are you the Alice in Alice in Wonderland?” and so on. I was excited at first, then bored but I got used to it. Sometimes I got quite cross about it. It got even worse when he delivered me another story about Alice called “Through the Looking Glass.” When this was published too, I really started to get very famous.

Meanwhile us three girls are growing up and Mama has had four more children - Rhoda, Violet, Eric, and Lionel. Oh yes and there was Albert. He died as a baby when he was three months old. It was a terrible time I was eleven and I remember the silence in the house and Mama and Papa going round as if the weight of the world was on their shoulders. It seemed to suddenly turn Papa into an old man.

But you forget quickly when you are young and infant deaths were just part of life in those days. Mama had lost another son James Arthur just after I was born. And we three girls had each other and our own lives as we were growing up into women and we would talk about future husbands, and the sort of houses we would like to keep. We used to go to the college dances and met lots of nice young men and lots of others who were rather boring. They were all rich and important though or they would not have come to the Christchurch Oxford. That's where I first met Reggie. The was so handsome then and strong – such a sportsman! He could lift me up like a feather when we danced.

Quite soon, when I was about 19, we three girls went on a tour of Europe. We saw everything, Paris, Italy, Rome, the Alps. It was wonderful. We could talk French, of course, though Paris was not as exciting as I expected. There had just been a war with that beastly Bismark. But Italy was thrilling and there were so many old Roman buildings everywhere. Not just a few old pillars like there are in England but complete whole buildings. The most exciting thing we did was climb to the mouth of Vesuvius the big volcano near Naples. Well we went in a cart most of the way, then a sedan chair, and walked to the edge. Oh the smell of sulfur was horrible, and there were great gobbets of fire shooting up towards us from the crater. Ina was quite ill after it but it was very exciting.

When we got back, Ina got married to a man called Skene, from All Soul's another college in Oxford. We all liked him but really Mama wanted someone grander I think. At this time Prince Leopold Queen Victoria's youngest son was at the college and he used to dance with me and Edith and Mama hoped that maybe he would propose to one of us. But he didn't. Thank goodness, he was always rather a weakling, I thought, nothing like Reggie. Actually I think he might have liked Edith better than me, but I wouldn't admit it at the time. Anyway nothing happened with either of us. He died about 10 years later. Poor Leopold!

Then Edith met Aubrey Harcourt and he proposed and they were engaged and the marriage was arranged and everyone was getting ready for it. Then suddenly she started to feel unwell and 10 days later she died. The whole family was heartbroken. We were all in mourning for ages and we did not recover for several years. It was sad because I had started to realise that I had real feelings for Reggie Hargreaves. But there was no question of an engagement so soon after Edith had gone. But Reggie waited for me and 3 years or so later we were married. At Westminster Abbey. It was very grand.

We went on honeymoon first to Reggie's sister's house in Horsham which we had all to ourselves for 3 weeks?? . Then we went off to Spain together. Reggie had never been abroad before and he didn't like it very much. He was glad when we were home.

Reggie had a big house called “Cuffnells” at Lyndhurst in the New Forest. It hadn't been lived in since his father died ten years or so before. Me and Reggie had such fun starting it up again. We called it our 'Wonderland' . It was hard work hiring all the staff. A pretty unsophisticated lot they turned out to be. Cuffnells was right out in the country. Between two little villages Lyndhurst and Emery Down. Nine (?) staff we had, and I managed to hire a good cook and Reggie found a good butler but most of the rest were village people and I had a hard time knocking them into shape. But I'd learned a lot from my Mama and I was twenty eight at the time quite mature for a newly-wed. Then we had to buy lots of new furniture so that meant a trip up to London on the train from Lyndhurst Road Station about three miles away across the forest. I loved to see the ponies on the road. I remember there was talk of bringing the railway all the way up to Lyndhurst but it never happened, even though they started building the station at the bottom of the High Street.

Then came the children. Three of them – all boys, Alan, Rex and Caryl. The first two of them in the first two years. That was a hectic time but I remember Reggie was so proud of them and planning for them to be great cricketers and good shots like himself. The youngest son, Caryl, came four years later.

I was determined to keep up something of the intellectual life we were used to at Oxford so we had lots of guests down at Cuffnells (???like who you may well ask?? Kipling for one, Lord Leighton and a lot more) And Reggie had a big social round shooting, playing billiards (some people said Reggie should have been a professional) and cricket where Reggie sometimes found time to play for Hampshire. So we would often be away or have big house parties at Cuffnells.

We had a governess for the boys of course but I was still really busy running the house and looking after Reggie. And keeping up with my letters to my sisters and brothers and Mama and Papa of course. Reggie and I played a big part in village life of course. Over the years Reggie was a magistrate and started the Scouts. I ran the WI and we used to have the New Forest Show at Cuffnells for many years.

On Sundays we used to walk down the fields to the church at Lyndhurst. It had this lovely mural by Lord Leighton. Or sometimes we would take the carriage up the hill to Emery Down where there is a big stained glass window in memory of Reggie's father. It didn't seem long till the boys were off to boarding school and we only saw them in the school holidays. But I taught them to read, mostly using Alice in Wonderland, and I used to tell them the stories of how me and their Aunties used to play with Mr Dodgson and I would remember some of the games we invented and we'd all play them. The boys loved it and couldn't believe their mother was in a real book that everybody had hear about.

All three of the boys went into the Army. Reggie was so proud of them when they got their commissions. This was just around the time that dear Queen Victoria died. It was so sad but I knew King Edward of course. He had studied at Christ Church with Daddy and he used to come and visit us. I remember running out of the drawing room when he came knocking at the door one morning when I was half dressed. Papa said he was very nice but not very clever.

It must have been quite early in the King's reign that we got our first motor car. It was a Rolls Royce of course. The boys loved it. We would get driven down to the village in it and everyone would stare and then form a large crowd around it when we stopped and got out.

Alan and Rex were in the army then and we thought they were getting on fine serving the empire in South Africa and Malta. I was beginning to think it was time they got married but otherwise I was very happy. Then there was this business at German expansion and Reggie started getting worried about it and what the Kaiser was doing. He used to read the Times every morning and hurumph when he saw that the Kaiser had launched another battleship.

You could almost see Cowes from Cuffnells and I remember the big naval display where where the Kaiser came to inspect the fleet. That was the first time Reggie started to talk of the German menace. “We'll have to teach those Germans a lesson” he used to say. “A few ironclads around Kiel and a whiff of grapeshot and they'll start to know their place again .... They might be able to set the Frenchies running but when they meet the British Tommy there will be a different tale to tell.” Would God that he had been right.

I don't want to talk about the war. Our two elder sons Alan and Rex were both killed on the Western front. That's why. I can hardly bear to think about the war. It started brightly enough with Alan and Rex off to France and parades and cheering on the railway platforms and flags out in Lyndhurst and round Cuffnells. All my sons were in the Army, all officers. Next more and more of the people we knew had tales to tell of telegrams arriving at their houses and sons lost. In 1916 it was our turn, Alan had been killed. It seemed hardly had we got used to the idea that we would never see Alan again than another telegraph boy came up the drive from Lyndhurst and the footman brought it in to Reggie looking very scared and Reggie broke down crying as he opened it. Rex, our dear little Rex, had been killed by those damn Germans. I hate them.

Thank God Caryl survived but when peace it didn't bring everything we expected. All our friends had lost a son or a brother or somebody. The servants too. The maids had lost their fathers or their brothers or their uncles. There are 145?? names of the dead from our village on the memorial at Lyndhurst and me and Reggie were not the only parents who lost two sons in that Great War. That was ”the war to end wars” we thought.

Peace came, nothing was the same. Reggie took it even worse than me. There didn't seem any point in going out and shooting partridges any more. Not after Caryl and most of the young men we knew had just come back from shooting Germans. And the certainty had gone the way of life that we had striven to create didn't seem worth fighting for anymore.

Reggie and I still tried to keep up the standards we had aimed for before the war. In the village Reggie was still a JP and was patron of the scout troupe and encouraged the cricket. And I ran the Emery Down Women's Institute. Socially we had some house parties and Reggie would occasionally go out on a shooting weekend. But everything was so much more expensive and it was really hard to get good servants. We had to use the most hopeless young girls, more like children they were, from the outlying villages like Minstead and Emery Down. They really had no idea and they demanded extortionate wages. What had the war been fought for but to preserve the best of English life, we'd won the war but the life I thought we had been fighting for was gone forever.

Reggie had lost all heart after the two big boys had died and slowly he faded away. It was hard to imagine he was the same person who had been such a handsome dashing sportsman when we were both young. And thoughts of Alan and Rex used to haunt us every day, though neither of us would talk of it. Despite everything that Caryl, our youngest son, and I could do, the next eight years of Reggie's life were just a slow decline. He died in 1926 and is buried in Lyndhurst churchyard. Just on the right of the tower that you can see so easily from Cuffnells.

I remember this verse that Reggie wrote about how we strived together to do at Cuffnells and Lyndhurst particularly in those years after the war:

So we through this world's waning light

May hand in hand pursue our way,

Shed round us order, love and light,

And shine into the perfect.

Reggie's death meant really hard times for Caryl and me what with death duties on all Reggie's money and the loneliness to bear as well.. And everything costing a lot more. Well officially Caryl was the owner of Cuffnells now, but he was very good and let me go on living there. But money was really tight and something had to be done. Caryl and I looked around for something we could sell. Cuffnells didn't have a lot of land and anyway there was no market for land at that time, then we had an inspiration.

I'd always kept the manuscript of “Alice Underground” that Dodgson gave me. We kept it in the living room and we asked some valuers we knew if there was any value in that. They were really enthusiastic. So we decided to sell. Strange because Dodgson and the Alice books had completely disappeared from my life and thoughts. Since the beginning of the war.

After my mother decided we were too friendly with him, we had seen him around the college at Christchurch . But we behaved like young women to him and never talked. Mama had decided that the friendship must stop and, as time passed, it grew natural to pass him in the college grounds with nothing more than a polite “Good morning Mr Dodgson.”

I met Dodgson again several times when I was married. It was so hard, I remember, to know how I should behave. I couldn't go back to treating him the way I had done when I was ten. So both of us were studiously polite and nothing more. I should have thanked him for the good times he gave me and my sisters really. But I didn't. I missed that opportunity. But I was really quite proud of being the real Alice though it did get tiresome from time to time. I should have told him that too I suppose. I wish I had. He died soon after he retired from the college in 1896.

Anyway in 1929, Caryl and I sold the manuscript at Sotherby's for £15,400. It was a lot of money then, four times as much as we expected. It got into all the newspapers and suddenly we were much more comfortably off and people were talking about Alice in Wonderland again.

It was a good time then because I had things to think of other than the loss of Reggie and the boys. Over the next couple of years the excitement about Alice in Wonderland grew and a few years later, in 1932, on the centenary of Dodgson's birth I was invited over to New York as a sort of celebrity. It was like being a film star or something. I was on the radio and the newsreels and there was a big ceremony for me at Columbia university. I was made a Doctor of Letters. Papa would have been proud of that. And I expect Mr Dodgson would have been really surprised.

Caryl came over to America with me. It was exciting but really tiring. When I got home to Lyndhurst I needed a long rest. I was eighty years old after all.

Cuffnells was getting too much for me now, oh yes and Caryl had married and so I moved over to Westerham in Kent where my sister Rhoda lived. Caryl kept up the excitement of the centenary as long as he could. But I was tired. I had had enough of Alice and enough of life really. In November 1934 I went for a drive in my car and didn't ask the chauffeur to turn back when I started getting cold. When, eventually, I got back home, I took, happily, to my bed. Everyone knew I was dying and it got into the papers. I remember my nurse reading me the bits from the papers about me “Now where childhoods dreams are entwined Alice in Wonderland is dying surrounded by mementos of her adventures” and much more sentimental rubbish. I couldn't help laughing, but most of the time I just slept. I was glad that it was coming to an end.

When it was over, the Times compared me to Beatrice who had inspired Dante, and the Mona Lisa and lots of others. Well, it is true I did brush with genius when I was a child and, without me, there would never have been any Alice books and Dodgson, or Lewis Carroll as he is better known would long have been forgotten except by a few mathematicians who enjoyed complex riddles.

As for the rest, Caryll went on to have a daughter. Cuffnells was too big to keep. First it became a hotel then, during the second world war, ... oh God how I hate wars ... during the second world war my beautiful house was destroyed just as my beautiful sons had been in the first.

Now there is nothing left but a few stones at Cuffnells and a gravestone beside the church in Lyndhurst. Best to remember Alice as the seven year old heroine of Mr Dodgson's book. That seven year old and Lewis Carroll will live on together for a few more years yet. Alice Pleasance Hargreaves, née Alice Pleasance Liddell is a private woman and a woman of the past.

Please note that this is not an autobiography. It is a fictional autobiography written as a way to get into the mind of Alice before I started writing the play “Alice in Lyndhurst.”


©Nick Mellersh 2008

 

 

Mellersh Home Alice home Script of Alice in Lyndhurst Fictional “autobiography” Timelines Controversies about Carroll

Other plays and pantomimes by Nick Mellersh