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Vignette Alice Flamingo Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Illustrations (c) Macmillan 1995

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: Carroll & Macmillan

Lewis Carroll and Alexander Macmillan had a great respect for one another, a mutual love of poetry and stories and family loyalty
Vignette Cat (1911)

Carroll was most particular about presentation and requested that his book be covered in "bright red" rather than the usual Macmillan "green"

On 19 October 1863 an unknown mathematician, called Charles Dodgson, was introduced to the publisher Alexander Macmillan in Oxford by Thomas Combe, an eminent figure, director of the Clarendon Press and Printer to Oxford University.

Macmillan's publishing business, established with his brother Daniel in 1843, was growing. He had just moved his headquarters to London from Cambridge, had been appointed publisher to the University of Oxford and had built a reputation amongst scholars and authors as a leading academic publisher.

Charles Ludwidge Dodgson was born in Daresbury, Cheshire into a large rectory family and is better known by the pseudonym, Lewis Carroll that he used for his stories. He was a great storyteller and also very gifted academically. By the age of 24 he had become a Master and Tutor at Christ Church, Oxford where he got to know the family of the Dean, Henry George Liddell.

Mad Hatter Image (1995)


On 4 July 1862 Carroll, the Revd Duckworth and the three eldest daughters of the Liddell family, Lorina, Alice & Edith rowed up the river Thames to Godstow for a picnic. This became known as the ‘golden afternoon’ when Carroll first told the stories of Alice and her adventures. Alice Liddell then asked for the stories to be written down and a manuscript, Alice's Adventures Underground illustrated by Carroll was created and presented to her.

Just before they met in 1863 Alexander Macmillan had ventured successfully in publishing for children, with Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies. He was likely to have been looking to expand this area of publishing, and realising the potential for a story that entered into a child’s world in a new way, he agreed to take on Carroll’s story on a commission basis. This was the beginning of a long and very profitable publishing relationship between the two men, although one that was not without challenges and difficulties.

Carroll and Macmillan had a great respect for one another, a mutual love of poetry and stories and family loyalty. However Carroll was a most particular author and tried his publisher’s patience at times with his demands on the quality of printing, his instructions to the printers to let the paper dry for long enough before binding and the number of times that he withdrew copies of his books because of poor quality. Repeatedly he asks Macmillan to delay publication rather than have a hastily done poor quality book. Despite this they remained loyal to one another and Carroll was invited to Alexander’s home on various occasions.

In 1864 Carroll decided upon Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as the title and asked the Punch cartoonist, John Tenniel to illustrate it for him.

These classic drawings have become as well known as the story and beautifully capture the character of Alice and of those she meets.

In order to print from the drawings they were transferred onto woodblocks from which electrotypes were made and the printing made without damaging the original blocks. The innovative positioning of the illustrations on the page cleverly incorporates the illustrations into the text bringing the story to life.

Carroll was most particular about presentation and requested that his book be covered in "bright red" rather than the usual Macmillan "green" as used for The Water Babies. Macmillan sent a copy of an earlier children's poetry book, The Children’s Garland edited by Coventry Patmore (1862) as it was covered in “a red cloth such as I fancy you want”.

The first copies of the book, bound in red, were printed by The Clarendon Press were sent to Macmillan on June 27. However Tenniel protested against the “disgraceful” printing and the copies were withdrawn. A reprint was arranged with Richard Clay and a “second” edition was published on 11 November 1865. Within 3 weeks 500 copies of the book had been sold. On 23 December the London Review appeared saying, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a delightful book for children” and…“for grown-up people, provided they have wisdom or sympathy enough to enjoy a piece of downright hearty drollery and fanciful humour…”

In 1866 a further 3,000 copies were printed and from then on Carroll asked that the number of “thousands” be printed on the title page. By the time of Carroll’s death in 1898, there had been sales of over 150,000 copies.

Carroll’s sequel also illustrated by Tenniel, Through the Looking-Glass & What Alice Found There went on sale to the public in December 1871 (copies carried 1872 on the title page) and was again very successful.

In 1911 a one volume edition of both works was issued with the Tenniel illustrations coloured by Harry Theaker (Alice in a blue dress). Macmillan have also published abridgements including The Nursery Alice (1890) with illustrations coloured by Tenniel (Alice in a yellow dress) and The Little Folks edition (1903 & 1907) (Alice in a red dress).

Macmillan went on to publish all the books written under the name of Lewis Carroll, as well as many of his works on mathematics, geometry, logic, puzzle books, under his real name Charles Dodgson.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has continuously been in print with Macmillan since 1865, numerous copies sold around the world, translated into many languages, and the story and that of its creator has captivated children and adults the world over.

- Alysoun Sanders, Archivist at Macmillan Publishers


To celebrate Alice's landmark anniversary, Macmillan is publishing a number of gorgeous special gift editions to highlight the heritage of Alice and they have kindly given us a set of these special books for one lucky reader to win!

The set comprises of the Little Folks Edition, The Nursery Alice and The Complete Alice.

To win all you need to do is answer the following question:

Which year were the reprint copies known as the ‘second’ edition of the book printed?

Then simply email jill@fyne.co.uk and make sure that you include your full contact details.

Competition closes 31 July 2015.

Winner will be notified by email.


Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: Illustrations © Macmillan 1995 Imagery © Macmillan Children’s Books 2014


Related Articles: Alice in Wonderland in 600 Words | Alice’s Shop, Oxford | Discover Alice in an Oxford Wonderland | Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at Christ Church