Much has been written about this child and her admirer. Speculations from each passing decade are layered like sediment, creating a geology of conjecture. These two are caught in amber, her eyes dark requests, his eyes pale and lowered…relics of Victorian affection.
England in the 1860's was romantic and foolish. The little girl who possessed beauty and innocence was treasured as a charm to protect an adult against the black-cloaked world. She was the reminder that a diminutive land still existed; where perfection lived, unquestioned and swathed in happiness. She was a dainty cherub, demanding and bold, charming and spoiled. She questioned the world and waited, a cloud in lace and ribbons, for the marvelous answer she knew would come.
Alice Liddell was such a child. As a woman her features lengthened and solidified, but when she was young they were fluid and petulant. Her face was broad, a suitable platform for eyes that were probing shades. Dark and demanding, they provided both questions and answers. Beneath her eyes were wisps of shadow – as if the scarlet fever that carried away two of her brothers had once cupped her chin in his burning hands and looked deep into those eyes.
Her profile was graceful, with a delicate nose forming as refined a slope as you would find anywhere in Switzerland. Her fragile body seems lost in the multitudes of petticoats…she can barely lift her head over the avalanche of fabric. The billowing folds of cotton could be hiding air; her frame is so subtle.
Yet for all her ethereal prettiness, she was a starry force; blazing and blinding. Hers was a determined light – now stilled and sepia-bound – but once alive and insistent. It was strong and delightful. It was persuasive enough to inspire a shy Oxford don to write for her…a fairy tale living inside a Bosch painting. It was a tale of rabbits with pocketwatches, caterpillers breathing in the honeyed tobacco of their hookahs, cats that purred through the dimensions, a tea party where no one poured, a croquet game where no one played. It was a tale of mangled songs, poems and dances; a tale where the English language was tickled, tweaked and twisted. And when the breathless adventure was done, he laid it at this little girl's feet.
"Alice! A childish story take,
And with a gentle hand
Lay it where Childhood's dreams are
In Memory's mystic band,
Like a pilgrim's withered wreath of
Pluck'd in a far-off land."