A book by Angela Youngman
As The Dark Side of Alice in Wonderland by Angela Youngman states, Alice in Wonderland is perhaps one of the world’s most widely read books of all times, being in constant reprint since its first edition in the late Nineteenth Century. It should be no surprise then, that the story has become a point of inspiration for many people, being adapted into cartoons, films, comics, and many less than savory things. This new book by Pen & Sword History tackles that very topic, as the author analyzes Alice’s use in things like drug culture, pornography, and subversive film and music. If that wasn’t shocking enough, the book compiles a lot of details that shed some questions about the life and habits of Lewis Carroll himself.
“Although the children’s story Alice in Wonderland has been in print for over 150 years, the mysteries and rumours surrounding the story and its creator Lewis Carroll have continued to grow. The Dark Side of Alice in Wonderland is the first time anyone has investigated the vast range of darker, more threatening aspects of this famous story and the way Alice has been transformed over the years. […] Was Carroll all that he seemed? The stories of his child friends, nude photographs and sketches affect the way modern audiences look at the writer. Was he just a lonely academic, closet paedophile, brilliant puzzle maker or even Jack the Ripper? For a book that began life as a simple children’s story, it has resulted in a vast array of dark concepts, ideas and mysteries. So step inside the world of Alice in Wonderland and discover a dark side you never knew existed!”
While this doesn’t go out of its way to be an expose on Lewis Carroll, I was somewhat unaware of his less than stellar reputation in our modern era. Perhaps a victim of cultural relativism, Carroll had some questionable habits such as hosting a large cadre of kids he called his “child friends” for sleepovers and outdoor activities. His closeness to these children was largely not in question at the time, but some tried to steer clear of being associated with him nonetheless.
Something happened between him and the family of “the real Alice”, a girl named Alice Liddell, that has haunted scholars to this day. Was he having an affair with her older sister, her mother, her Nanny, or he he propose to one of the children? We will likely have no idea, but this “missing” bit of history combined with nude photographs that were unearthed, mostly of younger women, call his motivations into question. That said, the most talked about photo that you see Carroll detractors roll out was basically proven to be a fraud, so you can’t really trust all of what you see.
The rest of the book goes through chapters like a sexualized Alice, drug Alice etc. and is largely stuff I was already aware of. This portion of the book was a bit weaker than the beginning and felt more like a series of essays than a cohesive thought about Alice in Wonderland. You could argue that just about any story has it’s share of pornographic content and other derivatives that corrupt and eschew the message of the original work, Alice is Wonderland isn’t that special, it’s just older. Some of this content gets a bit repetitive, as sections begin to repeat themselves, but overall the content was fine.
I liked this book, but I felt that it sort of lost it’s way as it went. The best section was the biographical information on Carroll, and I was somewhat unnerved that I had never heard much about it. I was pretty shocked by the “child friends” stuff, but largely find that there is an entire wing of historians that seem to want to paint every notable children’s author as some sort of sexual deviant so I’m not willing to entirely write him off. I mean some clowns were trying to find dirt of Fred Rogers because “they just knew he was up to something!” Carroll did seem like he was trying to overcome his inability to have any sort of meaningful relationships with adult women, and for that I feel bad for him. If you are a fan of Alice and Wonderland and are prepared to have your innocent outlook on the book potentially shattered, look no further than The Dark Side of Alice in Wonderland by Angela Youngman.
For more information and purchase links for this book, click HERE
NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.