Friday, February 21, 2020

Alice's Adventures in Transatlantic Publishing

An image of Alice being attacked by a deck of cards
Last week a 19th-century English literature class came to visit us in Special Collections, and we had the chance to show them our first published English edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll). We say "first published," because the actual first edition had such flawed misprinting of the accompanying images that John Tenniel, the illustrator, insisted that they be recalled and the edition suppressed. Carroll retrieved the advance copies that he had distributed to friends and instead shipped them off to orphanages. Today, there are only twenty-three remaining copies of this flawed first edition and (spoiler!) we don't have one.

However, we do have something almost as good. The publishing house, Macmillan and Company, had already invested in the printing and binding of 2,000 copies of the first edition, flawed images and all. So, to attempt to recoup their losses, and with Lewis's permission, they disbound the remaining withdrawn editions and sent the text blocks to the United States, where the New York publishing house D. Appleton & Company rebound them and inserted a fresh title page. Apparently, what wasn't good enough for English audiences was more than adequate for American ones. Here in Special Collections, we have copies of both the "first" English and first American editions, which allows us to compare the illustrations to see if Tenniel was on to something or merely being fussy. We'll let you decide for yourselves (the flawed original printing is on the left):

Frontispiece for the first American edition (w/original textblock)Frontispiece for the first British edition

Another exciting little detail about one of our copies is that it was a presentation copy. Inside the flyleaf, there is a dedication to "Ethel Reid," dated November 18th, 1865, and signed with the monogram "C.L.D." Given the date of the dedication, it is likely that this was a replacement volume for one of the initial fifty copies that Dodgson had requested early in order to give to friends. A letter accompanying our presentation copy, written by by Carroll biographer Sidney H. Williams in 1925, speculates that Ethel may have been one of the numerous children with whom Carroll was acquainted.

To see our presentation copy of the first published English edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, come to Special Collections and ask to see Val 825 D66 O215. To look at the first American edition, ask for Rare PZ8.D666 A1c.

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