Creative Arts Book of the Week 29/02/16

Alice's adventures in WonderlandAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll & Robert Sabuda.

Last week I took a day off work to visit the British Library.  Along with other librarians we had a very interesting guided tour and I got to see the Treasures Gallery which I hadn’t seen for years. Exhibits include Johann Gutenberg’s Bible ; one of four surviving copies of the original Magna Carta; manuscripts by composers Thomas Tallis and George Frideric Handel; artist/poet/writer and engraver William Blake; several lavishly decorated illuminated manuscripts and the diaries of the doomed explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott. See the British Library’s delightful (and amazing) digital project: Turning the Pages for a closer look at some of these precious items.

The British Library shop was something else… I could have spent a fortune (I very nearly did!).

Another reason for visiting the British Library was the free Alice in Wonderland exhibition which is on until 17th April.  The exhibition is to celebrate 150 years of the publication of Alice in Wonderland. I am a big fan of Alice and have several versions of Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass on my shelves at home.  I even have a jigsaw.  What I don’t have is a pop-up book but that’s OK because we have one here in the University Library.  It can be found in the Glass Cupboard on the top floor along with lots of other pop-up books.  Although purchased to give our creative students ideas on making their own books (Artists’ Books) they are there for anyone to borrow. Robert Sabuda is a prolific pop-up book artist and we have several of his publications displayed in the Glass Cupboard as part of our Special Collections. If you are interested in seeing the full list of library pop up books and related literature view the first five pages here. For more about our own Artists’ Books see Greta’s previous library blog here.

If you get the opportunity to visit the Alice in Wonderland exhibition you will see Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll’s original manuscript (Alice’s Adventures Under Ground) with hand-drawn illustrations (in fact this is displayed in the Treasures Gallery – I have a beautiful facsimile given to me as a gift many years ago), alongside editions illustrated by Mervyn Peake, Ralph Steadman, Leonard Weisgard, Arthur Rackham, Salvador Dali and others. I actually counted nearly 20 different illustrators, included in the exhibition, who had made Alice their own after the copyright ran out on John Tenniel’s original illustrations in 1907. In point of fact, there have been over 150 international artists who have illustrated the stories to date, but Tenniel remains the most well-known. I purchased his ‘Nursery Alice‘ in the Alice Pop-up shop while I was there.  How could I resist..? Mea culpa. For many years it was thought that Tenniel’s original Alice woodblocks had been lost or sold to an American institute but in 1985 they were discovered in a London bank vault. These are on display too.

The exhibition shows how Lewis Carroll’s story has been re-imagined, re-interpreted and re-illustrated over the last 150 years with newly commissioned articles, a selection of manuscripts, reviews and literature relating to Alice in Wonderland.  See more here. I was particularly taken with Lewis Carroll’s involvement with the commercial side of Alice.  Seeing how popular his stories were becoming he commissioned a huge range of souvenirs (um sorry, memorabilia..) to sell to the hungry public, including a stamp purse (to keep stamps in – strange but true – there was one on display).  He was particular about every piece of music written to celebrate Alice – he would decide whether it should be published or not; he decided when new editions should be produced and in what languages.  He decided where the illustrations should be placed in the stories.  In fact he took complete control over all aspects of marketing, copyright and book production. And I thought this was a modern day phenomenon: all this makes me think of Harry Potter Incorporated.

Charles Dodgson never admitted that his pen name was Lewis Carroll.  It was reputed that when Queen Victoria wrote and asked for another Alice book to read he sent her his latest book on mathematics.

See a review of the Alice in Wonderland exhibition by The Telegraph here and you will get to see some more images. A real feast for the eyes!

There is also an extensive piece on Wikipedia relating to Alice in Wonderland.  I cannot vouch for its accuracy but there is a huge amount of information should you want a good read.

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