The story began with marriage; namely, the wedding that Queen Victoria wouldn’t allow to take place. Little Alice in Wonderland and Prince Leopold wanted to get married, but the Queen refused. So the relationship ended, and both people married others but named their children after one another — an Alice and a Leopold.
Alice’s Leopold grew up and went to fight in World War I along with his brother, and both were killed in battle. She lost her son, but she also lost her connection to her first love with that death. Soon afterward, Alice’s husband, Reginald, died, leaving her to mind the house alone with her remaining son, Caryl. She needed money to maintain the house, so she sold the only hand-written copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in the world. It was the manuscript that Charles Dodgson gave her for Christmas, complete with his pre-Tenniel drawings that inspired the ones for the book. An American bought the book in the auction, taking the copy across the sea.
When she was very old, in 1932, for the 100th anniversary of Dodgson’s birthday, Alice came to America to attend a ceremony in New York to mark the occasion. While she was there, even though she was exhausted and her son feared that the travel would be too much for her, she went down to Philadelphia to see her book one last time before she died. She spent a night visiting with her book, holding it.
Two years later, she died back in England.
The exhibit has the chair she sat in to look at her precious book. You can imagine this old woman, holding her childhood in her hands, remembering those times on the river with her sisters when Dodgson would make up stories. It made me cry to think about her separated from a prize possession, a tangible reminder of a time in her life, before she was ready to let it go.
Part of me knows that they’re just things. Objects aren’t people. Her life went on, even without her book.
But the rest of me knows that things matter. That objects bring comfort. That something was missing from her life without her book.
In Oxford, the Bodleian Library displays their copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland from time to time. It’s one of the 50 original copies that were recalled after the first printing, so it’s special, but not quite up to hand-written-by-Dodgson-himself quality.
We missed seeing Oxford’s copy by two weeks on our trip to the college. For a long time after, I had a lot of regrets about the trip, especially when I would read about the book being on display or a special event being held. Seeing the hand-written copy of the book this weekend erased all of that. How can I be sad that I missed seeing a printed copy when I got to see Dodgson’s own handwriting?
Again, they’re only things: feeling happy or sad because I was able or not able to stand in front of a case and gaze at an object; it sounds bizarre when you boil it down to the basics. And yet it means something.
What is your most cherished object?