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Cherished Gifts

The Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland exhibit we went to on the weekend contained a very sad story about Alice Liddell’s hand-written copy of the book from Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll).

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?


1 illustr8d { 10.21.15 at 8:55 am }

I wonder if that copy would have survived WWII. History preserved itself in a way, with it here. And no-one could take from her the fact that the story was hers.

As circumstances push me towards owning less and less, I’m finding I care less & less about it.

My mother’s paintings

2 Jill A. { 10.21.15 at 2:57 pm }

I moved cross country 10 years ago and had to sort through everything to decide what was worth paying to ship and what wasn’t. Very little furniture made the cut. 10 boxed of stuffed animals, children’s toys, not collectibles, did. My parents were recently deceased and my bother was very upset I was going to get rid of their dining room set. They paid $65 for it from Sears Surplus in the 1960’s. I kept it to ease my brother’s heart. The antique marble coffee table broke apart in the move, the dining room set made it. It is the memories I’m preserving, not the item so much.

I traveled across country clutching my daughter’s ashes. I guess that is the most important thing.

3 a { 10.21.15 at 4:04 pm }

I have a lot of stuff – and I described it all in a comment that wouldn’t go through. 🙁 That’s OK, because the point is, I am now inspired to have a purge again. This time, some of the books have to go…

4 loribeth { 10.21.15 at 4:43 pm }

This is timely, Mel, as we are in the middle of having our house painted (contemplating a potential move to a condo, where there would be much less space) and moving stuff from one room to the other — too much stuff, my dh says. :p I’ve been working on paring down stuff for the past 6 months (31 boxes of books alone to the Salvation Army to date, including 4 today) — and it is hard to let go. My most cherished object would certainly be anything related to Katie — believe me, none of THAT is going!! although I have parted with a whole stack of my infertility & grief books (not all, but a lot) and am contemplating (gasp!) letting go of my maternity clothes, after 17 years of taking up space and gathering dust in my closet. Sigh.

Your story about Alice Liddell practically had me in tears. I understand.

5 Charlotte { 10.22.15 at 8:22 am }

I have several things I am sentimental about that I have saved over the years in all of our moves, things I won’t ever willingly get rid of. The first is a huge bin of artwork my kids have done. I have cards and books from my dad that not only contain his sentiments to me, but also have his handwriting and inscriptions to me that I won’t ever part with. That I need to keep to remember and never forget him. I have a few priceless (to me) treasures he brought home on his international travels. And I have a stuffed pot belly raccoon named Raqui who was given to me by my sister when I was one year old. Just knowing I still have those things brings me immense comfort.

6 Heather { 10.22.15 at 2:24 pm }

This is a hard one, but I would say it’s one of the rings my mom wore. I have it now and wear it everyday. It’s nothing expensive or extravagant. However, it reminds me of her, and I love that I have it.

7 A. { 10.22.15 at 3:50 pm }

Gosh, that is the saddest story. I have a jar of shells & sea-polished pebbles in my bathroom from all the beaches. Somewhere inside them are remnants of sunsets and umbrella drinks, all the saddest and happiest moments of my life, which so often have been spent on beaches, from my honeymoon in Maui to burying my son in Montauk. It’s something I’d grab if the house was on fire.

8 Lori Lavender Luz { 10.22.15 at 6:42 pm }

What a story. Thwarted love is so sad, so enduring.

I suppose my most treasured object(s) is my collection of journals. My memories are in them. I don’t keep all of them in my head since I’ve written them down.

9 Justine { 10.22.15 at 10:21 pm }

A few years back, I purged. I got rid of a lot of stuff … including books. It was a bad time. Part of me wonders if I changed, if something in my brain let go of any objects that might have had meaning, and that I haven’t reconnected it since? Because I look around my house, thinking about what I would save in a fire, and I can’t think of a single thing. Pictures, maybe? But so many of those are digital now, and I’d save them more for my kids than for me. Is it weird to not care about any objects at all? Maybe I’ve just overlooked one that I do care about?

10 Valery Valentina { 10.24.15 at 2:23 pm }

When you said object my mind went to the pyramids straight away. I’m happy I went to Egypt and saw them. I’m forever sad we didn’t do the whole one month trip we picked from the brochure: from Turkey’s Hagia Sophia through Syria, Jordan’s Petra to the pyramids. Our IVF cycle was cancelled, my partner got cold feet and now the treasures from Syria are destroyed…

11 Rebecca { 10.29.15 at 11:11 pm }

Not an answer to your question (because I may have too many), but have you read “Alice i have been”? It is a fictional retelling of the story you found (with a touch of uncomfortable near pedophelia thrown in). Very moving story, though.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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