Alice Adjacent: Lewis Carroll and his Victorian World - An Exhibit at the Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books

January 3, 2019 | TPL Staff

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Alice in Wonderland

We invite you to Alice Adjacent: Lewis Carroll and his Victorian World, an exhibition of historical and modern children's books. Located at the Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books, on the fourth floor of the Lillian H. Smith branch,  this exhibit was developed by Liz Derbecker. It is also a companion exhibit to Alice Opens the Door at the Toronto Reference Library, which is on display until January 27. The Osborne exhibit features works by Lewis Carroll and the many children's authors and illustrators of the Victorian Period.

This free exhibit runs from Saturday Dec 8, 2018 through Saturday March 2, 2019 and is open during the Osborne Collection's regular opening hours. All are welcome.

Osborne Collection Hours

Monday to Friday, 10am to 6pm

Saturdays 9am to 5pm

A Preview

The exhibit begins with material about Lewis Carroll. This includes an original letter, examples of his poetry, and books and poetry that influenced him.

Lewis Carroll

It then moves on to some of the nonsense verse by both Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. 


The two were more or less contemporaries, even though The Book of Nonsense came out 20 years before Alice in Wonderland. While there is no record of Carroll ever meeting Lear, we do know that each bought the other’s books.

Book of Nonsense - title page

A Book of Nonsense ca. 1875

First published in 1846, these celebrated limericks were written and illustrated by Edward Lear. This colour-printed edition was published in London by Frederick Warne and Co. and in New York by Scribner, Welford and Armstrong.

One of the most famous of Carroll's nonsense poems is The Jabberwocky. The illustration below was originally meant for the frontispiece of Through the Looking-Glass. However the illustration wound up in a later part of the book as it is quite scary.


Another well-known nonsense poem by Carroll is the epic poem The Hunting of the Snark. Come see the nine original woodblocks used to create its illustrations, as well as the book below.

The Hunting of the Snark 1908

The Hunting of the Snark 1908

Written by Lewis Carroll and illustrated by Henry Holiday, this edition has a red cloth binding blocked in gilt. It is an elegant variation on the original cover, which was simple cream cloth blocked in black. The cover design remains the same. This edition was published in London by Macmillan and Co.

Also on exhibit are popular Victorian books for children. These include both those published before and after Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. These include fairy tales by George MacDonald, such as the book below, and by Charles Kingsley.

Princess and the Curdie 1883 

The Princess and Curdie 1883

“By George MacDonald. With seven illustrations by James Allen.” A sequel to MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin, this is the first edition published in London by Chatto & Windus. This book was presented by the Friends of the Osborne Collection in memory of Joyce Lewis.

Lewis Carroll knew the MacDonalds and photographed their daughter Irene.

Irene Macdonald by Lewish Carroll

You will also see fine examples of Victorian binding and book arts. These include work by artist Aubrey Beardsley, in the example below, who was better known for his adult work.

Aubrey beardsley

Parade 1897

The Parade 1897

“An illustrated gift book for boys and girls,” edited by Gleeson White. The anthology boasts a title-page design by Aubrey Beardsley, shown here. Other contributors are L. Leslie Brooke, Laurence Housman, Charles Robinson and Max Beerbohm. Published in London by H. Henry and Co., this volume was issued in both a trade binding and a gilt-blocked vellum binding.

For all but four years of his life, Lewis Carroll only knew one queen. The books on display about Queen Victoria show how large she loomed. 

Queen Victoria

View the name-day card signed by Victoria when she was still a princess, and the original drawing of the Royal Family by Robert Cruikshank, as well as other items such as the biography below.

Queen Victoria 1901

Queen Victoria 1901

This short biographical sketch of Queen Victoria features a eulogy on the back cover. The Queen died during the production of the booklet. This edition was published in London and New York by Frederick Warne & Co.

Since Lewis Carroll was also an accomplished mathematician, the exhibit also features a selection of books on mathematics. They give you an idea of how nineteenth century children learned and the books they learned from, such as the one below.

Multiplication Table in Verse ca. 1876

The Multiplication Table In Verse ca. 1876

Illustrated by Walter Crane, this colourful picture book was published in London by George Routledge & Sons as number 63 in Routledge’s “New Sixpenny Toy Books” series. It was a gift from Jane Dobell.

We conclude with a case all about the Alice books. Here is just one of them:

Alice's Adventures Under Ground

Alice’s Adventures Under Ground 1886

“Being a facsimile of the original MS. book afterwards developed into 'Alice’s adventures in Wonderland'.” Written by Lewis Carroll and illustrated with thirty-seven illustrations by the author, this edition was published in London and New York by Macmillan and Co.

Carroll gave his handwritten and illustrated text Alice’s Adventures Under Ground to Alice Liddell in November, 1864. Twenty-one years later, in 1885, he wrote to her requesting permission to borrow it back to publish this facsimile edition. Carroll revised and expanded this original tale to create Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Hope to see you there!

Griffin - Stubbs

With thanks to Liz Derbecker and Martha Scott.