06 July 2024

Alice Liddell and her
‘curioser’ childhood
friendships in Oxford
with Lewis Carroll

The ‘Alice’ stories began on 4 July 1862 on a boat trip from Folly Bridge in Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

I am musing over these few days about Alice in Wonderland and how the Alice stories began on a boat trip in Oxford on 4 July 1862, when Lewis Carroll first told the ‘Alice’ stories to Alice Liddell and her two sisters.

Alice’s Day is an annual city-wide celebration in Oxford on the first Saturday in July of all things about Alice in Wonderland, and this year it takes place today (6 July 2024).

There have been events in venues across Oxford today, including the Museum of Oxford, the History of Science Museum, the Oxford Botanic Garden, the Weston Library, Alice’s Shop, and the Story Museum. They include theatre, puppetry, crafting, trails, dance, games, lectures and more, to celebrate one of literature’s – and one of Oxford’s – best-loved story heroes.

Mark Davies gave an illustrated talk in Saint Giles Church on ‘Alice’s Adventures in Oxford’, discussing Lewis Carroll and his books. He explained the relevance of this day, revealed the real people, places and events that inspired the Alice books, and highlighted Lewis Carroll’s less well-known connections with local institutions such as Lucy’s Iron Foundry, Saint John’s College, and a floating chapel on the Oxford Canal.

Mark Davies is a local Oxford historian, a trustee of Lewis Carroll Society, and the author of Alice in Waterland, Alice’s Oxford on Foot and Stories of Oxford Castle.

The Revd Charles Dodgson – aka Lewis Carroll – was a Fellow of Christ Church, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The day’s events and programmes commemorate an important moment for children’s literature and for Oxford. On that afternoon on 4 July 1862, the Revd Charles Dodgson, a mathematician and a don at Christ Church, took 10-year-old Alice and her sisters Edith (then 8) and Lorina (13), daughters of the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, on a boat trip from Folly Bridge to Godstow, where they had a picnic.

There, they begged him to tell her a story, so he invented tales of a girl called Alice who had fantastical adventures. He wrote this up for her in a fine manuscript entitled Alice’s Adventures Under Ground in 1864. Under the pen name Lewis Carroll it was published in an expanded version as Alice Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, followed by Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.

Alice became one of the most popular, most widely quoted and most widely translated children’s book ever written. It marked the birth of modern children’s literature.

After Alice, children’s books became less stuffy and more entertaining. Oxford became a world centre of children’s stories and an inspirational home to many authors and illustrators, including Kenneth Grahame, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien and Philip Pullman.

‘The city of dreaming spires’ … a view of Oxford across Christ Church Meadow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Lewis Carroll is the pen-name chosen by the Revd Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898: Lewis was the anglicised form of Ludovicus, the Latin for Lutwidge, his middle name, while Carroll is an Irish surname similar to Carolus, the Latin form of his first name Charles.

On this Alice Day, it should not be forgotten that Charles Dodgson had strong Irish family connections, and that he came from a clerical family rooted in the Church of Ireland family and with Tractarian sympathies.

And I was reminded some time ago that he had some distant – very distant – and curious – very curious – connections with descendants of the Comerford family.

Lewis Carroll’s great-grandfather Charles Dodgson complained as Bishop of Ossory of the poor stabling at the Palace in Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Lewis Carroll, or the Revd Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898) was the great-grandson of Charles Dodgson (1722-1795), who was nominated Bishop of Ossory 250 years ago in succession to Richard Pococke. He was consecrated in Saint Werburgh’s Church, Dublin, on 11 August 1765 by William Carmichael, Archbishop of Dublin.

Ten years later, he moved from Kilkenny when he became Bishop of Elphin on 12 April 1775. King George III congratulated him on this promotion, saying that he ought indeed to be thankful to have got away from a palace where the stabling was so bad. He died in Dublin on 21 January 1795 and was buried at Saint Bride’s Church.

Lewis Carroll’s father, the Ven Charles Dodgson (1800-1861), was a Vicar in Cheshire and Yorkshire before becoming Archdeacon of Richmond. In the great theological debates in the 19th century, Archdeacon Dodgson was a High Church Anglican, inclining to Anglo-Catholicism. He was a college friend of Edward Bouverie Pusey, and an admirer of John Henry Newman. A supporter of the Oxford Movement and the Tractarians, he contributed the volume on Tertullian to Pusey’s series, Library of the Fathers, and in all wrote 24 books on theology.

His son, Charles Dodgson, was regarded as ‘stiffly conservative’ in his theological views at Oxford, his diary is interspersed with private prayers, and when asked about his beliefs in 1897 said he was a member of the Church of England, adding: ‘I owe all to him who loved me, and died on the Cross of Calvary.’

As a Fellow of Christ Church, Oxford, he was ordained a deacon on 22 December 1861. But a year later, when the time came to be ordained priest, he appealed to the Dean of Christ Church, Henry Liddell (1811-1898) for permission not to proceed. This was against college rules and Dodgson faced expulsion. However, Liddell changed his mind overnight and allowed Dodgson to remain without becoming a priest.

Why did Dodgson decide against ordination to the priesthood? Some suggestions say his speech impediment explains his reluctance, as he had a difficulty in reading lessons and prayers and in preaching in his own words.

Certainly, Dodgson remained active in ministry: he preached regularly and was a friend and admirer of the theologian FD Maurice.

Whatever the reason, his stammer, which was so marked that he often stumbled over his own name, was an inspiration for the Do-Do in Alice, and Alice herself was Liddell’s own daughter, Alice Liddell (1852-1934).

The Comerford family of Summerville, Cork, were ancestors of Agnes Hull … did she replace Alice Liddell in Lews Carroll’s affections?

The distant – I ought to be honest, very distant – link between Lewis Carroll and the descendants of the Comerford family come through the descendants of the Revd Patrick Comerford Law (1797-1869), of Summerville, Co Cork, and Ballyalley, Killaloe, Co Clare. He was the grandson of Patrick Comerford, a wine merchant, of George’s Quay, Cork, and Summerville, Co Cork, who died in 1796.

Patrick Comerford Law was educated at Trinity College Dublin (BA, 1818), and first practised at the Irish Bar. He was ordained deacon 1828, priest 1829, and was an army chaplain in Birr, King’s County (Offaly), Rector of Samlesbury, Lancashire (1829), Rector of North Repps, Norfolk (1830-1869), Rural Dean (1842), and a chaplain to the Marquis of Cholmondeley.

Patrick Comerford Law married Frances Arbuthnot, daughter of Bishop Alexander Arbuthnot of Killaloe, at Balbriggan, Co Dublin, on 17 October 1828. Patrick died at North Repps Rectory, Norfolk, on 15 April 1869. His daughter Frances (‘Fanny’) Amelia Law (1833-1883) was born at North Repps Rectory on 1 April 1833. She married Henry Charles Hull (1833-1902), a barrister, in 1862. They were the parents of four daughters, including Agnes Georgina Hull (1868-1936), who had a special friendship with the Revd Charles L Dodgson.

He got to know the Hull family while they were living in Eastbourne in 1877, and regularly took the four girls, Alice, Agnes, Evelin and Jessie, to the theatre, exhibitions, regattas and fireworks, constantly bought them presents, took them on walks and often stayed over in the Hull family home in London.

In all, Lewis Carroll wrote 31 letters to Agnes Hull, and also gave an older sister, Alice Hull, a copy of his book Doublets: A Word Puzzle. The letters portray a curious relationship where Carroll is ‘teasing, whimsical, wry, affectionate and at the same time deeply sensitive,’ according to Christie’s, who sold the letters in 1991. The letters include riddles, word games and conundrums that would delight a child. Some were addressed to her sisters, Evelin and Jessie, whom he described as ‘delicious.’

After six years of correspondence, Carroll’s letters suddenly stopped as strains developed in his friendship with the girls and their family. The letters’ intimacy was probably charming to a child of 10, but alarming to a girl of 17.

Carroll wrote the letters from Oxford or Guildford, during the winter when he could only meet Agnes occasionally in London. They would start with ‘My darling Agnes’ or simply ‘My darling.’

In one letter he wrote: ‘I love my love with an A, because she is Affectionate: I hate her with an A, because she is Artful ... Her name is Agnes.’

He was 50 when wrote a straightforward letter to Agnes without puns and riddles that appears to recognise their age difference. In it, he thanked her for writing to him. ‘It is pleasant even to find one is not forgotten when one is getting old, and grey, and stupid: but to be lovingly remembered is very charming,’ he wrote.

He always feared Agnes would grow distant with time and this became true in 1883 when the correspondence stopped. An agonising journal entry at Eastbourne on 22 August 1882 shows Carroll had reluctantly come to the conclusion that the four Hulls … do not in the least care for my company, or for me … Such friends are hardly worth having.’

In addition to a letter in mirror writing, the lot sold by Christie’s included an autographed first edition of The Hunting of The Snark dedicated to ‘Agnes Georgina Hull from the Author Sep. 11. 1877.’

Was Agnes Hull a substitute or replacement for the attention and affection Lewis Carroll once gave to Alice Liddell in Oxford 10 or more years previously? I can only suggest that it all gets ‘Curiouser and curiouser!’

A plaque at the Folly restaurant in Oxford commemorates the boat trip when Lewis Carroll first told the Alice stories to Alice Liddell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
58, Saturday 6 July 2024

The icon of the Annunciation in the new iconostasis in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

We are continuing in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar and tomorrow is the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VI). The calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship day remembers Thomas More, Scholar, and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, Reformation Martyrs (1535).

Before today begins – indeed, before I even think of facing a choice between making breakfast or going to sleep for a few hours – I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a reflection on the icons in the new iconostasis or icon stand in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford.

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

4, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

The icon depicting the Annunciation is the final icon to the right among the 12 feasts depicted in the upper tier of the new iconostasis in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024; click on images to view full screen)

Matthew 9: 14-17 (NRSVUE):

14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “The wedding attendants cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are ruined, but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

The Archangel Gabriel and the Theotokos or Virgin Mary … two circular icons in Royal Doors of the iconostasis in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Stony Stratford iconostasis 21: the Annunciation (Ἡ Ευαγγελισμός):

In recent weeks, I have been watching the building and installation of the new iconostasis or icon screen in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford. In my prayer diary over these weeks, I am reflecting on this new iconostasis, and the theological meaning and liturgical significance of its icons and decorations.

The lower, first tier of a traditional iconostasis is sometimes called Sovereign. On the right side of the Beautiful Gates or Royal Doors facing forward is an icon of Christ, often as the Pantokrator, representing his second coming, and on the left is an icon of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary), symbolising the incarnation. It is another way of saying all things take place between Christ’s first coming and his second coming.

The six icons on the lower, first tier of the iconostasis in Stony Stratford depict Christ to the right of the Royal Doors, as seen from the nave of the church, and the Theotokos or the Virgin Mary to the left. All six icons depict (from left to right): the Dormition, Saint Stylianos, the Theotokos, Christ Pantocrator, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Ambrosios.

Traditionally, the upper tier has an icon of the Mystical Supper in the centre, with icons of the Twelve Great Feasts on either side, in two groups of six: the Nativity of the Theotokos (8 September), the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September), the Presentation of the Theotokos (21 November), the Nativity of Christ (25 December), the Baptism of Christ (6 January), the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (2 February), the Annunciation (25 March), the Entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), the Ascension, Pentecost, the Transfiguration (6 August) and the Dormition (15 August).

In Stony Stratford, these 12 icons in the top tier, on either side of the icon of the Mystical Supper, are (from left): the Ascension, the Nativity, the Baptism of Christ, the Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Raising of Lazarus and the Crucifixion; and the Harrowing of Hell or the Resurrection, the Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Pentecost, the Transfiguration, the Presentation and the Annunciation.

The final icon in this top tier of 12 icons in Stony Stratford is the icon of the Annunciation or Ευαγγελισμός (Evangelismós).

The Annunciation of the Theotokos (Ευαγγελισμός της Θεοτόκου) is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church. It is third in the list of Great Feasts, after the Nativity of the Lord and Holy Theophany, and is celebrated on 25 March, which always falls during Great Lent.

The word Evangelismos (Ευαγγελισμός) means the announcement of the Good News of the salvation of humankind by the Lord our God.

This story of the Annunciation is told in Luke 1: 26-38. The Feast commemorates the announcement by the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, who was living in Nazareth, that she would conceive and give birth to Christ, the Son of God. The biblical story of the Feast of the Annunciation is told in Saint Luke’s Gospel (1: 26-39).

On the Feast of the Annunciation, Orthodox Christians commemorate both the divine initiative of God and the human response of the Virgin Mary.

The icon of the Annunciation presents the joy of the announcement of the coming of Christ. It is an icon of bright colours, depicting the Archangel Gabriel (left), who has come from heaven, and the Virgin Mary, who has been chosen to be the Mother of God.

The Archangel Gabriel presents the good news of the coming of Christ to Mary. He is shown with his feet spread apart as if he is running to share the good news with Mary. In his left hand is a staff, the symbol of a messenger. His right hand is extended toward Mary as he delivers the message and announces the blessing bestowed on her by God.

On the right side of the icon, the Virgin Mary sits on an elevated seat, indicating that as the Mother of God she is ‘greater in honour than the cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim, who without corruption gave birth to God the Word.’

In her left hand she holds a spindle of scarlet or crimson yarn that depicts the task she is engaged in of making the purple and scarlet material used in making the veil for the Temple in Jerusalem.

Her right hand is raised in a gesture of acceptance in response to the Archangel Gabriel’s message. Her posture expresses willing co-operation with God’s plan of salvation.

The three stars on the garments of the Theotokos represent that she is a Virgin before, during and after the birth of Christ.

At the top of the icon, the segment of a circle represents the divine realm from which three rays emerge. This demonstrates the action of the Holy Spirit coming upon her. In other depictions of the same icon, Christ himself – as a man – is shown in this semi-circle.

The Annunciation in a double fresco in the Church of Panaghia Dexia in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Saturday 6 July 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), has been ‘Saint Luke’s Hospital, Nablus.’ This theme was introduced last Sunday with a programme update.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (Saturday 6 July 2024) invites us to pray reflecting on these words:

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73: 26).

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church
is governed and sanctified:
hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people,
that in their vocation and ministry
they may serve you in holiness and truth
to the glory of your name;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

Grant, O Lord, we beseech you,
that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered
by your governance,
that your Church may joyfully serve you in all godly quietness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

Almighty God,
send down upon your Church
the riches of your Spirit,
and kindle in all who minister the gospel
your countless gifts of grace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect on the Eve of Trinity VI:

Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you in all things and above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The new iconostasis or icon stand installed in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford in recent weeks (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

An introduction to the Stony Stratford iconostasis (15 June 2024)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary in icons of the Annunciation in Lichfield Cathedral (Photographs: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition copyright © 2021, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.