Through the Looking Glass at Lyndhurst – Unexpected Serendipity

By Nasser Tufail

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and Little Ms. Liddell

Ms. “A” Pleasance Liddell was born in 1852. A charming little girl, she caught the eye of a young clergyman and mathematics don at Oxford University named Charles Lutwidge Dodgson when she was four. Charles got to know Ms. Liddell’s father, Henry George Liddell, the dean of Christ Church college, as well as Ms. Liddell’s two sisters, Edith and Lorina. He became a family friend, and took the girls out on several boating trips and picnics to the scenic areas around Oxford. He became most interested in little Ms. Liddell, and also took several photos of her. Ms. Liddell, it would seem, came to be his muse and prodigious passion.

Here is how Ms. “A” Pleasance Liddell looked in some of the photos:

Alice Through the Looking Glass
Ms. “A” Pleasance Liddell

Charles presented young Ms. Liddell a 15,000 word handwritten manuscript as a Christmas gift when she was 10 years old. She was extremely delighted that the main character in the story bore her name.

The 15,000 word handwritten manuscript

Charles and Ms Liddell through the looking glass…

Much has been written about Charles, twenty years older than Ms. Liddell, and his relationship with the little girl. Did he feel any pangs of tender passion, romantic attachment or an aberrant sexual attraction to the little girl, or was it all innocent and pure, merely a platonic fondness with which he was drawn to the little girl on an entirely spiritual plane?

What we do know is that at 24, when Charles first met the four year old girl on April 25, 1856, he marked the date in his diary as being of ‘very special significance’. He took pictures of other little girls as well, and befriended many on trains and at beaches, often telling them stories. Of the more than 3,000 photographs Charles had taken in his lifetime, over half were of children, 30 of which were either in nude or semi-nude. We also know that at some point when Ms. Liddell was in her early teens, her mother stopped any further communication and interaction between Professor Charles and her daughter, deeming the relationship very inappropriate to be allowed to continue.

Queen Victoria, Prince Leopold, and Ms Liddell

When Ms. Liddell was 20 years old, she met the youngest son of Queen Victoria, Prince Leopold, who was studying at Christ Church as an undergraduate. Whilst Ms. Liddell could not have married the Prince, given that she was a commoner, it is widely believed that there was, nonetheless, an intense romance between the two. There you go – the age old royal vs commoner ‘forbidden’ theme! Mortals fail to grasp that royalty, ego, status and riches are dependent on the Lord of the heavens, and none of those ‘royally imagined realities’ ever follow them in their graves.

Ms Liddell becomes Mrs Hargreaves

Ms. Liddell eventually married a cricketer and wealthy gentleman named Reginald Hargreaves and had three sons with him, two of whom tragically died in WW-1. She assumed her married name, Mrs. “A” Hargreaves and came to live in Lyndhurst in the New Forest, leading a normal life.

It may be of interest for the readers to know that Mrs. “A” Hargreaves had named her son Leopold after the Prince she once fell in love with. On his part, Prince Leopold, the Duke of Albany, would go on to marry a ‘royal’, one Princess Helena Friederike, and have a daughter with her. Any guesses what he named her? How about the name beginning with letter “A” after the charming girl, Ms. “A” Pleasance Liddell! It’s rather touching to note that, whilst a marital union between a ‘royal’ and a commoner was not to be, the memory of their love lived on in the names of their children. If you are still wondering who Ms. “A” is, here’s a hint:

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.

I don’t much care where –

Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.” 

Exploring the New Forest in Hampshire

I think I ought to go to the New Forest! The New Forest in Hampshire covers over 140 thousand acres of land and was once designated by William the Conqueror as his ‘new hunting forest’ over a thousand years ago. The forest has more than 40 kilometers of coastline and a number of visitor attractions including museums, art galleries, souvenir shops, cafés and pubs located in different villages and towns. The place is also famous for its wandering ponies, donkeys, cattle, deer and hundreds of species of birds. You can drive, bike and walk on tracks through the forest, exploring natural habitats and wildlife. Having visited several towns, villages and hamlets in New Forest – Barton on Sea, Lymington, New Milton, Ashurst, Milford on Sea, Totten, Brockenhurst and Ringwood, today I plan to spend some time in Lyndhurst.

British landscape paintings -Live

With my backpack loaded with coffee in a flask, plenty of water, some fruits and nuts, my wife and I set off on a long hike. Along the way, I spot a Hereford cow seemingly having an early siesta, and the scene reminds me of a typical British landscape painting.

The sky surprisingly clears up rather quickly towards the South. A few woodlarks and tree pipits are merrily chirping in the trees nearby. The picturesque scenery is really serene.

Just as I take a picture of three ponies grazing on grass, one sneaks up right behind me, as if though hoping to become friends! Patting and feeding of animals is not allowed, otherwise I would have done both.

We take a 15 minute coffee break and then continue our leisurely hike, appreciating the English countryside beauty and tranquility. After an hour and a half of walking through nature, we decide to take a slightly different and shorter route back to the village center.

The Church of St. Michael and All Angels, “Open daily from 10 am… ish to dusk… ish”

It is time for some peace, meditation/prayer and reflection on life. The Church of St. Michael and All Angels on Lyndhurst High Street located on a mound overlooking the village looks like the perfect place.

The sign at the entrance catches my attention: “Our Church is open daily from 10 am… ish to dusk… ish”. It is definitely past ‘10 am… ish’ and nowhere close to ‘dusk… ish’, and so we are fine!

The stained glass windows are impressive and a fresco showing the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins adds to the character and architectural presence.

The Church Graveyard

Out in the back, there are some graves in the churchyard and I walk past them. One grave with rose bushes in the middle grabs my attention.

Though seemingly nothing extraordinary which stands out, I notice the name “Hargreaves” etched on the cement block at one end of the grave. 

As I get closer to the grave, I notice a memorial plaque on one side and read the inscription:  The grave of Mrs. Reginald Hargreaves, the “Alice” in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” I am actually standing at the grave of Ms.“Alice” Pleasance Liddell, THE ALICE who inspired the inimitable classics Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass. For almost 155 years since the first publication in 1865, and never out of print, millions of copies have been sold in 97 languages, influencing ordinary folks like myself as well as Queen Victoria, Walt Disney, Salvador Dali, Oscar Wilde… and just about everybody else!

I mean, who has not heard of Alice, the rabbit hole, the Cheshire cat, the Mad Hatter tea party, the King, Queen and Knave of Hearts. The character of ‘Bill the Lizard’ in Alice in Wonderland, I learnt many years later in life, is supposedly an allusion to Benjamin Disraeli, the two time Prime Minister of United Kingdom!

awaking with her girlhood’s charm the ingenious fancy of a mathematician…”

The deacon of the Anglican Church, Reverend and Professor Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was otherwise known as Lewis Carroll, the pen name with which he authored the story books. Alice Hargreaves lived most of her adult life in Lyndhurst until her death in November, 1934. Her two sons lost in WW-1, Alan and Leopold (named after Prince Leopold, as I mentioned earlier), are also buried here. Just to be clear, Prince Leopold named his daughter Alice after Alice Pleasance Liddell (the “A” I alluded to earlier for Alice, to keep the mystery!).

At the 100th birth anniversary of Charles Dodgson in 1932, Alice Liddell, then an 80-year-old widow, travelled to New York to receive an honorary doctorate from Columbia University for “awaking with her girlhood’s charm the ingenious fancy of a mathematician familiar with imaginary quantities, stirring him to reveal his complete understanding of the heart of a child.”

“Elevenses” at the Mad Hatter Tea Rooms on the High Street

As I stand by Alice’s grave, offering my ‘Fateha’ (blessings for the soul and God’s mercy), I wonder if she actually had to bear the burden of being known to the world as THE Alice who also happened to be that Professor’s little muse in those days of Victorian propriety and decorum when even banal chatter and tittle-tattle could tarnish one’s reputation and character? It is time for elevenses and what better place to relax and snack than Mad Hatter Tea Rooms on the High Street nearby. We order mushroom & stilton tartlets and scones to go with our teas.

A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky

As for the ‘Liddell-Riddle’, I shall leave you with the poem by Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), which is usually referred to by its first line: “A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky”. Combine the first character of each line and see whose name you come up with…?

A boat beneath a sunny sky,

Lingering onward dreamily

In an evening of July–

Children three that nestle near,

Eager eye and willing ear,

Pleased a simple tale to hear–

Long has paled that sunny sky:

Echoes fade and memories die.

Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,

Alice moving under skies

Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,

Eager eye and willing ear,

Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,

Dreaming as the days go by,

Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream–

Lingering in the golden gleam–

Life, what is it but a dream?

… If not Alice Pleasance Liddell!


Click here for more of Nasser Tufail’s musings: The Man Who Flew the Devil and the Emerald-Eyed Empress

Nasser Tufail

Nasser Tufail grew up in Pakistan and after finishing his secondary education at a boarding school, moved to the USA where he completed his undergraduate and graduate studies. After working in aviation and IT for such companies as Boeing, McDonnell Douglas and IBM, he ventured out on his own and founded two IT companies involved in Business Intelligence/analytics and Supply Chain Execution. He sold his stake in the businesses and took early retirement to travel and see the enchanting world. He has lived in 6 countries and travelled extensively to scores of others in Europe, Asia, Middle East, Africa and Latin America. He currently resides with his lovely wife and best friend, Selma, on the Costa del Sol in Spain.

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