Alice Liddell as "The Beggar Maid"

Lewis Carroll British
Subject Alice Pleasance Liddell British

Not on view

Known primarily as the author of children's books, Lewis Carroll was also a lecturer in mathematics at Oxford University and an ordained deacon. He took his first photograph in 1856 and pursued photography obsessively for the next twenty-five years, exhibiting and selling his prints. He stopped taking pictures abruptly in 1880, leaving over three thousand negatives, for the most part portraits of friends, family, clergy, artists, and celebrities. Ill at ease among adults, Carroll preferred the company of children, especially young girls. He had the uncanny ability to inhabit the universe of children as a friendly accomplice, allowing for an extraordinarily trusting rapport with his young sitters and enabling him to charm them into immobility for as long as forty seconds, the minimum time he deemed necessary for a successful exposure. The intensity of the sitters' gazes brings to Carroll's photographs a sense of the inner life of children and the seriousness with which they view the world.
Carroll's famous literary works, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (1865) and "Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There" (1872), were both written for Alice Liddell, the daughter of the dean of Christ Church, Oxford. For Carroll, Alice was more than a favorite model; she was his "ideal child-friend," and a photograph of her, aged seven, adorned the last page of the manuscript he gave her of "Alice's Adventures Underground." The present image of Alice was most likely inspired by "The Beggar Maid," a poem written by Carroll's favorite living poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in 1842. If Carroll's images define childhood as a fragile state of innocent grace threatened by the experience of growing up and the demands of adults, they also reveal to the contemporary viewer the photographer's erotic imagination. In this provocative portrait of Alice at age seven or eight, posed as a beggar against a neglected garden wall, Carroll arranged the tattered dress to the limits of the permissible, showing as much as possible of her bare chest and limbs, and elicited from her a self-confident, even challenging stance. This outcast beggar will arouse in the passer-by as much lust as pity. Indeed, Alice looks at us with faint suspicion, as if aware that she is being used as an actor in an incomprehensible play. A few years later, a grown-up Alice would pose, with womanly assurance, for Julia Margaret Cameron.

Alice Liddell as "The Beggar Maid", Lewis Carroll (British, Daresbury, Cheshire 1832–1898 Guildford), Albumen silver print from glass negative

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