I was expecting a little more about how the story was created and all that weirdness around Lewis Carroll and his Alice. But, as it’s a library, I should have expected it to be more about the physical books themselves.
If you follow the exhibition in order, you begin with Lewis Carroll’s original manuscript, which he illustrated himself. There’s always something about seeing a writer’s own hand that I love. It always feels more personal, more tangible. (As an aside, if you’re ever near the British Library, pop in to check out their ‘Treasures’ collection to see a massive range of manuscripts. There was something so poignant about seeing Captain Scott’s diary, open to the final entry, which is affecting in a much deeper way in his own handwriting).
The exhibition then moves through different ways illustrators have interpreted the book, from the originals by John Tenniel, to Dali, to Yayoi Kusama. It was really interesting how so many beautiful illustrations were rejected by the general public because they strayed ‘too far’ from Tenniel’s originals. But I loved those rejected ones, particularly a watercolour-style illustration (I’ve forgotten the artist’s name, alas) and Dali’s, precisely because they were different but in a wonderfully weird way that captured the essence of the book.
The library also has a beautifully designed pop-up shop, in addition to its usual shop, full of Alice in Wonderland goodies. Whilst it has some really nice stuff, I was a bit disappointed it didn’t have any prints of the illustrations, especially given they made up the majority of the exhibition. I would have loved to have taken home a print of my favourite watercolour illustration.
The exhibition as a whole isn’t as expansive as I was expecting, and as it’s a small space it can feel hot and crowded quite quickly. But it’s worth seeing for the range of illustrations and interpretations over time – how such a diverse group of illustrators are linked through this one book and how their interpretations are sometimes linked to the political situation of their day.
The exhibition runs until 17th April, so check it out (for free!) while you still can.