Alice in Wonderland in Whitby
Posted on 12th March 2020 at 15:45
How many of us say ‘white rabbits’ on the first day of a new month?
Uttering the phrase is thought to bring good luck but only if it is said before midday.
This got us thinking here at the Riviera Guesthouse … perhaps the most famous white rabbit of all is the one that appears in Alice in Wonderland, the children’s book written by Lewis Carroll.
And, did you know, this world-famous author has connections to our beloved Whitby?
Curiouser and curiouser!
We thought we’d try to find out what inspired Mr Carroll to write such wonderful tales that have been made into countless stage products, films and animated movies over the years.
Lewis Carroll’s first Alice novel was printed in 1865 with illustrations by John Tenniel. As well as Carroll’s magical use of prose, Tenniel’s iconic illustrations gave us, among other incredible characters, the White Rabbit in his dapper jacket, waist-watch and with a rolled-up umbrella under his arm.
The two talents combined created the timeless classic, parts of which are thought to be inspired by Carroll’s visits to our town.
So, in the era when Queen Victoria was one of the few female monarchs on the British throne, Lewis Carroll first travelled to Whitby in the summer of 1854.
He visited the town seven times up to the year 1871 and stayed at 5 East Terrace on six occasions, and there is now a blue plaque installed by Whitby Civic Society to commemorate this fascinating fact.
In the summer of 1854, he stayed for around two months with some students and a tutor to study and lecture about mathematics. Aged just 22 years of age, Carroll was a student of Christ Church College, Oxford and his real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.
The aim of this first visit was to present academic lectures about mathematics … however, a member of the group said that Carroll told his stories to eager, enraptured young listeners. And who knows, maybe Alice was already in the back of his mind at this point!
Our very own local paper, the Whitby Gazette (still printed today) printed one of Carroll’s early works, The Lady of the Ladle, something which Carroll later referred to before Alice in Wonderland was published.
Two years later, Carroll first used his pen name Lewis Carroll and he also met the daughter of the Dean of his college, a young lady called Alice Liddell, so our guess is the formation of Alice’s character was well on its way.
Carroll was obviously a man of considerable intellect as he gained a First Class Honours Degree in mathematics and Alice in Wonderland was published in 1865. The sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass, was printed in late 1871.
Carroll’s visits to Whitby after 1854 bore some fruit, as it is thought the inspiration for the Walrus and the Carpenter, a narrative poem that appears in The Looking Glass, resulted from his strolls along Whitby’s shores.
Carroll’s brother also got married at nearby Sleights in August 1871.
Carroll lived until 1898 and he’s left us with a legacy of timeless characters, evocative plots and tales that still appeal well over a century later.
So, how has our lovely town remembered Mr Carroll? As well as the blue plaque mentioned above, several businesses have taken inspiration from his characters and lots of cottages bear reference to his works.
However, perhaps the most poignant celebration is the Alice in Wonderland garden, created by the Whitby in Bloom group. You’ll find this hidden treasure in Cliff Street next to the car park, complete with large playing cards, an elegant archway and a giant ‘stopwatch’ seat. We love visiting it and it forms part of the White Rabbit Trail in the town.
So, if you’re visiting us this Easter, be sure to pop into the Tourism Information Centre to purchase a copy of the White Rabbit Trail that will take you on a fun tour around the town.
And once you’ve discovered all the Alice connections in our narrow, cobbled streets, there’s also plenty of things to do.
Our What’s On page has a comprehensive list of events that will appeal to all ages, much like the wonderful Alice books that are still in print today.
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