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Hargreaves [née Liddell], Alice Pleasancefree

  • Morton N. Cohen

Alice Pleasance Hargreaves (1852–1934)

by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), 1858 [The Beggar-Maid]

Hargreaves [née Liddell], Alice Pleasance (1852–1934), prototype of the character Alice, was made famous by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1872). She was the second daughter of Henry George Liddell (1811–1898) and his wife, Lorina Hannah (1826–1910), daughter of James Reeve of Lowestoft. Alice was born at 19 Dean's Yard, Westminster, on 4 May 1852, while her father was headmaster of Westminster School. In 1855 he was appointed dean of Christ Church and the family moved to Oxford, where Alice and her sisters were educated by a governess, Mary Prickett, at their home within the college walls, the spacious, handsome deanery, fronting on Tom Quad and backing on a large private garden. As the girls grew they received additional instruction in art from John Ruskin and in foreign languages and music. In later years Alice recalled that, although she and her sisters were compelled to take a cold bath every morning, it was at the deanery that 'we spent the happy years of childhood' (A. and C. Hargreaves).

Mrs Liddell, according to W. M. Thackeray, Liddell's schoolboy friend, was 'a 3d rate provincial lady' but 'first rate in the beauty line' (Letters and Private Papers, 2.641–2). She transformed the staid deanery into a grand social venue with her musical evenings and dinner parties, and the children came to know some of Britain's most eminent personalities, even Queen Victoria, who stayed at the deanery when the prince of Wales was an undergraduate at Christ Church.

On the afternoon of 25 April 1856 Alice, not quite four, first met Charles Dodgson, then aged twenty-four and in his second year as mathematical lecturer at Christ Church. He had come to the deanery with his friend Reginald Southey to take a photograph of the cathedral, and although their efforts failed they encountered Alice, her older sister, Lorina, and her younger sister, Edith, in the garden: 'we became excellent friends', Dodgson recorded. 'We tried to group them in the foreground of the picture, but they were not patient sitters' (Dodgson, Diaries, 1.83). Photography, the new rage, provided Dodgson the entrée to the deanery and he became a regular visitor, not only taking photographs but also playing croquet with the children in the garden, inventing and playing other games with them in the nursery, telling them stories, and, in good weather, taking them on river picnics up and down the Isis. On 4 July 1862, on one of these picnics, he invented the story of Alice in Wonderland. The real Alice was then aged ten and pleaded with him to write Alice's adventures down for her, which he carefully did, supplying his own illustrations, in a green notebook that has become one of the most cherished literary manuscripts in the British Library.

The friendship between the Oxford don and the dean's daughter flourished until the following summer, when an unexplained incident that some assume was a marriage proposal exiled Dodgson from the deanery. Polite relations were later re-established, but the earlier warmth was gone for ever. Marriage proposal or no, Mrs Liddell would not consider Dodgson, a mere don with a stammer and a deaf right ear, an appropriate suitor for her daughters. She destroyed all the letters that Dodgson wrote to the children and kept her eye trained on the titled and the rich. She even kept any mention of Dodgson and the Alice books out of the authorized biography of her husband, published in 1899.

A beautiful child and young woman, Alice attracted numerous eligible men including, in the mid-1870s, the queen's youngest son, Leopold, duke of Albany, who, like his brother, had been sent to be educated at Christ Church. But the queen insisted upon royal consorts, and Alice was rejected. From the shadows emerged another dashing Christ Church undergraduate, Reginald (Regi) Gervis Hargreaves (1852–1926), the sporting scion of landed gentry. He wooed and won Alice, aged twenty-eight, for his bride. They were married in Westminster Abbey on 15 September 1880. Although Dodgson sent a wedding present, his name does not appear in the list of gift givers. Relations with his ‘dream-child’ then became formal; the few letters he wrote to her in later life are addressed to 'Mrs Hargreaves'.

The newly-weds moved into the Hargreaves's family home, Cuffnells, a Georgian mansion at Lyndhurst in the New Forest surrounded by 160 lush acres, and Alice, as chatelaine, sought to reproduce the grand parties she had grown accustomed to at the deanery. The couple had three sons and named the third Caryl. They lived comfortably, but were devastated by the deaths of their two eldest sons in the First World War. The crumbling estate, moreover, no longer sustained itself, and Regi was forced to sell off outlying lands. After he died in 1926 and Caryl inherited the property, Alice continued to live there, virtually alone, berating her servants, objecting to her son's extravagant London lifestyle, and criticizing his decision to marry a widow. In 1928 she tried to alleviate another financial crisis by selling at public auction the manuscript booklet of Alice's Adventures and other books and memorabilia that Lewis Carroll had given her as a child. In 1932, the centenary of Carroll's birth, the lonely woman was invited, with a sister and her son, to New York to receive an honorary degree at Columbia University, to be fêted, interviewed, filmed, and written about. She succumbed, but on her return confessed that she was 'tired of being Alice in Wonderland' (A. Hargreaves to C. Hargreaves, Liddell-Hargreaves Collection). Alice died at The Breaches, Westerham, two years later, on 15 November 1934, at the age of eighty-two; her ashes were buried at Lyndhurst. Cuffnells continued to decay, and after the Second World War was demolished.


  • A. Clark, The real Alice (1981)
  • [A. Hargreaves and C. Hargreaves], ‘The Lewis Carroll that Alice recalls’, New York Times (1 May 1932)
  • C. Hargreaves, ‘Alice's recollections of Carrollian days, as told to her son’, Cornhill Magazine, [3rd] ser., 73 (1932), 1–12
  • A. C. Amor, Wonderland come true to Alice in Lyndhurst (1995)
  • The diaries of Lewis Carroll, ed. R. L. Green, 2 vols. (1953)
  • The letters of Lewis Carroll, ed. M. N. Cohen and R. L. Green, 2 vols. (1979)
  • M. N. Cohen, Lewis Carroll: a biography (1995)
  • The letters and private papers of William Makepeace Thackeray, ed. G. N. Ray, 4 vols. (1945–6)
  • Christ Church Oxf., Liddell-Hargreaves Collection


  • Christ Church Oxf.
  • Morgan L.
  • priv. coll.


  • priv. coll., print of newsreel film of Mrs Hargreaves's arrival in New York in 1932


  • L. Carroll [C. L. Dodgson], photograph, 1858, NPG [see illus.]
  • C. L. Dodgson, drawing, BL; repro. in Dodgson, ‘Alice's adventures underground
  • C. L. Dodgson, photograph, BL; repro. in Dodgson, ‘Alice's adventures underground’
  • W. B. Richmond, group portrait (The sisters), priv. coll.
  • photographs, Princeton University
  • photographs, Ransom HRC
  • photographs, Mansell Collection
  • photographs, Christ Church Oxf.
  • photographs, Morgan L.
  • photographs, New York University

Wealth at Death

£13,471 10s. 1d.: administration, 4 Feb 1935, CGPLA Eng. & Wales


Christ Church, Oxford