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Auction in Wonderland

The granddaughter of the real Alice, Lewis Carroll's muse, is selling photos, letters and other memorabilia of the famous family friend.

By KAREN MATTHEWS, Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 26, 2001

NEW YORK -- One summer day in 1862, Oxford mathematician Charles Dodgson went on a boating trip on the Thames with 10-year-old Alice Liddell and her sisters Edith and Lorina.

Dodgson entertained the children with a story he made up as he went along. Alice was the heroine, and Lorina and Edith became the Lory and the Eaglet. Alice later pleaded with Dodgson to write the story down, which he did, eventually publishing Alice's Adventures in Wonderland under the pen name Lewis Carroll.

Nearly 140 years later, a collection of the original Alice's letters, manuscripts and photographs, including famous images of her taken by Carroll, is expected to sell for $3.5-million at Sotheby's.

Highlights of the collection will be exhibited in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and London before the auction June 6 in London.

The collection is being sold by Mary Jean St. Clair, the only grandchild of Alice Hargreaves, nee Liddell.

"We've decided that the moment's come to sell it," said St. Clair, who was 3 when her grandmother died in 1934 and hardly remembers her.

Besides being one of the most beloved authors in the English language, Carroll was an important figure in the early days of photography.

The auction includes Alice's personal print of Carroll's most famous study of her, Alice Liddell as a Beggar Girl.

The young Alice, dressed in graceful rags, gazes intently at the camera in this 1858 photograph, inspired by a Tennyson poem. Sotheby's estimates that it will sell for $144,000 to $217,000.

There is also an album presented as a gift to the Liddell family that includes more images of Alice and her sisters as well as portraits of Carroll's Oxford contemporaries. The auction house estimates that the album could sell for up to $1.1-million.

The original manuscript for Alice's Adventures Under Ground, as it was then called, was sold by Sotheby's in 1928, but the current auction features Alice's copy of the bound volume, inscribed by Carroll "to her whose namesake one happy summer day inspired this story."

And there is a nostalgic 1891 letter from Carroll to the adult Alice recalling their earlier friendship. In the letter, one of only 11 from Carroll to his muse still in existence, he invites her to tea along with her husband, whom he had recently met.

"It is hard to realize that he was the husband of one I can scarcely picture to myself, even now, as more than 7 years old," he wrote.

Carroll's relationship with the girls he photographed has been the subject of speculation over the years, with some scholars suggesting that his devotion to his young models was unhealthy.

By all accounts, Carroll, who never married, simply preferred children's company to that of adults.

"He was very shy, and he just loved children," St. Clair said. "And in those days children were looked on as pure and inviolable."

Peter Selley, a specialist in English literature at Sotheby's, acknowledged that a friendship between a bachelor and a young girl like Alice "would be difficult to have these days without suspicion."

St. Clair, in New York for the exhibit, said the collection was lovingly preserved by her father, Caryl Hargreaves, who "kept everything to do with his mother."

Hargreaves was the youngest of Alice's three sons; the other two were killed in World War I. St. Clair said her father, who died when she was 23, never told her much about his mother and her famous friend.

"I think he was saving it up and was going to tell me," she said. "I think he thought I was too young to be interested."

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