The origin of the main characters of the tale “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by L.Carroll and idioms connected with them.

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The origin of the main characters of the tale “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by L.Carroll and idioms connected with them.

Горбачева У.С. 1
Малиничкина Е.А. 1
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It's hard to find a person in the world who has not read this book or hasn't seen its screen version. "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" is a work of children's literature by the English mathematician and writer, Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, written under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. It tells the story of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit-hole into a fantasy world populated by unusual creatures.

The tale is full of satirical allusions to Dodgson's friends and to the lessons that British schoolchildren were expected to memorize. The Wonderland described in the tale plays with logic in ways that have made the story popular with adults as well as children.

The aim of my work is to study the origin of the main characters of the book "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll and to study colloquial phrases and idioms connected with them.

The tasks are :

to identify the main characters of the tale;

to find out their origin- if they were invented by Lewis Carroll or they were borrowed from English history or literature;

to find out the origin of colloquial expressions and idioms connected with these characters;

The actuality of this work is that it studies the peculiarities of one of the most popular children's book which characters' names have become commonnouns.

Chapter I

How the fairy tale about Alice's adventures appeared.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is one of the most famous and enduring children's classics. The novel is full of charm, and a feeling for the absurd that is unsurpassed. So, it becomes interesting how this tale appeared and who was the person who came up with such an unusual story.

Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) was a mathematician and logician who lectured at Oxford University. He balanced both personas, as he used his study in the sciences to create his strange book. «Alice's Adventures in Wonderland» is a charming, light book - that pleased the Queen Victoria very much (she asked to receive the author's next work, and was swiftly sent a copy of "An Elementary Treatment of Determinants")

Lewis Carroll's book “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland” was not originally written for the general public but for a single child: Alice Pleasance Liddell, second daughter of the Dean of Christ Church College, Oxford. This tale was first published on 4 July 1865 exactly three years after the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and the Reverend Robinson Duckworth rowed in a boat up the river Thames with three little girls Lorina Charlotte Liddell (aged 13), Alice Pleasance Liddell (aged 10) and Edith Marry Liddell (aged 8).

The journey had started at a bridge near Oxford and ended five miles away in a village of Godstow. During that journey the Reverend Dodgson told the girls a story about a little girl Alice and her adventures.

The girls loved that story and Alice Liddell asked Dodgson to write it down to her. He promised to do it immediately. But for one reason or another, however, it took him two and a half years to deliver the completed manuscript, illustrated with his own drawings. Between the time that Carroll began work on the manuscript and the time that he completed it, he had lost the friendship of the Liddells.

According to the Dodgson's diaries in the spring of 1863 he gave the unfinished manuscript of "Alice's Adventures Under Ground" to his friend George MacDonald, whose children loved it . On MacDonald's advice, Dodgson decided to submit it for publication. Before he had finished the manuscript for Alice Liddell he expanded the original by adding the episodes about the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Tea-Party. In 1865, Dodgson's tale was published as "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by "Lewis Carroll" with illustrations by John Tenniel. The first print run was shelved because Tenniel had objections over the print quality. A new edition was quickly printed in December of the same year.

The book was sold out quickly. It was a publishing sensation, beloved by children and adults alike. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has never been out of print since. It has been translated over 50languages. There have now been over a hundred editions of the book, as well as countless adaptations in other media, especially theatre and films.

Chapter II Main characters of the tale and their origin.

2.1 Characters that had prototypes in reality

2.1.1. Alice

The main character of this tale is, of course, Alice. She had a prototype in real life. Dodgson used Alice Liddell as a model to this character of the tale. Alice Pleasance Liddell she was born May 4, 1852. The prototype of the character Alice from "Alice in Wonderland" (as well as one of the prototypes of the heroine in the book "Alice Through the Looking Glass").

Alice Liddell (Appendix I) was the fourth child of Henry Liddell - the classical scholar, the dean of one of the colleges at Oxford.

The members of the boating party who first heard Carroll's tale all show up in Chapter 3 ("A Caucuse-Race and a Long Tale") in one form or another:

«It was high time to go, for the pool was getting quite crowded with the birds and animals that had fallen into it: there were a Duck and a Dodo, a Lory and an Eaglet, and several other curious creatures.»[3]

There is, of course, Alice herself. The Duck refers to the Reverend Robinson Duckworth, the Lory to Lorina Liddell and the Eaglet to Edith Liddell.

The sisters are also mentioned in Chapter 7 "A Mad Tea-Party" when the Dormouse tells a story about three little sisters named Elsie (it is L.S. for Lorina Charlotte), Tillie is Edith (her family nickname is Matilda) and Lacie is an anagram of Alice.

Tell us a story!' said the March Hare.

Yes, please do!' pleaded Alice.

And be quick about it,' added the Hatter, 'or you'll be asleep again before it's done.'

Once upon a time there were three little sisters,' the Dormouse began in a great hurry; 'and their names were Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie; and they lived at the bottom of a well.'[3]

2.1.2 Dodo.

Carroll, or Charles Dodgson, is caricatured as a Dodo. He was called like this among his close friends because he stammered a little and pronounced his surname as Do - Do- Dodgson. Lewis Carroll used the Dodo as a character in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and it was the popularity of this book that lead to the widespread use of the phrase as dead as a dodo. This idiom means-outdated, forgotten, old-fashioned. A dodo was a flightless bird somewhat like a turkey. It was native to Mauritius and it was last seen in 1662. It became extinct at the end of the 17th century as a result of hunting and the destruction of its nests by pigs belonging to settlers on the islands. [6]

2.1.3. The White Rabbit

The White Rabbit is the first Wonderland character Alice meets:

...suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran dose by her....

She had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it. (chapter 1)[3]

He doesn't have a name. He is nervous and always in a harry. However he is confident enough about himself to contradict the King of Hearts. The Rabbit is some kind of a guide through Wonderland for Alice.

The origin of this character is uncertain, but some experts suppose that Leaddell, Alice's father, might have been the inspiration for the White Rabbit.

Henry was always running late as well. When Alice was a child, there was no west entrance to the Christ Church Cathedral and Henry would normally have had to leave the Deanery and walk into the Cathedral through the south door. Therefore he was famous for being late for services.

2.1.4. The Queen

The Queen is clearly a caricature of Queen Victoria (Appendix II), with elements of reality. She is a foul-tempered monarch, that Carroll himself pictured as "a blind fury", and who is quick to decree death sentences at the slightest offense. The Queen is referred to as a card from a pack of playing cards by Alice, yet somehow she is able to talk and is the ruler of the lands in the story, alongside the King of Hearts. Her most famous line, one which she repeats often, is "Off with their heads!"

The Queen had only one way of setting all difficulties, great or small. ‘Off with his head’ she said, without even looking round. (Chapter 4) [3]

Despite the frequency of death sentences, it would appear few people are actually beheaded. The King of Hearts quietly pardons many of his subjects when the Queen is not looking , and her soldiers humor her but do not carry out her orders. Dodgson made her at once instantly recognizable to parents reading the story to children, and also fantastical enough to make her unrecognizable to children.

2.2 Characters, borrowed from English history and literature
and idioms connected with them

The names of many characters of this book have become common nouns not only in the UK but all over the world. Everyone knows such colloquial phrases as "to grin like a Cheshire Cat” or to be mad as a March hare". And a lot of people are sure that it was Lewis Carroll who invented them. But it is not like that. He only made these characters and idioms connected with them popular. He borrowed them from English history. They had existed in the English language long before Dodgson wrote his "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland".

2.2.1. The Cheshire Cat.

One of the most famous character of this tale is the Cheshire Cat.

It is a fictional cat known for his distinctive mischievous grin.

All right; said the Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone.

Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin; thought Alice; ‘but a grin without cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!’(Chapter 6)[3]

It has become popular thanks to Lewis Carroll. But this character was famous long before the Carroll's tale. We can find some references about this cat in.old English dictionaries.

A classical dictionary of the vulgar tongue by Francis Grose (The Second Edition, Corrected and Enlarged, London 1788) contains the following entry: "CHESHIRE CAT. He grins like a Cheshire cat; said of anyone who shows his teeth and gums in laughing."[5]

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable says: grinning like a Cheshire cat\s "an old simile, popularized by Lewis Carroll". According to Brewer's dictionary, "the phrase has never been satisfactorily accounted for, but it has been said that cheese was formerly sold in Cheshire mould like a cat that looked as though it was grinning"[6]. The cheese was cut from the tail end, so that the last part eaten was the head of the smiling cat.

One of the stories of the possible origin of the grinning "Cheshire cat" is based on a Cheshire sign painter's peculiar way of drawing the lion crest of the Grosvenor family of Concord, Massachusetts on inn and pub signs, which looked to like a grinning cat, rather than the noble beast it was supposed to be. However, this would not account for the phrase's appearing in English eighteenth-century reference books such as Grose's dictionary.

2.2.2 The Mad Hatter

Another famous idiom from this book is "Mad as a hatter". It is used in conversation to refer to a crazy person. The Hatter is a well known character in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. This character first appears in the seventh chapter of the book which is titled "A Mad Tea Party". There is a supposition that the prototype of the Mad Hatter served as a furniture merchant Theophilus Carter. Carter, nicknamed the Mad Hatter - partly because he always wore a hat, and partly because of his eccentric ideas. For example, he invented the "bed-clock", which threw out at the right time sleeping on the floor. This bed even been displayed at the World Exhibition in the Crystal Palace in 1851.

There is more convincing version of its origin. The phrases "as mad as a hatter" and "mad as a March hare" were common at the time Lewis Carroll wrote. The phrase had been in common use in 1837, almost 30 years earlier. In 18th and19th century mercury was used in the production of felt, which was used in the manufacturing of hats common of the time. People who worked in these hat factories were exposed daily to trace amounts of the metal, which accumulated within their bodies over time, causing some workers to develop dementia caused by mercury poisoning. Thus the phrase "Mad as a Hatter" became popular as a way to refer to someone who was perceived as insane. By the way the use of mercury compounds in 19th century hat making and the resulting effects are well- established - mercury poisoning is still known today as 'Mad Hatter's disease'. That could be enough to convince us that this is the source of the phrase.

There are a lot of other interesting characters in this tale - the Dormouse, the Caterpillar, the little Bill and others and their origin is unknown. We can only suppose that they were invented by Lewis Carroll himself.

Chapter III

Peculiarities in translation of characters' names into Russian

Alice's adventures in Wonderland has been translated into many languages by a lot of translators. It remains, next to the Bible and the works of Shakespeare, among the world's most widely translated works of literature. There are seventeen Russian versions of this book. The most popular translations have been made by N.M. Demurova, B.V. Zahoder and A.A Scherbakov. The first one was made in 1879 by the unknown translator.

The translation of this tale is very difficult because Lewis Carroll used a lot of word-plays and puns comprehensible only for people who know English well. For example, the Hatter and the March Hare are characters from English sayings which have no equivalents in Russian. And in different translations the characters of the tale have different names which, according to the translator's opinion, are more convenient to their description or nature.

Almost in all Russian translations the main character has the same name – Алиса. But V.V. Nabokov decided to make the main character closer to Russian readers and gave her a Russian name «Аня». «Alice» was not a popular name in Russia those times. Some translators gave the characters the same or similar names as in the original. When we read «Шляпник» or « Шляпочник» in Russian versions we understand that it is the Hatter. But the hatter is a strange, foolish and mad character and N.M.Demurova, to make his nature and behavior clearer for Russian readers, named him «Болванщик» (from the Russian word «болван»).

We can see peculiarities in translation of characters' names into Russianin this table:



V.V. Nabokov

B.V. Zahoder

A.A Scherbakov






White Rabbit

Белый Кролик

Дворянин Кролик Трусиков

Белый кролик

Белый Кролик






Queen of Hearts

Королева Червей

Королева Червей

Червонная Королева

Червонная Королева

March Hare

Мартовский заяц

Мартовский заяц

Очумелый Заяц







Cheshire Cat

Чеширский Кот

Масляничный Кот

Чеширский Кот

Чеширский Кот


Черепаха Квази


Рыбный Деликатес



Синяя гусеница





The book "Alice's adventures in Wonderland hasn't become so popular by chance. One of the reasons of its popularity is its unusual characters. Some of them had real prototypes ( Alice, the White Rabbit, the Dodo etc.) and L. Carroll mentioned them in his book. But some of them had been known long before the book was written ( The Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat etc). They were taken by L. Carroll from English literature and history. But we shouldn't forget that L. Carroll was not a professional writer and this tale was his first experience. But thanks to him these characters has become well-known all over the world.

Thanks to L. Carroll some characters' names have become common nouns and idioms from this book are understandable not only in Great Britain but all over the world. Everyone knows what the phrase "you are grinning like a Chershire cat” means.


Льюис Кэррол. Приключения Алисы в стране чудес. Перевод и послесловие Н. М. Демуровой; Издательство литературы на иностранных языках. — 1967.

Льюис Кэррол. Приключения Алисы в стране чудес. Пересказ Б. В. Заходера. Серия «Школьная библиотека» 2004г.

LewisCarroll "Alice'sAdventuresinWonderland" Издательство литературы на иностранных языках. — 2011.

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Приложение I

Alice Liddel (May 4, 1852 -November 15, 1934.)

Приложение II

Queen Victoria (24 May 1819 - 22 January 1901)

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