A few weeks ago, I met up with some friends to go to the Alice In Wonderland exhibition at the British Library. Despite having lived in London most of my life, and working in a library for over three years, I’d never actually been into the British Library before: I’d been to a talk about women and regional diversity in media, and I went to an Amanda Palmer gig there, but as those were both in the auditorium, I don’t feel like they really count as actual visits… So I was very pleased to finally go!
2015 marked the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, and has been celebrated by numerous events, including the National Theatre’s musical, wonder.land, and this exhibition, which opened in November. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the exhibition is free, and is in the beautiful foyer of the library. It is full of gorgeous examples of various illustrations of the book, as well as history of the author and of the book itself. There were lots of things that it has inspired, too, and clever advertising campaigns such as the Guinness one, which I loved. I wasn’t too impressed, though, with the way the exhibition was laid out. There’s plenty of space, but the display cabinets are crammed too close together, and too close to the wall, which means that, whenever it’s even moderately busy – such as the Saturday morning that we were there – people get clogged up in one place, and unnecessarily so. It made it difficult to get a good look at some of the exhibits, which was a real shame. But it was still a really enjoyable visit, and I highly recommend it if you’re in the area with a free half hour or so.
The many different versions, printings and interpretations got me thinking about all the editions I’ve had over the years: being an Alice has, unsurprisingly, lead to a lot of Alice-related gifts. I used to find it annoying, but these days I’m glad to share my name with such an iconic and interesting character. I don’t have many of them any more, but I’ve kept my favourites: a drawing by my friend, Liselle, and three editions of the book. The first is quite an old one, a beautiful edition, with the illustrations are the same Tenniel ones used in the original printing. I have a second one, with a shortened version of the story, and picture panels made of puzzle pieces: I’ve never taken the puzzles out, but they’re lovely to look at. Then there’s the most recent, which I bought at a market in Brittany a few years ago: it’s a French translation, with lino-cut illustrations by Thomas Perino, and I fell in love with it instantly. It’s definitely my favourite of the three, with Alice’s defiance really showing through in her expressions. I love works in translation (I did a French degree, it was drummed into me!), and illustrations that deviate massively from the common idea of something are always interesting. And this is just so very beautiful. It’s really very lovely indeed.
Alice In Wonderland runs at the British Library until Sunday 17th April 2016. Admission is free.