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Female & Flower

Lady and Lilacs at Christ Church


A painting of a long-haired adult female once owned and admired by Lewis Carroll is "The Lady of the Lilacs" (right) by the English painter Arthur Hughes (1832-1915). Carroll purchased the painting from Hughes in 1863 and hung it over the mantelpiece in one of his rooms at Christ Church, the college at the University of Oxford where he spent most of his adult life as a teacher. However, there are no lilacs (Syringa vulgaris, a.k.a. "common lilac") in the Alice books. There are white roses in Wonderland (soon to be painted red) and in Looking-Glass world's "garden of living flowers" there are several species of "talking" flowers: rose, tiger lily, violet, larkspur, and daisy, but no lilac. Carroll probably had Hughes's girl-with-lilacs in mind when he drew a pensive-looking Alice (bottom) on a page of the first, private, non-published version of Wonderland titled "Alice's Adventures under Ground," a Christmas gift given in 1864 to Alice Liddell (1852-1934), the young girl who inspired Carroll to write Alice's fictional journey to Wonderland and, later, to Looking-Glass world. After Carroll's death in 1898, the lilac painting remained with his heirs until sold in the mid-20th century to a Canadian art gallery. Sources: Anne Clark, Lewis Carroll: A Biography (New York, 1979) and Sally Brown, "Introduction," Alice's Adventures under Ground, manuscript facsimile, (London, 2008).

Purple love factlet: In Victorian England's romantic "language of flowers," purple lilacs were symbolic of first love or the first emotions of love. Source: Victorian Bazaar (.com), 21 Oct 2013.

Scientific name factlet: In the scientific world of botanical names, Syringa in the lilac's name (Syringa  vulgaris) honors a beautiful nymph in Greek mythology named Syringa, while vulgaris in Latin means "common" because this species of flower is easily obtained. Source: AWT's botanical files.

Virginia lilac factlet: Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the United States' third president (1801-1809), liked lilacs and planted them in 1767 at his childhood home in Virginia and in 1771 planted lilacs at Monticello, his Virginia plantation. Source: Monticello (.org), 15 Oct 2013.

Blue color factlet: The English word lilac is derived from the Persian word lilak, a variant of the Persian word nilak ("a little blue" or "blueish") that is the diminutive of the Persian word nil, meaning blue or indigo. Source: Word Origins (.org), 25 Apr 2014.

State flower factlet: The purple lilac is the state flower of New Hampshire and is "symbolic of that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State." Source: State of New Hampshire website, 15 Oct 2013.

The Caterpillar's Nontoxic Mushroom

 The species of mushroom that Alice eats in Wonderland is not identified in the first Alice book.

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Alice Rides the Victorian Railroad

 England's real Victorian railroad is reflected in Alice's train ride in Looking-Glass world.

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An English Illustrator's Wonderland Face

An early 20th-century illustrator of Wonderland often used himself as a model.

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Wonderland Overshadows Maui Wowie

The Alice books provide a treasure-trove of colorful names for female cosmetics.

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Long-Necked Alice as Treetop Scientist

 A title word in the first Alice book describes a research phase in the scientific world of treetop studies.

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The Ubiquitous Non-Wonderland Cocktail

 Literary-minded bartenders and mixologists who create names for cocktails occasionally reply on the Alice books for inspiration.

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The Physical Impairments of Alice's Creators

The author and the first illustrator of the Alice books had lifelong above-the-neck problems.

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The Jabberwocky of Microbiology

A word from a Looking-Glass poem finds a home in microbiology.

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What Alice Doesn't Know About Cooked Sheep

 Like the real-world Victorian girls her age, Alice is familiar with mutton, but she is too young to know about a curious French sexual usage of a sheep's respiratory organs.

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