Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Illustrating Alice

The illustrations to Alice were for Lewis Carroll himself an integral part of the story, and his own weirdly intense drawings in the original manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground throw fascinating light on the subconscious psychological meanings. Tenniel later based his famous drawings closely on these prototypes, with Carroll interesting himself in their progress at every stage until the poor artist was reduced to calling him 'impossible'. It's said that out of the ninety-odd drawings Tenniel did for both Alice books, Carroll only accepted Humpty Dumpty happily - the rest he criticised in practically every detail before requesting the artist to redraw them. The illustrators of Carroll's other books all found him an extremely difficult man to work with as he tried to get them to reproduce exactly his own mental picture of the scene, 'almost as though the artist might photograph Carroll's own imagery', as Phyllis Greenacre aptly puts it in one of the essays in Robert Phillips' enthralling collection Aspects of Alice. In fact her account of his anxious perfectionism includes an absolutely hair-raising story of what the young caricaturist Harry Furniss had to put up with when Carroll, because of his compulsive secrecy, would only send him the manuscript of Sylvie and Bruno after he had cut it into horizontal strips of four or five inches each, then placed the whole lot in a sack and shaken it up. Even though this particular story may be apocryphal, the stammering reclusive Carroll was an obsessional neurotic, who hated unhealthy draughts as much as he loathed little boys, and wrote letters in purple ink all of which had to exactly fill the page, and were then carefully indexed to make up a registry of letters sent and received which at his death numbered more than ninety-eight thousand items.
A complicated man, but without his neurosis it's possible that the wonderful illustrations that brought his stories to life would never have been produced.