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Press Release Fun: The Grolier Club Celebrates Alice

Because you didn’t truly think The Grolier Club would let the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland pass without a word, did you?

Alice in a World of Wonderlands: The Translations of Lewis Carroll’s Masterpiece
A Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at the Grolier Club

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a world-wide phenomenon! Published in 1865, it is one of the most quoted works of fiction in the world, one of the most translated, and has never been out of print. The Grolier Club is celebrating the 150th anniversary of its publication with this groundbreaking exhibition Alice in a World of Wonderlands: The Translations of Lewis Carroll’s Masterpiece devoted to the myriad translations of Alice. There are 7,609 editions (and counting) that have been translated in 174 languages.

On view from September 16 to November 15, 2015, the exhibition represents the most extensive analysis ever done of one English-language novel rendered into so many languages. The presentation of 140 translations is based on a three- volume book of the same title and is drawn from the collection of Jon A. Lindseth, who is the exhibition curator, with loans from co-curator Alan Tannenbaum as well as the Fales Library at New York University, Princeton University Library, and The Morgan Library & Museum.

The book is famously difficult to translate because of its wordplay, nonsense, homophones, and cultural references. When Lewis Carroll was considering having Alice translated into French or German or both, he wrote on October 24, 1866 to his publisher, Macmillan, saying: “Friends here [in Oxford] seem to think that the book is untranslatable into either French or German: the puns and songs being the chief obstacle.”

This exhibition gives evidence that Carroll’s friends were wrong and to date there are 562 editions in German and 451 in French. On view are the seven languages translated during Lewis Carroll’s lifetime: from the first German and French editions in 1869, through Swedish in 1870, Italian in 1872, Danish and Dutch in 1875, Russian in 1879, to shorthand, published by Cambridge University Press in 1889.

The exhibition begins with background about the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodson, alias Lewis Carroll and and his child muse Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, where Dodgson graduated and then stayed on to spend the rest of his life teaching. Lewis Carroll was a letter writer, photographer, mathematician, teacher, book collector, and of course, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. On view are selections from his life and works, his circles, the first use of the pseudonym Lewis Carroll in the magazine “The Train,” when he was 24 years old, through to his funeral keepsake and estate sale catalogue. Also on display are the first edition of Rhymes for the Nursery (1806), with “The Star,” a poem Carroll parodied, and translations of Carroll’s books from the collection of Alice Hargreaves, the real Alice. In addition, there are Carroll’s nonsense poem “The Hunting of the Snark” and Edward Lear’s copy of Alice, the two people being the greatest nonsense writers of the Victorian period.

This is followed by works that discuss the concepts and difficulties of translation including Vladimir Nabokov’s New Republic article of 1941, “The Sins of Translations.” The sins he cites are made by many translators of Alice. In his book Experiences in Translation, Umberto Eco writes: “Every sensible and rigorous theory of language shows that a perfect translation is an impossible dream.”

The other cases are devoted to translations in the languages and dialects of Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Africa, the Pacific, Far East and Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Brazil, as well as Esperanto, Braille and shorthand, Disney material, a Pop-up Book, and Comic Books. A world map shows the location of each spoken language into which Alice has been translated.

A brief overview of the translations on view:

Languages of Great Britain & Ireland, Extinct Languages, English in Other Alphabets
All six Celtic languages are represented, as are dialects of Scots. Others include Jèrriais, a Norman language from the Channel Island of Jersey; the Scouse dialect of Liverpool; Sussex dialect of East Sussex County; and Cockney of London. Extinct languages include Middle English and Gothic. Alice transcribed into other alphabets (some experimental) and codes include Carroll’s own Nyctographic alphabet, for writing in the dark. The precursor to Braille, Boston Line Type, is here.

Spain, the Baltic, and the Nordic Languages
The six languages of Spain are represented; there are more editions in Spanish than in any other language, since Alice is also published in many countries of the Americas. Editions in four languages of the Baltic region and five Scandinavian languages are shown.

The Balkans and Other European Countries
The Balkans are represented by editions in ten languages, and there are eight editions in other European languages, including West Frisian, translated by Tiny Mulder, who is featured here along with the King’s Medal for Courage awarded her by the British Government for rescuing seventy-two downed Allied airmen.

The Chinese and Japanese languages comprise large numbers of published editions. Important early editions are shown, along with eight other languages of the Far East, including Uyghur, Korean, Mongolian, Lao, Malay, Vietnamese, and Thai. The Central Asian languages Tajiki and Kazakh are displayed.

The Indian Subcontinent
Represented are editions in fourteen languages of India, Pakistan, and Nepal. Nonsense writing first appeared in India long before Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear.

The Pacific Region and Africa
Six Alice translation languages in the region from Hawaii to Australia are presented, including two illustrated editions of Pitjantjatjara, an aboriginal language of Australia. Four African languages are shown.

A Selection of Other Languages
Translations from North and South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and the Near East, including Jewish languages.
A selection of translations from Irish publisher Evertype is included. They have published Alice in more than fifty languages.

Awards for the best Alice translation books
The Grand Prize goes to the Slovak edition of 2010, and the Award of Excellence to the Neapolitan edition of 2002.

On October 7 and 8, 2015 a translation conference is scheduled. Speakers are from China, India, South Africa, Spain, Germany, Scotland, Ireland, and Hawaii. The conference is open to the public but tickets are required.

The illustrated book Alice in a World of Wonderlands: The Translations of Lewis Carroll’s Masterpiece, Jon A. Lindseth, General Editor and Alan Tannenbaum, Technical Editor, is in three volumes. Volume One includes the essays and appendices; Volume Two, the back-translations into English so that readers can see how all translators handled the same difficult portion of Chapter VII: A Mad Tea-Party; and Volume Three, the 174 checklists of editions, with more than 7,600 entries. The book is available from Oak Knoll Press, email address

47 East 60th Street
New York, NY 10022

More exhibition information can be found at

Hours: Monday – Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm
Admission: Exhibitions are open to the public free of charge

The Grolier Club Collects II
December 9, 2015 – February 6, 2016

For press information and jpegs please contact:
Susan Flamm
Public Relations Consultant to the Grolier Club
Jennifer Sheehan
Exhibitions Manager
212-838-6690 x 2

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.