Cathy M. Rubin: The Real Alice In Wonderland - Author interview

Author Cathy M. Rubin was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about her (co-authored with Gabriella Rose Rubin) gorgeous, lavishly illustrated tribute to Alice Liddell, The Real Alice in Wonderland: A Role Model for the Ages.

Creating much more than a coffee table book, the authors explore the real life and Victorian world in which their relative Alice Liddell lived her extraordinary life.

Thanks to Cathy M. Rubin for her time and for her comprehensive responses about both the book and the fascinating life of Alice Liddell.

What do American Independence Day and Alice In Wonderland have in common?

Cathy M. Rubin: American Independence Day and Alice in Wonderland share the same birthday i.e. July 4. Friday July 4, 1862 is credited with the first time Lewis Carroll told Alice Liddell and her sisters the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It was shortly after the first telling of Carroll’s story that Alice began to urge the author to write it down for her.

What was the background to writing this book The Real Alice in Wonderland: A Role Model for the Ages?

Cathy M. Rubin: In 2007, my daughter’s school selected Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for Book Day. My daughter Gabriella remembered we had a connection to the Liddell family. Alice Liddell inspired Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) to write the original story. At this point I knew very little about Alice Liddell’s story other than what my grandmother and my great aunt Phil Liddell had told me about her when I was a child. Gabriella bugged me to help her research the story. You could say we jumped down the rabbit hole together.

It took us several months to research the content for our Book Day workshop which we called The Real Alice In Wonderland. After we presented the workshop to Gabriella’s school and other groups we were encouraged by educators, friends and family to turn our story into a film or book. The book as you can see came first!

Many people are unaware that Lewis Carroll wrote about a real Alice. What can you tell us about Alice Liddell as a real person?

Cathy M. Rubin: Alice Liddell was born into a privileged, academic family on May 4, 1852. She was the fourth child of Henry and Lorina Liddell. Her father, one of the most prominent educators of his day, was the Dean of Christ Church College, Oxford University. Alice was home schooled by some of Oxford University’s finest tutors. She was a bright child with significant artistic talents. Alice was also known to be free-spirited (largely due to her never-ending curiousity about everything).

She grew up to become a beautiful and cultured young woman. Her beauty inspired many distinguished photographers and artists such as Charles Dodgson, Julia Margaret Cameron and Sir William Blake Richmond. She also inspired the devotion of many suitors including Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria’s youngest son. In 1880, she married a wealthy landowner, Reginald Hargreaves, with whom she had three sons.

It seems like Alice was even more intriguing in life, than she was in the famous novels, if that is possible. What is the legacy of the real Alice beyond what Lewis Carroll wrote?

Cathy M. Rubin: We know from the fan mail our book has been receiving that people believe Alice Liddell’s real life was even more fascinating than the fictional character she inspired. It is a rich story of a very creative, curious and magnetic young girl who grew up to become a cultural icon and one of the most celebrated women of the last 100 years. It is a story of love, tragedy, duty, courage and loyalty to family and country. Her story has particularly touched people because throughout it all, Alice (a woman living in very conservative age of Victorian England) showed tremendous courage and determination to overcome the many obstacles she faced – not unlike the fictional Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – in real life.

In many ways, Alice Liddell was ahead of her time as she broke down barriers for women. What were a few of her groundbreaking achievements?

Cathy M. Rubin: Alice was President of the Emery Down Women’s Institute. The WI worked tirelessly to break down the social barriers between the rich and the poor in local communities. Once women over 30 were allowed to vote, the WI leadership focused on urging women to acquire new skills and to actively engage in issues that mattered to them and to their communities.

Later in her life, as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland the book became an international best seller, people discovered there was a real Alice. It didn’t take long for the real Alice to become a celebrity too. Alice used this platform to give back to her community. She became a spokesperson in England and the United States for a number of children’s charities at a time when women were rarely seen up front in the spotlight. We cover Alice’s many achievements as a role model in our book.

Cathy Rubin and Gabriella Rubin (both in photo left)

What areas of the Alice books did Lewis Carroll draw from that were real places and events in Alice's life and upper class world?

Cathy M. Rubin: Lewis Carroll was inspired by many of the real places, events and people in Alice’s life when he wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Here are some examples: Alice’s sisters, Lorina and Edith, are believed to have inspired the Lory and the Eaglet in the Pool of Tears. Lewis Carroll often took the real Alice to see the Dodo bird at the Natural History Museum in Oxford. The Dodo bird appears in Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll’s own adopted character was the Dodo. Alice’s father, Dean Henry Liddell, is believed to have inspired the White Rabbit. He was often running late for his appointments and so had to make quick escapes out of a secret door in the Dining Hall at Christ Church College. Alice’s governess, Ms. Prickett, is believed to have inspired the Queen of Hearts.

There are two small gardens behind Alice’s home in Oxford. It was here that Lewis Carroll taught Alice and her sisters to play Castle Croquet, a game that appears in Alice in Wonderland. There is also a tree that still stands today in the garden which is believed to have inspired the real Cheshire Cat tree. The old sheep shop (Alice through the Looking Glass) in Oxford was based on a store located in Oxford where Carroll took Alice and her sisters to buy sweets. The woman who ran the store sounded like a sheep. The store still exists today and it is called Alice’s Shop.T

The breakup between Alice's family and Lewis Carroll is well known as an event, but the details are often lacking. What caused these two remarkable people to drift apart?

Cathy M. Rubin: A break-up occurred between Dodgson and Alice’s mother Lorina around the time Dodgson presented Alice with her special gift, i.e. his handcrafted work Alice’s Adventures Underground. Lorina stopped all outings between Dodgson and Alice. Alice was at an age when Victorian parents started looking for suitable husbands for their daughters. While there are many theories as to why the break up occurred, we believe that Carroll’s beautiful gift triggered concerns for Lorina. Dodgson was a poor, undistinguished professor whom Lorina would never have considered eligible. Although Alice’s mother caused the break up when Alice was a young teen, Carroll’s book connected him to Alice for the rest of their respective lives.

Alice married and had children, but her story was tinged with sadness. What happened with her sons and her family?

Cathy M. Rubin: All three of Alice’s sons served their country in World War 1. Alice and her husband Reginald Hargreaves tragically lost two of their three sons in this brutal war. Reginald never recovered from the deaths of his children. Alice, while grieving herself, supported him through a long slow decline in his health to his eventual death. This was a tough time in Alice’s life, a time during which she illustrates incredible courage.

Alice Liddell - The real Alice in Wonderland (photo left)

The many drawings and illustrations in the book are wonderful as well. How were these photographs selected? What aspects of Alice's life were they portraying?

Cathy M. Rubin: We spent years collecting the visual materials for our book. Ultimately we couldn’t use all the materials we had and cuts had to be made during the editorial process. Despite the treasures left out, we are happy to say that there are approximately 500 photographs, artifacts and illustrations in our book. We believe that collectively they portray Alice Liddell’s entire life in a very compelling way.

Many images come from Alice’s personal effects (auctioned in 2001) which at one time were considered to be the largest Alice In Wonderland collection in the world. Others come from museums and libraries all around the world. Some of the artworks were created by world famous artists during Alice’s lifetime while others were created during the last few years. Our vision for our book was a collector’s item.

We wanted readers to feel a part of the 19th/early 20th century wonderland in which Alice Liddell lived. Deborah Frano, our designer, and I worked 18 hours a day for several months to present each spread as if it were a multi media frame in a movie, i.e. rich storytelling combined with stunning graphics along with lots of little surprises you might miss on the first viewing. Nancy Rosin’s Victoriana collection really helped us to make things look more authentic and ultimately realize our grand vision for the project.

What was your favorite part of researching and collecting the photographs and art work surrounding Alice Liddell and her life?

Cathy M. Rubin: Without a doubt the favorite part of this project was meeting all the incredible people -- fans of Alice from around the world that we worked with on our book. We got the sense that they were trusting us to do a great job with the materials they let us use. They wanted Alice’s story told and they were so generous with their time and their perspectives because they were so excited to be a part of The Real Alice In Wonderland.

What is the one lesson from Alice's life that inspired you most?

Cathy M. Rubin: I believe the many lessons we learn from Alice’s life story make her an excellent role model for young women of today. The major lesson from Alice’s life that inspired us most……..Life’s adventures will throw you plenty of curve balls. There is always a way to get out of the rabbit hole but first you must have the courage and conviction to believe you will prevail. Once you believe in yourself you’ll find a way to create wonderland on your own terms.

What is next for Cathy M. Rubin?

Cathy M. Rubin: I have another famous relative, George Ernest Morrison (aka Morrison of Peking and Chinese Morrison). I am researching material on his life currently with a view to producing a documentary.


My book review of The Real Alice in Wonderland: A Role Model for the Ages by Cathy M. Rubin and Gabriella Rubin.

Cathy M. Rubin and Gabriella Rose Rubin are the co-authors of The Real Alice in Wonderland: A Role Model for the Ages.

C.M. Rubin was born in South America, and as a child, lived in many cities throughout the United States, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. She has more than two decades experience in development, marketing, and art direction for a diverse range of media businesses. She is the author of two best-selling, award winning books for children, Eleanor, Ellatony, Ellencake and Me, and its sequel, Ellie The Perfect Dress For Me. She is currently working on a third book in the Ellie series.

Gabriella Rubin is a student at the Horace Mann School in New York. Aside from reading and writing, her passion is music composition. The Real Alice in Wonderland is the first of what she hopes will be many collaborations with her Mom.

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