I was surprised to discover that whether or not Lewis Carroll visited Llandudno was a question people worried over. More surprised to discover someone had written a book about it. Even more surprised to discover that it has been an issue of “long and plentiful” debate which “has never been entirely resolved”. And then intrigued to discover, “the evidence is not always missing by mistake, but rather as a part of what appears to have been a cover-up”.
So how could I resist the opportunity to read an 82-page book, published in 2000, in order to discover why there might be a cover-up?
Llandudno has a plaque – unveiled in 1933 by David Lloyd George no less – which states, “On this very shore during happy rambles with little Alice Liddell, Lewis Carroll was inspired to write that literary treasure Alice in Wonderland which has now charmed children for generations”. This was part of a deliberate attempt to attract more tourism via having a famous author associated with the town. But is any part of this tale true?
The book gets off to an entertainingly circular start (and one with echoes of the internet) when the author, Michael Senior, points out that one of the first sources he looked at to discover the truth turned out to cite … himself.
Did Lewis Carroll visit Llandudno? is a neat mini-case study in just how hard it can be to track down the truth – or at least a fully documented plausible version of the truth – and how easy it is to stop at earlier points were apparently authoritative statements have been made which, under close examination, melt away, as in the case of one key letter:
It turns out that not only does nobody know where it is but that none of the people who quote from it so assertively have ever seen it.
Peeling back through history, we find a round of destruction of evidence that would show whether or not Lewis Carroll visited, followed later by a round of invention of evidence to justify the desire to cash in on the tourism benefits of a connection.
In the end, the book concludes that although the plaque’s wording is unquestionably false, with Alice in Wonderland having been inspired by tales told on river trips elsewhere, it is far from clear what really happened.