Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" is a classic work of children's literature that has captured the hearts and imaginations of readers for generations. Among the many memorable scenes in the book is the tea party attended by Alice and a cast of eccentric characters, including the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. This tea party has become an iconic part of the story, but where did Carroll get the inspiration for it?
Who was Lewis Carroll?
To answer that question, we must first look at Carroll himself. Born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson in 1832, he was a mathematician, logician, and photographer, as well as a writer. He was also a friend of the Liddell family, whose daughter Alice was the inspiration for his most famous work.
The real-life Alice
Carroll often took Alice and her siblings on outings, including boat trips on the River Thames. It was during one of these outings, in July 1862, that the idea for the tea party scene may have first come to him. According to some accounts, Carroll and the children were on a boat trip when they stopped at a place called Godstow, and the children had a tea party on the riverbank. It's possible that this real-life event inspired the tea party scene in the book.
Afternoon Tea: A Victorian Tradition
Another possible source of inspiration is the tradition of afternoon tea, which was a popular social ritual in Victorian England. Carroll himself was known to enjoy tea and would often have tea parties with his friends. The idea of a tea party as a setting for a story would have been a familiar one to his readers.
Therapeutic Entertainments: Tea Parties and Mental Health in Victorian England
Through his close relationship with his uncle, Commissioner in Lunacy Robert Wilfred Skeffington Lutwidge, it is suggested that Carroll developed a practical understanding of Victorian psychiatric practice. Tea parties held in asylums may have directly inspired the tea party scene in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.’ Referred to as ‘Therapeutic entertainments’, tea parties were held in mental health asylums as a way to provide patients with a sense of normalcy and socialization. It is believed Carroll may have attended such tea parties, and this experience could certainly have influenced his portrayal of the infamous tea party scene.
The Eccentricities of Victorian England
The characters themselves may also have been inspired by real people. The Mad Hatter, for example, is said to be based on Theophilus Carter, a furniture dealer who was known for his flamboyant hats. The March Hare may have been inspired by the saying "mad as a March hare," which refers to the erratic behaviour of hares during their breeding season. Other characters, such as the Dormouse and the Cheshire Cat, may have been purely imaginative creations.
Regardless of where the inspiration came from, the tea party scene in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" has become one of the most beloved and iconic moments in children's literature. It captures the surreal and nonsensical nature of the story, as well as the whimsy and charm that have made the book a timeless classic.
Explore our collection of Alice In Wonderland inspired Tea Caddies and tins here, featuring original illustrations and quotes from this classic literary masterpiece. They make a truly wonderful gift, even if we do say so ourselves.