British Library: Alice In Wonderland Celebrates 150 Years

Alyssa Erspamer

Celebrating the 150th year of which Lewis Carroll first published the well-loved tale, Alice in Wonderland, The British Library is to host a remarkable exhibition. This is not only worth the time and space, but it is also free – who needs a better excuse than this! The library successfully reconstructs the world that we have loved and lost ourselves in for more than a hundred years through a complete collection of relevant history and information.

Small wine bottles on sale at pop-up store

Alice in Wonderland’s Greatness

The exhibition creates, if you will, a rabbit hole through time in which we can descend and uncover the story behind Alice’s story, thus demonstrating to us that this tale is not reducible to only one character, or even one author—it is a world that lives on in the imagination and is continuously translated into physical form. Yet throughout the exhibition, with all the Alice paraphernalia on display, such as a calendar, a tea tin, and a themed video game, it becomes clear that Alice in Wonderland cannot even be completely represented in any object, book, or illustration. It is the line between a huge business enterprise and a world of magic that manages to escape and transcend both those identities and the many more that have been thrust on it—it is synergetic.

Poster of one of Tenniel’s iconic images

Illustrations of Wonderland

These different identities are a big theme of the exhibition, revolving around the medium of illustration. The British Library has managed to collect an impressive amount of Alice in Wonderland illustrations, which are revealing of both Alice’s story and 20th century history. The illustrations progress from Tenniel’s famous classics through to Edwardian garb, flappers from the 1920s, a phase of art nouveau, psychedelic illustrations from the 1960s, and even some surrealism, spanning the Western artistic traditions of the last century. These varying illustrations suggest that there is something about Alice that enables us to easily map our identities onto her, proving that Carroll created a story that could stay relevant and relatable for longer than a century. But the exhibition also stresses that throughout this time the seeming versatility has actually never really veered away from the original world created by Carroll’s prose and Tenniel’s images.

These two men are the real protagonists of the exhibition: their backgrounds are explored and they are accepted as the unquestionable authors of Alice’s magic. Tenniel’s iconic images have always been central due to the dependency of Alice’s story on images as a source of explanation in writing devoid of much description (even Carroll’s very first manuscript of the story had 37 hand-drawn images). Tenniel invented much of the world we view as integral to Alice today, including the look of a small blonde girl with a blue dress, and illustrators after him found it hard to work under his shadow. It is their efforts that are both celebrated individually and shown as part of a larger chronology during the exhibition.

Lawn chair for sale at pop-up store

The Business and Personal Sides of Alice

The business aspect of Alice and Wonderland is also apparent. While many of us may consider Alice in Wonderland to be purely a fantastical story, it was almost immediately converted into a recognisable symbol that helped sell themed merchandise—the well-known Disney film is just one example of how it’s been commercialised, many times at the price of its complexity. The fact that the pop-up store is possibly more packed than the exhibition itself proves how successful Carroll was right from the beginning in turning Alice the character into Alice the brand.

Although the brand has become a huge phenomenon throughout the last centuries, examples of how Carroll attempted to capitalise on his invention from the start are on display throughout the exhibition.

The whole story, in fact, of Carroll’s creation, both from a business and personal point of view, is explored throughout. All the steps of the story, from when it was just an idea, to when it became a manuscript, then a book, and finally an industry, are represented with relevant objects, whether in the form of Carroll’s diary, the original Alice in Wonderland manuscript, or a photo album, many of the pieces real treasures. The exhibition, in a sense, is its own story, with a script accompanied by its own images.

Entrance to exhibition in library

What’s On Offer

The layout of the exhibition itself is thought out and interactive, making it appropriate for both kids and adults. It is numbered, again, as though it were a story with pages, and visitors make their way across it following instructions along the wall mimicking phrases from Alice in Wonderland. The combination of the classic museum style of glass cases and captions with more interactive features, such as clips from movie representations and a chance to play an Alice in Wonderland video game, keeps a visit amusing. All in all a good balance is struck between informing and entertaining visitors of all ages.

The British Library offers all those who treasure this story the chance to re-discover a known world in a new form. In commemorating the 150th anniversary of this famous children’s story, this exhibition reveals both how much it has grown and how deep its roots have remained throughout the generations. Despite the fact this story was created for a child, we are made humble in front of a world that exists both beyond and inside us.

This exhibition will be on display at The British Library until 17th April 2016.

The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London, UK, +44 330 333 1144
By Alyssa Espramer

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.