Lewis Carroll's book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was not originally written for the general public but for a single child: Alice Pleasance Liddell, second daughter of the Dean of Christ Church College, Oxford. The story of its composition, as Carroll recorded it in the prefatory verses to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, goes something like this: On a warm summer afternoon (July 4, 1862, according to Carroll's diary) the author, his friend Reverend Robinson Duckworth, and the three young Liddell sisters (Lorina Charlotte, age thirteen, Alice Pleasance, age ten, and Edith, age eight), daughters of the Dean of Christ Church College, Oxford, made a short trip up the Thames River in a rowboat. "The trip," explains Martin Gardner in his The Annotated Alice, "was about three miles, beginning at Folly Bridge, near Oxford, and ending at the village of Godstow. 'We had tea on the bank there,' Carroll recorded in his diary, 'and did not reach Christ Church again till quarter past eight….'" "Seven months later," Gardner continues, "he added to this entry the following note: 'On which occasion I told them the fairytale of Alice's adventures underground.'"
According to an account written many years later by Alice Liddell, she pestered Carroll—the pseudonym for mathematician and dean Charles Lutwidge Dodgson—to write the story down for her. "She 'kept going on, going on' at him," explains Morton N. Cohen in his critical biography Lewis Carroll, "until he promised to oblige her. For one reason or another, however, it took him two and a half years to deliver the completed manuscript, illustrated with his own drawings." Between the time that Carroll began work on the manuscript and the time that he completed it, he had lost the friendship of the Liddells. He had also shown the manuscript to his friends Mr. and Mrs. George MacDonald, who read it to their children and urged Carroll to publish the story. Working through friends, Carroll found a publisher—Macmillan of London—and an illustrator, noted cartoonist John Tenniel. The first edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was published in June of 1865. However, Tenniel objected to some sloppy reproduction work of his illustrations in the printing, and Carroll agreed to cancel the entire press run of two thousand copies and to print a new press run of another two thousand copies at his own expense. This early, flawed edition of the novel is now considered one of the rarest books in the world and commands huge prices among collectors.
"Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," writes Cohen, "was widely reviewed and earned almost unconditional praise. Charles's diary lists nineteen notices." Sales were high and many foreign editions were quickly authorized. Inspired by the book's success, Carroll began work on a sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, published in 1872. The two Alice books remain in print today, over a century after their publication. They remain, next to the Bible and the works of Shakespeare, among the world's most widely translated works of literature. Translations are available in over seventy languages, including Yiddish and Swahili.