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Why is a raven like a writing desk?

This week marks 150 years since the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (the yearly celebration, ‘Alice’s Day’, took place on 4 July) and with it the start of many years of tea parties, rose painting and flamingo croquet. The book itself is the most translated children’s book ever written and has inspired a number of adaptations on both stage and screen.

In amongst the Special Collections’ Guy Lee bequest is a copy of Carroll’s Eight or nine words about letter-writing, first published in 1890, this copy between 1910 and 1915, in which the author outlines the dos and don’ts of correspondence. While it may at first seem to be slightly tongue-in-cheek, especially when one considers the several imagined interruptions of the reader…

Next Address and Stamp the Envelope. “What! Before writing the Letter?” Most certainly.

… and satirical misogyny...

And never, never, dear Madam (N.B. this remark is addressed to ladies only: no man would ever do such a thing), put 'Wednesday', simply, as the date! 'That way madness lies.'

…the points he makes, a selection of which can be seen below, are of serious use:



The essay ends with several examples of the perfect correspondence, which at first glance look unnecessarily complicated. However, Carroll assures the reader that ‘you will find it perfectly simple, when you have had a little practice’.


Alongside the essay is a Wonderland Postage-Stamp Case, an invention of Carroll’s that he describes as such:

This Case is not intended to carry about in your pocket… No, this is meant to haunt your envelope-case, or wherever you keep your writing-materials. What made me invent it was the constantly wanting Stamps of other values, for foreign Letters, Parcel Post, &c., and finding it very bothersome to get at the kind I wanted in a hurry. Since I have possessed a 'Wonderland Stamp Case', Life has been bright and peaceful, and I have used other. I believe the Queen’s laundress uses no other.

Such high praise comes as no surprise, though a closer inspection of the case itself would suggest that it is warranted. In a carefully planned act of surprise on the slip case, the image of Alice carrying the Duchess’ baby gives way to the image of Alice holding a pig, as told in the story. Furthermore, on the back of the slip case, one can see the familiar image of the smiling Cheshire Cat in a tree, whilst the back of the stamp case shows him fading away. These details make for a charming curiosity, with a mischievous in keeping with the tone of the source material.


This Special Collections Spotlight article was contributed on 7 July 2015 by Richard Sellens, Library Graduate Trainee 2014-2015.