Feature of the Month: Carroll and Simon’s Alice in Wonderland

Alisah be-erets ha-niflaʼot
Lewis Carroll; trans. by Leon Simon
Frankfurt am Main: Omanut, 1924
[Rare] (XIX) Bc [Carroll]

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 150 years old this year, was a landmark in children’s fiction for narrating a nonsense story with no moral purpose. It was a challenging book to translate because of its wordplay and the expectation that readers would know English verses which it parodies (“Twinkle, twinkle, little star”; Isaac Watts’s “How doth the little busy bee” and “’Tis the voice of the sluggard”). Nonetheless, translations abound, to the extent that during the twentieth century the work was translated more often and into more languages than almost any other text except the Bible.

Senate House Library acquired the first edition of the English original as part of the library of the Baconian Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence (1837-1914), in a copy which stood out for containing a manuscript copy of Tenniel’s illustration of Alice talking to the Duchess in “The Mock Turtle’s Story” (ch. 9, p. 132); the sketch was long attributed to Tenniel. Later the library was to acquire the other Alice books, in addition to the original French, German, and Italian translations of Alice (1869, 1869, and 1872 respectively) and a Latin translation (1934) of The Hunting of the Snark. Featured here is the earliest of several Hebrew translations of Alice. It was published in Tel Aviv in 1923, before appearing in Europe in 1924. The translator was Sir Leon Simon (1881-1965), a British Zionist and a noted Hebrew translator of Greek classics, whose translation activity also included the Hebrew translation of John Stuart’s Mill’s On Liberty. His translation of Alice is concerned with socio-cultural acceptability, such that Alice becomes a Jewish girl called Alissa, and the Duchess’s baby turns into a fish instead of a pig in line with religious sensibilities. The edition has a glossary of Hebrew terms in English, French, German and Russian.

The book also serves as a reminder that since 1896 Alice has been interpreted by numerous illustrators around the world: ‘Alice in Wonderland has surely been illustrated by more artists than any other children’s book; one is tempted to say than any other fictional work’, wrote John Davis in his book The Illustrators of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (1972).

The University purchased the book in 1941, one of very few texts in Hebrew held in the library.

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