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Exhibition Label 2009: Photograph of Annie Rogers & Mary Jackson as Queen Eleanor and the Fair Rosamund, 1863


The Museum's original photograph by Lewis Carroll has the perfect pedigree. It is the very print he gave to one of its subjects, seven-year-old Annie Rogers (on the right), shortly after it was taken in 1863. She treasured it throughout her long life, and on her death in 1937 her nephew Dr Bertram Rogers gave it to the Museum. Needless to say, the Museum treasures it too.

The yellowish albumen-print with its curved top is typical of the photos that Lewis Carroll made himself, while the subject of girls enjoying to dress up and play-act was his favourite subject. Here they're enacting the well-known Oxford legend of "The Fair Rosamund". It's the (truish) story from the twelfth century of how King Henry the something-or-other's mistress, the famous beauty Rosamund Clifford, was confronted by his wife Queen Eleanor (a warrior-queen and the mother of Richard the Lionheart) and offered the choice of a dagger or a cup of poison (a fair-sized mug by the look of it).

She chose the poison and was buried at Godstow ("the special place of God"), near Oxford. It was up the river to Godstow, where some ruins can still be visited, that Lewis Carroll and his friend Duckworth took the three Liddell sisters on July 4th, 1862, when the story of Alice's adventures down a rabbit-hole was first told. That magical day, and Lewis Carroll's genius, and Alice Liddell's bright, inquisitive, mischievous personality have had a profound impact upon literature, humour, and the human spirit, and become as legendary as the legends that took them to that holy place on that immortal day.

Annie Rogers was the daughter of a famous economist and Oxford professor Thorold Rogers. She went on to be an important pioneer of women's education in Oxford (female students weren't allowed until 1879) and Oxford's first female don. Perhaps her practice at doing the determined expression of Queen Eleanor stood her in good stead; but she wasn't as glum as she looks. Lewis Carroll wrote her some very funny letters, including the little alphabet letter, which may well have accompanied this very photo.

Lewis Carroll's friends, child and adult, included many people who helped make university education available to girls, including Constance Burch, pioneer of summer schools, and Vernon Harcourt, the Christ Church chemist and inventor ("the White Knight"). Vernon Harcourt was one of the teachers who refused to obey the university's nutty idea that students should be segregated (that is, that after giving his lecture he must then repeat it separately for women students). He refused not because he was lazy, but because he wanted to force the university to treat girls equally. But that's got nothing to do with anything really.


My dear Annie,
I send you
A picture, which I hope will
B one that you will like to
C. If your Mamma should
D sire one like it, I could
E sily get her one.

Your affectionate friend,
C. L. Dodgson.

Other narratives:

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