In the garden behind a Victorian brick house, a sculpture of an inquisitive Alice, caught between two realms, extends two stony hands through the glass in front of her. The place she eternally guards—or at least the one we can see—is known as The Chestnuts. Here, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, known by his pen name of Lewis Carroll, spent his final days.
The late author was no stranger to multiple realities, himself. Carroll, whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, wasn’t a writer by profession; he taught mathematics at the University of Oxford. He wrote several textbooks and invented a number of puzzles and ciphers, including an early ancestor of Scrabble. Dodgson had been a voracious writer since childhood, and at the age of 23, he wrote a short, nonsensical poem titled “Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry.” This would later come to form the first verse of the famed “Jabberwocky.” Shortly after, he became a lecturer at Christ Church College where he became acquainted with the dean, Henry Liddell, and his children. Liddell’s second daughter, Alice, is believed to have served as a major inspiration for his writing.
Following the death of his father, Dodgson purchased a house in Guildford for his six unmarried sisters. The advent of the railway allowed him to visit them often; it was during these visits that he wrote most of Through the Looking-Glass.
Even after both books had been published, Dodgson’s life saw little change despite his growing fame and fortune. It wasn’t until 1881 that he stopped lecturing at Christ Church. Eventually he fell ill while visiting his sisters in Guildford. Dodgson had struggled with several health problems throughout his life, and in 1898, two weeks before his 66th birthday, he passed away at The Chestnuts from pneumonia. He was buried at the nearby Mount Cemetery. His legacy persists in his books, the works they inspired, and this residence, where an ever-curious Alice crouches in a state of perpetual discovery, inviting her onlookers to join.
Know Before You Go
The Chestnuts is about a 10-minute walk from the Guildford train station. Note that the house is a private residence, not open to the public, so you'll have to admire it from afar.