SUMPTUOUS tea parties will be held up and down the land tomorrow to celebate the Royal wedding of Kate and Prince William.

And later this summer in Oxford there will be a further opportunity for an unusual celebration, when Alice’s Day is held to remember Lewis Carroll and the characters he created in Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass, back in the 19th century.

Author Simon Winchester, who wrote a book about the history of the Oxford English Dictionary, has returned to the city to find out more about maths don Lewis Carroll, whose real name was Charles Dodgson.

Winchester’s focus for his short but fascinating book, The Alice Behind Wonderland, is Dodgson’s 25-year career as a photographer, and his habit of photographing small children for his collection of portraits.

The author, whose other books include Atlantic, and A Crack in the Edge of the World, chooses the most famous photograph of Alice Liddell as the launchpad for his re-examination of the writer’s relationship with his young muse.

The photo, taken in the summer of 1858, in the Deanery Garden of Christ Church, shows Alice, then aged six, as the Beggar-Maid.

Four years later, in the summer of 1862, Alice was 10 when she asked Dodgson to write down the story he had told her and two friends on a picnic expedition to Godstow. In November, 1864, Dodgson had completed 15,500 words and presented a small green book to Alice as a Christmas gift.

The story, about a girl called Alice who has lots of strange adventures after falling down a rabbit hole, was called Alice’s Adventures Underground and the rest is publishing history.

But what is Winchester’s view on the conundrum of whether it was right and proper in Victorian society for Dodgson to be taking portrait photographs of young girls with little or no clothes on?

He writes: “Certainly Dodgson’s interest in small girls – he photographed scores of them, and a significant number of them nude – fascinates many in today’s more exposed world.

“Many have weighed in on Dodgson’s supposed sexual predilictions. Victorian attitudes towards young children held that they were the literal embodiment of innocent beauty, an innocence to be preserved and revered.

“All surviving evidence suggests that Dodgson’s attitude was no different and that his interest in the Liddell girls during their prepubescent years was unremarkable, in every sense of the word.”

Thank goodness for that.

But just in case there are any nagging doubts left in your mind, Dodgson expert Colin Ford offers his view in his essay Carroll Through the Viewfinder.

He writes: “Although less than one per cent of his known images are nudes, his (Dodgson’s) taste for them cannot be overlooked, and it is worth remembering that many perfectly respectable Victorian artists painted and drew naked children.

“There is not a shred of evidence that Carroll ever behaved improperly towards any of his child friends.”

Winchester, who lives in Manhattan and Massachusetts, was at Christ Church earlier this month to talk about his new book, which also provides an account of Alice Liddell’s adult life.

The former journalist was able to use his Stateside perspective to begin his study of Carroll by describing the don’s photographic scrapbooks, now in the possession of Princeton University.

The author was understandably miffed when the curator of rare books at Firestone Library, Princeton, refused to show him the original Beggar Maid photo, fearing it could be damaged by sunlight.

“It seemed to offer me an appropriately Carrollian irony, in that it obliged me to write a book about a photo that remains for me entirely unseen,” says Winchester.

Despite this frustration, his story soon moves to Oxford and that lazy summer day on the river that led to the telling of one of the most memorable children’s books of all time.

Winchester concludes: “It is testament to the enduringly enigmatic nature of the two Alice books that so much precious and quasi-academic scholarship now enfolds their study, with the years bringing groanings of new works – perhaps this one included, of course, that each adds but minutely to the patina of knowledge”