Alice Liddell was the fourth child of Henry Liddell, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and his wife Lorina Hanna Liddell (née Reeve). She had two older brothers, Harry (born 1847) and Arthur (born 1850, died of scarlet fever in 1853), and an older sister Lorina (born 1849). She also had six younger siblings, including her sister Edith (born 1854) with whom she was very close. One of her younger brothers died in infancy.
At the time of her birth, Liddell's father was the Headmaster of Westminster School but was soon after appointed to the deanery of Christ Church, Oxford. The Liddell family moved to Oxford in 1856. Soon after this move, she met Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who encountered the family while he was photographing the cathedral on 25 April 1856. He became a close friend of the Liddell family in subsequent years.
Liddell grew up primarily in the company of the two sisters nearest to her in age: Lorina, who was three years older, and Edith, who was two years younger. She and her family regularly spent holidays at their holiday home Penmorfa, which later became the Gogarth Abbey Hotel, on the West Shore of Llandudno in North Wales.
On 4 July 1862, in a rowing boat travelling on The Isis from Folly Bridge, Oxford to Godstow for a picnic outing, 10-year-old Liddell asked Charles Dodgson (who wrote under the pen name Lewis Carroll) to entertain her and her sisters, Edith (age 8) and Lorina (age 13), with a story. As the Reverend Robinson Duckworth rowed the boat, Dodgson regaled the girls with fantastic stories of a girl, named Alice, and her adventures after she fell into a rabbit-hole. The story was not unlike those Dodgson had spun for the sisters before, but this time Liddell asked Mr. Dodgson to write it down for her. He promised to do so but did not get around to the task for some months. He eventually presented her with the manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground in November 1864.
In the meantime, Dodgson had decided to rewrite the story as a possible commercial venture. Probably with a view to canvassing his opinion, Dodgson sent the manuscript of Under Ground to a friend, the author George MacDonald, in the spring of 1863. The MacDonald children read the story and loved it, and this response probably persuaded Dodgson to seek a publisher. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, with illustrations by John Tenniel, was published in 1865, under the name Lewis Carroll. A second book about the character Alice, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, followed in 1871. In 1886, a facsimile of Alice's Adventures Under Ground, the original manuscript that Dodgson had given Liddell, was published.
Alice Liddell married Reginald Hargreaves on 15 September 1880, at the age of 28 in Westminster Abbey. They had three sons: Alan Knyveton Hargreaves and Leopold Reginald "Rex" Hargreaves (both were killed in action in World War I); and Caryl Liddell Hargreaves, who survived to have a daughter of his own. Liddell denied that the name 'Caryl' was in any way associated with Charles Dodgson's pseudonym. They also had one daughter: Rose Liddell Hargreaves. Reginald Hargreaves inherited a considerable fortune, and Alice became a noted society hostess.
After her husband's death, the cost of maintaining their home, Cuffnells, was such that she deemed it necessary to sell her copy of Alice's Adventures Under Ground. The manuscript fetched £15,400, nearly four times the reserve price given it by Sotheby's auction house. It became the possession of Eldridge R. Johnson and was displayed at Columbia University on the centennial of Carroll's birth. (Alice was present, aged 80, and it was on this visit to America that she met Peter Llewelyn-Davies, one of the brothers who inspired J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan). Upon Johnson's death, the book was purchased by a consortium of American bibliophiles and presented to the British people "in recognition of Britain's courage in facing Hitler before America came into the war." The manuscript now resides in the British Library.
Late in life, she lived in and around Lyndhurst in the New Forest, and is buried in the graveyard of the church of St. Michael & All Angels, Lyndhurst.
Several later writers have written fictional accounts of Liddell. She is one of the main characters of the Riverworld series of books, by Philip José Farmer. She plays a small but critical role in Lewis Padgett's short story "Mimsy Were The Borogoves." Canadian poet Stephanie Bolster also wrote a collection of poems, White Stone, based on her. Katie Roiphe has written a fictional (claimed to be based on fact) account of the relationship between Alice and Carroll, titled Still She Haunts Me. In Alice I Have Been, author Melanie Benjamin has written a fictional account of Alice's life from childhood through old age - focusing on her relationship with Lewis Carroll and the way the publication of Alice's Adventures Under Ground affected her. The 1985 movie Dreamchild deals with her trip to America for the Columbia University presentation described above; through a series of flashbacks, it promotes the popular assumption that Dodgson was romantically attracted to Alice. Frank Beddor wrote The Looking Glass Wars, which reimagines the Alice in Wonderland story and includes real-life characters such as the Liddells and Prince Leopold. Liddell and Dodgson are used as protagonists in Bryan Talbot's 2007 graphic novel Alice in Sunderland to relay the history and myths of the area. The 2008 opera by Alan John and Andrew Upton Through the Looking Glass covers both the fictional Alice and Liddell. Alice Liddell is also the name of the heroine's ship in the book Take Back Plenty by Colin Greenland. In "A Witch's Tale" Liddell is a Witch who wants to be the greatest witch as Alice.