When something makes its way into the public domain, anyone can read it, share it, watch it, or perform it without obtaining permission. That’s excellent news for Wonderland lovers, as the Alice stories are in the public domain. What about Carroll’s other works?
Most Lewis Carroll works are now in the public domain. His most famous books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, are public domain works, as are most of his collected poems. However, there are a few things, like The Letters of Lewis Carroll, that aren’t.
This article will discuss the public domain and which of Carroll’s works are in it. It’ll also give you plenty of free options for reading Carroll’s work. Keep scrolling for more information.
You can read most of Lewis Carroll’s works for free. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have been in the public domain for decades. However, those aren’t the only Carroll works you can find for free.
Project Gutenberg has an extensive collection of Carroll’s work, including – but not limited to – the following:
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
- Through the Looking Glass
- Sylvie and Bruno
- The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll
- Rhyme? and Reason?
- Phantasmagoria and Other Poems
- Songs from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
- The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits
- The Nursery “Alice”
- A Tangled Tale
- Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter Writing
- Feeding the Mind
- Symbolic Logic
These books include Carroll’s fiction, poetry, and even his mathematical writings. Many books are also available in the public domain in other non-English languages.
There are several ways a book can enter the public domain. And the rules for doing so differ depending on the country you’re in.
You can refer to the following table to see some of the ways a book can enter the public domain in the United States as of 2023*:
|Publication Date||Conditions||Enters the Public Domain|
|Books published before 1928||n/a||Currently in the public domain|
|Books published 1928-1977||No copyright notice||Currently in the public domain|
|Books published 1928-1963||Had a copyright notice that wasn’t renewed||Currently in the public domain|
|Books published 1964-1977||Has a copyright notice||95 years after the public was published|
|Books published 1978-March 1, 1989||Has a copyright notice||70 years after author’s death; or 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation for corporate authorship (whichever expires first)|
|Books published after 2002||n/a||70 years after author’s death; or 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation for corporate authorship (whichever expires first)|
*The information in this table was taken from Cornell University’s Copyright Library and is by no means exhaustive. For a complete list of copyright rules regarding the public domain, visit the website here.
As you can see, copyright laws concerning the public domain can get complicated. (And this chart is only a fraction of the whole!)
There are other things to consider, too. For example, any book or document “prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties” goes immediately into the public domain.
And the rules for unpublished works are different from those listed above! It can all get very convoluted and hard to decipher.
Fortunately, sites like Book Riot publish lists of new books entering the public domain every year. Additionally, a quick Google search is usually enough to tell you if something is in the public domain. That means you don’t have to memorize all those rules if you want to know if you can use a work by Carroll or any other author.
You can always find copies of most of Carroll’s work at local and school libraries. Digital libraries also typically have them. Unfortunately, those libraries usually only have a few copies – maybe just one – of each book. If you need one right away, there are other places to look.
Project Gutenberg is available to anyone with internet access, and multiple people can read the same things simultaneously. It doesn’t matter if 2,000,000 other people decide to read Through the Looking Glass right when you choose to read it. There are no limits on Project Gutenberg.
You can also listen to audio readings of public domain books on Youtube. Plenty of individual users and companies upload readings to Youtube. These are sometimes accompanied by visual images of the text and sometimes not. The quality also varies wildly from reading to reading.
Here’s a great example of a Youtube reading of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:
Here are more websites you can visit to read Lewis Carroll’s and other public domain works for free:
- All Poetry (poetry only)
- Poem Hunter (poetry only)
- The Literature Network’s Open Library
- The Digital Public Library of America
- The Internet Archive’s Open Library
- Daily Lit
Further, if you have a Nook or Amazon tablet, you can often find free public domain works in the Kindle and Nook Book libraries. Google Books is another excellent resource, as is LibriVox if you enjoy audiobooks.
For more information on where you can find Carroll’s works for free, check out Self Published Whiz’s article on the subject.
Earlier, I mentioned that some of Carroll’s works weren’t in the public domain. The Letters of Lewis Carroll and Lewis Carroll Diaries are two that come to mind.
Since Carroll has been dead for over 100 years, it may seem odd that his letters and diaries aren’t available in the public domain. However, these works weren’t published until long after his death. Both were published posthumously in 1979 and edited by other people.
Therefore, these books won’t enter the public domain until 2039, even though the bulk of their content was written by a man who died in 1989.
Any book published after an author’s death by others is subject to the copyright laws from the year it was published – not the year the original material (such as Carroll’s letters and diaries) was written.
If you’re looking to read most of Carroll’s work, you’re in luck. You can find it for free in the public domain. However, if you want to read more obscure things, like his private letters and diary entries, you’ll have to pay for the privilege – or wait several more years.