Carroll, Lewis

Carroll, Lewis

born Jan. 27, 1832, Daresbury, Cheshire, Eng.
died Jan. 14, 1898, Guildford, Surrey

British logician, mathematician, and novelist.

An unmarried deacon and a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Oxford, he enjoyed the company of young girls. His novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865; illustrated by John Tenniel) is based on stories he told to amuse young friends, especially Alice Liddell. Its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass (1871), describes Alice's further adventures. The two books, full of whimsy but also of sophisticated wit and puzzles, became among the most famous and admired children's books in the world. Carroll's other works include the narrative nonsense poem The Hunting of the Snark (1876) and the children's novels Sylvie and Bruno (1889) and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893). He was also an important early portrait photographer.

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▪ British author
pseudonym of  Charles Lutwidge Dodgson 
born Jan. 27, 1832, Daresbury, Cheshire, Eng.
died Jan. 14, 1898, Guildford, Surrey
 English logician, mathematician, photographer, and novelist, especially remembered for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass (1871). His poem The Hunting of the Snark (1876) is nonsense literature of the highest order.

      Dodgson was the eldest son and third child in a family of seven girls and four boys born to Frances Jane Lutwidge, the wife of the Rev. Charles Dodgson. He was born in the old parsonage at Daresbury. His father was perpetual curate there from 1827 until 1843, when he became rector of Croft in Yorkshire—a post he held for the rest of his life (though later he became also archdeacon of Richmond and a canon of Ripon cathedral).

      The Dodgson children, living as they did in an isolated country village, had few friends outside the family but, like many other families in similar circumstances, found little difficulty in entertaining themselves. Charles from the first showed a great aptitude for inventing games to amuse them. With the move to Croft when he was 12 came the beginning of the “Rectory Magazines,” manuscript compilations to which all the family were supposed to contribute. In fact, Charles wrote nearly all of those that survive, beginning with Useful and Instructive Poetry (1845; published 1954) and following with The Rectory Magazine (c. 1850, mostly unpublished), The Rectory Umbrella (1850–53), and Mischmasch (1853–62; published with The Rectory Umbrella in 1932).

      Meanwhile, young Dodgson attended Richmond School, Yorkshire (1844–45), and then proceeded to Rugby School (1846–50). He disliked his four years at public school, principally because of his innate shyness, although he was also subjected to a certain amount of bullying; he also endured several illnesses, one of which left him deaf in one ear. After Rugby he spent a further year being tutored by his father, during which time he matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford (May 23, 1850). He went into residence as an undergraduate there on Jan. 24, 1851.

      Dodgson excelled in his mathematical and classical studies in 1852; on the strength of his performance in examinations, he was nominated to a studentship (called a scholarship in other colleges). In 1854 he gained a first in mathematical Finals—coming out at the head of the class—and proceeded to a bachelor of arts degree in December of the same year. He was made a “Master of the House” and a senior student (called a fellow in other colleges) the following year and was appointed lecturer in mathematics (the equivalent of today's tutor), a post he resigned in 1881. He held his studentship until the end of his life.

      As was the case with all fellowships at that time, the studentship at Christ Church was dependent upon his remaining unmarried, and, by the terms of this particular endowment, proceeding to holy orders. Dodgson was ordained a deacon in the Church of England on Dec. 22, 1861. Had he gone on to become a priest he could have married and would then have been appointed to a parish by the college. But he felt himself unsuited for parish work and, though he considered the possibility of marriage, decided that he was perfectly content to remain a bachelor.

      Dodgson's association with children grew naturally enough out of his position as an eldest son with eight younger brothers and sisters. He also suffered from a bad stammer (which he never wholly overcame, although he was able to preach with considerable success in later life) and, like many others who suffer from the disability, found that he was able to speak naturally and easily to children. It is therefore not surprising that he should begin to entertain the children of Henry George Liddell (Liddell, Henry George), dean of Christ Church. Alice Liddell and her sisters Lorina and Edith were not, of course, the first of Dodgson's child friends. They had been preceded or were overlapped by the children of the writer George Macdonald, the sons of the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and various other chance acquaintances. But the Liddell children undoubtedly held an especially high place in his affections—partly because they were the only children in Christ Church, since only heads of houses were free both to marry and to continue in residence.

      Properly chaperoned by their governess, Miss Prickett (nicknamed “Pricks”—“one of the thorny kind,” and so the prototype of the Red Queen in Through the Looking-Glass), the three little girls paid many visits to the young mathematics lecturer in his college rooms. As Alice remembered in 1932, they

used to sit on the big sofa on each side of him, while he told us stories, illustrating them by pencil or ink drawings as he went along . . . . He seemed to have an endless store of these fantastical tales, which he made up as he told them, drawing busily on a large sheet of paper all the time. They were not always entirely new. Sometimes they were new versions of old stories; sometimes they started on the old basis, but grew into new tales owing to the frequent interruptions which opened up fresh and undreamed-of possibilities.

      On July 4, 1862, Dodgson and his friend Robinson Duckworth, fellow of Trinity, rowed the three children up the Thames from Oxford to Godstow, picnicked on the bank, and returned to Christ Church late in the evening: “On which occasion,” wrote Dodgson in his diary, “I told them the fairy-tale of Alice's Adventures Underground, which I undertook to write out for Alice.” Much of the story was based on a picnic a couple of weeks earlier when they had all been caught in the rain; for some reason, this inspired Dodgson to tell so much better a story than usual that both Duckworth and Alice noticed the difference, and Alice went so far as to cry, when they parted at the door of the deanery, “Oh, Mr. Dodgson, I wish you would write out Alice's adventures for me!” Dodgson himself recollected in 1887

how, in a desperate attempt to strike out some new line of fairy-lore, I had sent my heroine straight down a rabbit-hole, to begin with, without the least idea what was to happen afterwards.

      Dodgson was able to write down the story more or less as told and added to it several extra adventures that had been told on other occasions. He illustrated it with his own crude but distinctive drawings and gave the finished product to Alice Liddell, with no thought of hearing of it again. But the novelist Henry Kingsley, while visiting the deanery, chanced to pick it up from the drawing-room table, read it, and urged Mrs. Liddell to persuade the author to publish it. Dodgson, honestly surprised, consulted his friend George Macdonald, author of some of the best children's stories (children's literature) of the period. Macdonald took it home to be read to his children, and his son Greville, aged six, declared that he “wished there were 60,000 volumes of it.”

      Accordingly, Dodgson revised it for publication. He cut out the more particular references to the previous picnic (they may be found in the facsimile of the original manuscript, later published by him as Alice's Adventures Underground in 1886) and added some additional stories, told to the Liddells at other times, to make up a volume of the desired length. At Duckworth's suggestion he got an introduction to John Tenniel (Tenniel, Sir John), the Punch magazine cartoonist, whom he commissioned to make illustrations to his specification. The book was published as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in 1865. (The first edition was withdrawn because of bad printing, and only about 21 copies survive—one of the rare books of the 19th century—and the reprint was ready for publication by Christmas of the same year, though dated 1866.)

      The book was a slow but steadily increasing success, and by the following year Dodgson was already considering a sequel to it, based on further stories told to the Liddells. The result was Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (dated 1872; actually published December 1871), a work as good as, or better than, its predecessor.

      By the time of Dodgson's death, Alice (taking the two volumes as a single artistic triumph) had become the most popular children's book in England: by the time of his centenary in 1932 it was one of the most popular and perhaps the most famous in the world.

      There is no answer to the mystery of Alice's success. Many explanations have been suggested, but, like the Mad Hatter's riddle (“The riddle, as originally invented, had no answer at all”), they are no more than afterthoughts. The book is not an allegory; it has no hidden meaning or message, either religious, political, or psychological, as some have tried to prove; and its only undertones are some touches of gentle satire—on education for the children's special benefit and on familiar university types, whom the Liddells may or may not have recognized. Various attempts have been made to solve the “riddle of Lewis Carroll” himself; these include the efforts to prove that his friendships with little girls were some sort of subconscious substitute for a married life, that he showed symptoms of jealousy when his favourites came to tell him that they were engaged to be married, that he contemplated marriage with some of them—notably with Alice Liddell. But there is little or no evidence to back up such theorizing. He in fact dropped the acquaintance of Alice Liddell when she was 12, as he did with most of his young friends. In the case of the Liddells, his friendship with the younger children, Rhoda and Violet, was cut short at the time of his skits on some of Dean Liddell's Christ Church “reforms.” For besides children's stories, Dodgson also produced humorous pamphlets on university affairs, which still make good reading. The best of these were collected by him as Notes by an Oxford Chiel (1874).

      Besides writing for them, Dodgson is also to be remembered as a fine photographer of children and of adults as well (notable portraits of the actress Ellen Terry, the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the poet-painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and many others survive and have been often reproduced). Dodgson had an early ambition to be an artist: failing in this, he turned to photography. He photographed children in every possible costume and situation, finally making nude studies of them. But in 1880 Dodgson abandoned his hobby altogether, feeling that it was taking up too much time that might be better spent. Suggestions that this sudden decision was reached because of an impurity of motive for his nude studies have been made, but again without any evidence.

      Before he had told the original tale of Alice's Adventures, Dodgson had, in fact, published a number of humorous items in verse and prose and a few inferior serious poems. The earliest of these appeared anonymously, but in March 1856 a poem called “Solitude” was published over the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. Dodgson arrived at this pen name by taking his own names Charles Lutwidge, translating them into Latin as Carolus Ludovicus, then reversing and retranslating them into English. He used the name afterward for all his nonacademic works. As Charles L. Dodgson, he was the author of a fair number of books on mathematics, none of enduring importance, although Euclid and His Modern Rivals (1879) is of some historical interest.

      His humorous and other verses were collected in 1869 as Phantasmagoria and Other Poems and later separated (with additions) as Rhyme? and Reason? (1883) and Three Sunsets and Other Poems (published posthumously, 1898). The 1883 volume also contained The Hunting of the Snark, a narrative nonsense poem that is rivalled only by the best of Edward Lear.

      Later in life, Dodgson had attempted a return to the Alice vein but only produced Sylvie and Bruno (1889) and its second volume, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893), which has been described aptly as “one of the most interesting failures in English literature.” This elaborate combination of fairy-tale, social novel, and collection of ethical discussions is unduly neglected and ridiculed. It presents the truest available portrait of the man. Alice, the perfect creation of the logical and mathematical mind applied to the pure and unadulterated amusement of children, was struck out of him as if by chance; while making full use of his specialized knowledge, it transcends his weaknesses and remains unique.

Roger Lancelyn Green

Major Works

Children's books
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865); Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871); The Wasp in the Wig: A “Suppressed” Episode [of the latter] (1977).

Phantasmagoria and Other Poems (1869); The Hunting of the Snark (1876); Rhyme? and Reason? (1883); The Collected Verse (1929).

Mathematical books
A Syllabus of Plane Algebraical Geometry (1860); Euclid and His Modern Rivals (1879); Curiosa Mathematica (1888–93). Symbolic Logic, Part I (1896), published with Part II (1977), ed. by William W. Bartley III.

Other works
Sylvie and Bruno, 2 vol. (1889–93), novel.

Additional Reading
The primary sources are The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll, by his nephew Stuart Dodgson Collingwood (1898, reprinted 1967); The Diaries of Lewis Carroll, 2 vol., ed. and augmented by Roger Lancelyn Green (1953); and The Letters of Lewis Carroll, 2 vol., ed. by Morton N. Cohen and Roger Lancelyn Green (1979). The best of later biographies is Derek Hudson, Lewis Carroll, rev. ed. (1976) and Anne Clark, Lewis Carroll (1979); and the fullest is Florence Becker Lennon's, published in 1945 as Victoria Through the Looking-Glass, and in a revised edition in 1962 as The Life of Lewis Carroll. Other studies of importance include Helmut Gernsheim, Lewis Carroll: Photographer, new ed. (1969); Morton N. Cohen, Lewis Carroll, Photographer of Children: Four Nude Studies (1979), reproduces the only known extant photographs and discusses them; Alexander L. Taylor, The White Knight: A Study of C.L. Dodgson (1952); Roger Lancelyn Green's “Bodley Head Monograph,” Lewis Carroll (1960); and Jean Gattegno, Lewis Carroll (1970), in French.For bibliography, see The Lewis Carroll Handbook, by S.H. Williams and Falconer Madan (1931 and rev. by Roger Lancelyn Green in 1962); and Edward Lewis Guiliano, Lewis Carroll: An Annotated International Bibliography 1960–1977 (1981); for collections of his works, see the so-called Complete Works of Lewis Carroll, ed. by Alexander Woollcott (1937); and the fuller, but still not complete, The Works of Lewis Carroll, ed. by Roger Lancelyn Green (1965). For special editions of the two Alice books, see The Annotated Alice, ed. by Martin Gardner (1960); and Alice, in the “Oxford English Novels Series,” ed. by Roger Lancelyn Green (1971). The manuscript of Alice's Adventures Underground, originally given to Alice Liddell, is now in the British Museum; so also are the surviving volumes of his Diary. No other major work seems to be extant in manuscript, but the four family magazines and miscellaneous juvenilia and mathematical and logical items are scattered among various collections, mainly in the United States. One of the magazines was published as The Rectory Magazine (1976) in facsimile.

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Universalium. 2010.

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