This Day In Writing History
On January 27th, 1832, the legendary English writer Lewis Carroll was born. He was born Charles Dodgson IV in Daresbury, Cheshire, England.
His father was a fiercely conservative clergyman in the Anglican Church. Young Charles, however, did not share his father's conservatism or his extreme devotion to the Anglican Church.
A precocious, intellectually gifted child and voracious reader, Charles Dodgson received his early education at home. He was sickly; a fever left him deaf in one ear, and he suffered from a stammer which would result in the extreme shyness that plagued him all his life.
As a teenager, he would contract a severe case of whooping cough that left him with a weak respiratory system. He also suffered from a condition that matched the description of temporal lobe epilepsy.
In 1844, at the age of twelve, Charles Dodgson began his formal schooling at a small private school in Richmond, North Yorkshire. He loved that school, but when he moved on to Rugby School in Rugby, Warwickshire two years later, he came to hate the place.
R.B. Mayor, his mathematics master, recognized Dodgson's genius for arithmetic. Though he disliked Rugby School, he maintained his academic prowess and was an excellent student as always.
Dodgson enrolled in his father's alma mater, Christ Church, Oxford, in January of 1851. He was at university for only two days when he was summoned to return home. His mother had died at the age of 47 from "inflammation of the brain," a common euphemism for conditions such as meningitis and stroke.
He later returned to university, where his talent as a mathematician won him a Mathematical Lectureship at Christ Church, and he would teach there for the next 26 years. Teaching bored him, but the pay was good.
Charles Dodgson had begun writing poetry and short stories as a young boy. He would publish them in Mischmasch, a magazine created by the Dodgson family for their own amusement. Later, between 1854 and 1856, his works would appear in both national magazines and smaller publications in the UK.
Most of these works were humorous and satirical in nature. Too shy to use his own name, Dodgson wrote under his soon-to-be-famous pseudonym, Lewis Carroll, which was a clever play on his own name; Carroll is an Irish surname similar to the Latin word Carolus, from which the name Charles comes.
In 1856, Dodgson published the first work to make him famous, a romantic poem titled Solitude. That same year, a new Dean arrived at Christ Church with his family. His name was Henry Liddell. He and his wife had four children: Harry, Lorina, Edith, and Alice.
Dodgson became a close friend of the Liddell family. He would take the children on rowing trips to Nuneham Courtenay and Godstow. Of the four Liddell children, Dodgson was closest to Alice and would spend a lot of time with her.
On July 4th, 1862, during a rowing trip with Alice, Dodgson told her a story he was thinking about turning into a children's book. It was about a little girl (named after Alice) who falls through a rabbit hole and finds herself in a strange and magical world. Alice loved the story and begged him to write the book. So he did.
A year later, he took his unfinished manuscript for Alice's Adventures Under Ground to a publisher named Macmillan for appraisal. He liked it immediately. In 1864, Dodgson presented Alice Liddell with his completed manuscript.
When the book was being prepared for publication, several other titles were considered, including Alice Among The Fairies and Alice's Golden Hour. The book was published in 1865 as Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, later shortened to Alice In Wonderland.
It was a huge critical and commercial success, beloved by both children and adults. It made the name Lewis Carroll world famous. It also made the author a lot of money, but he still kept the teaching job he disliked.
Dodgson published a sequel, Through The Looking Glass and What Alice Found There in 1871, though the title page erroneously states that the book was published in 1872. Through The Looking Glass was a darker tale than the original, which no doubt reflected (no pun intended) the author's struggle with depression following the death of his father in 1868.
Dodgson would publish several other children's books, including Sylvie And Bruno and The Hunting Of The Snark, a dazzling, epic "nonsense poem." He also wrote over a dozen mathematics textbooks.
When he wasn't writing or teaching, Dodgson explored his interest in photography and became a renowned photographer. Ironically, it was his photography, not his writing, that gained him entrance into high society.
He would photograph many notable people, including legendary poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. When he retired as a photographer in 1880, Dodgson had taken over 3,000 photographs, but less than 1,000 of these images have survived.
In late 1897, Charles Dodgson contracted a bad case of the flu that turned into pneumonia. His weak respiratory system never recovered, and he died at his sister's home on January 14th, 1898 - two weeks before his 66th birthday.
Years later, several different biographers would speculate that Dodgson was a pedophile. He never married, he preferred the company of children to adults - especially little girls - and as a photographer, he had taken many nude photographs of young girls, including Alice Liddell.
A group of scholars, including French academic Hugues Lebailly and biographer Karoline Leach, sought to debunk what they called the "Carroll Myth." Leach wrote a biography called In the Shadow of the Dreamchild, where she explained how the Carroll Myth came to be.
In her book, Leach argues that the myth of Dodgson's pedophilia arose from a misunderstanding of Victorian morality and aesthetics. Images of nude children were common in Victorian England, considered artistic representations of beauty and innocence and devoid of eroticism. They even appeared on Christmas cards.
Leach goes on to say that Dodgson's diaries showed that he was interested in adult women and had relationships with them that were considered scandalous by Victorian standards.
Some biographers had claimed that Dodgson's falling out with the Liddell family happened because he wanted to marry the then 11-year-old Alice; Leach claimed that the falling out happened because Henry Liddell discovered that Dodgson was having an affair with either oldest daughter Lorina or the family's nanny, both of whom were grown women.
Of the 13 diaries that Dodgson kept throughout his life, four are missing. Leach believes that they were destroyed by Dodgson's family to protect his name because they chronicled his sexual relationships with unmarried women - not little girls.
Charles Dodgson's love for children came from the extreme shyness brought on by his speech impediment. He was more comfortable around children because they weren't bothered by the stammer he was so self-conscious of.
Karoline Leach's biography of Dodgson is, like the writer's sexuality, still hotly debated. Some say that In the Shadow of the Dreamchild is a long overdue repudiation of the besmirching of Dodgson's name, while others accuse Leach and the academics who support her of historical revisionism.
Dodgson's classic novel, Alice In Wonderland, still beloved by readers of all ages and popular with literary scholars, has been adapted numerous times for the stage, screen, radio, and television.
The latest feature film adaptation was released in March of 2010. Directed by Tim Burton, the movie featured Mia Wasikowska as Alice, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, Anne Hathaway as the White Queen, Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat, Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar, and Christopher Lee as the Jabberwock.
Quote Of The Day
"Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle." - Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson)
Today's video features a complete reading of Lewis Carroll's epic "nonsense poem," The Hunting of the Snark. Enjoy!