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Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (January 17, 1832 – January 14, 1898), better known by the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, was an English author, mathematician, logician, Anglican deacon, and photographer. His most famous works are Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, and the poems "The Hunting of the Snark" and "Jabberwocky". He is noted for his facility at word play, logic, and fantasy. Like J. M. Barrie, Dodgson is responsible for creating one of the best-known fantasy stories of the last 150 years, and also like Barrie, he has been accused in modern times of an improper sexual interest in the child who gave the name to his star character. There are many parallels – and some substantial differences – in their life stories.
Dodgson's father was an active and highly conservative clergyman of the Anglican church, involved in the intense religious disputes that were dividing it. He was High Church, inclining to Anglo-Catholicism, and he did his best to instill such views in his children. Young Charles, however, was to develop an ambiguous relationship with his father's values and with the Anglican church as a whole. Dodgson was born in the little parsonage of Daresbury near Runcorn, Cheshire, the oldest boy but already the third child of the four-and-a-half year old marriage. Eight more were to follow. When Charles was 11, his father was assigned to Croft-on-Tees in North Yorkshire, where the family lived for the next twenty-five years. (Barrie was one of the youngest, of a family of similar size, in Scotland.)
As a boy, Dodgson was educated at home. His "reading lists" testify to a precocious intellect: at the age of seven the child was reading The Pilgrim's Progress (also a favorite of young Jamie Barrie's). At twelve he was sent away to a small private school at nearby Richmond, where he appears to have been happy and settled. But in 1846, young Dodgson moved on to Rugby School, where he was evidently less happy, for as he wrote some years after leaving the place:
"I cannot say ... that any earthly considerations would induce me to go through my three years again ... I can honestly say that if I could have been ... secure from annoyance at night, the hardships of the daily life would have been comparative trifles to bear."
Scholastically, though, he excelled with apparent ease. "I have not had a more promising boy his age since I came to Rugby," observed R. B. Mayor, the Mathematics master. (Barrie had fond memories of his schoolboy days.)
He left Rugby at the end of 1849 and, after an interval that remains unexplained, went on in January 1851 to Oxford University, attending his father's old college, Christ Church. (Most of Barrie's wards the Llewelyn Davies boys went to Oxford.) He had only been at Oxford two days when he received a summons home. His mother had died of "inflammation of the brain" – perhaps meningitis or a stroke – at the age of forty-seven.
His early academic career veered between high promise and irresistible distraction. He may not always have worked hard, but he was exceptionally gifted and achievement came easily to him. In 1852 he received a First degree in Honour Moderations and was shortly thereafter nominated to a Studentship. However, a little later he failed an important scholarship through his self-confessed inability to apply himself to study. Even so, his talent as a mathematician won him the Christ Church Mathematical Lectureship, which he continued to hold for the next twenty-six years. The income was good, but the work bored him. Many of his pupils were older and richer than he was, and almost all of them were uninterested. However, despite early unhappiness, Dodgson was to remain at Christ Church, in various capacities, until his death. (Barrie had academic appointments late in life, but had little to do with higher education after he finished university himself. He dove into his literary career, which he loved.)
Character and appearance
The young adult Charles Dodgson was about six feet tall, slender and deemed attractive, with curling brown hair. (Barrie was famously short.) He was described in later life as somewhat asymmetrical, and as carrying himself rather stiffly and awkwardly, though this may be on account of a knee injury sustained in middle age. As a very young child, he suffered a fever that left him deaf in one ear. At the age of seventeen, he suffered a severe attack of whooping cough, which was probably responsible for his chronically weak chest in later life. (Barrie had a a persistent cough, no doubt from his smoking.)
He had an apparently mild stammer. According to legend, he stammered only in adult company and was free and fluent with children, but there is no evidence to support this idea. It is said he caricatured himself as the Dodo in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, possibly referring to his difficulty in pronouncing his last name ("Do-do-dodgson"). The stammer troubled him, but was never so debilitating that it prevented him from applying his other personal qualities to do well in society. He reportedly could sing tolerably well and was not afraid to do so before an audience. He was adept at mimicry and storytelling, and was reputedly quite good at charades.
In 1856, Dodgson took up the emerging art form of photography. He soon excelled at it and became a well-known gentleman-photographer, and he seems even to have toyed with the idea of making a living out of it in his very early years. (Barrie enjoyed photography, but with the more snapshot-oriented casualness that advances in the technology had made possible by that time.) He also found photography to be a useful entrée into higher social circles. During the most productive part of his career, he made portraits of notable subjects such as painter John Everett Millais, actress Ellen Terry, painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, physicist Michael Faraday, and poet Alfred. (Barrie's writing gave him access to a similarly distinguished circle of friends, including Tennyson's son.)
Dodgson abruptly ceased photography in 1880. Over 24 years, he had created around 3,000 images, fewer than 1,000 of which have survived. His reasons for abandoning photography remain uncertain. With the advent of Modernism tastes changed, and his photography was forgotten from around 1920 until the 1960s. Just over fifty percent of his surviving work depicts young girls, but Dodgson also made many studies of men, women, male children, and landscapes; his subjects also include skeletons, dolls, dogs, statues and paintings, and trees. His studies of nude children were long presumed lost, but six have since surfaced, five of which have been published. (Barrie also had some nude child photos in his "portfolio", but his were snapshots of the boys at the beach, not portraiture.)
In 1856, a new Dean, Henry Liddell, arrived at Christ Church, bringing with him his young family. Dodgson became close friends with Liddell's wife Lorina, and their children, particularly the three sisters: Lorina, Edith, and Alice. He is widely assumed to have derived his own "Alice" from Alice Liddell, supported by the acrostic poem at the end of Through the Looking Glass which spells out her name, and many superficial references to her hidden in the text of both books. Dodgson himself, however, repeatedly denied in later life that his "little heroine" was based on any particular child, and frequently dedicated his works to girls of his acquaintance, adding their names in acrostic poems at the beginning of the text. (Barrie stated clearly that the Llewelyn Davies boys were the inspiration for Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, though the identification of Peter Davies as Peter Pan in particular was a popular assumption comparable to the Alice Liddell = Alice connection.)
His friendship with the Liddell family was an important part of his life in the late 1850s, and he grew into the habit of taking the children (first the boy Harry, and later the three girls) on rowing trips. It was on one such expedition, on July 4, 1862, that Dodgson invented the outline of the story that eventually became his first and largest commercial success. Having told the story and been begged by Alice Liddell to write it down, Dodgson eventually presented her with a handwritten, self-illustrated manuscript entitled Alice's Adventures Under Ground in November 1864. (Peter Pan's origin is quite similar, and he produced The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island as a memento for the parents of his boy friends.)
The family of his mentor George MacDonald read Dodgson's incomplete manuscript, and the enthusiasm of the children encouraged Dodgson to take it to Macmillan the publisher, who liked it immediately. After the possible alternative titles Alice Among the Fairies and Alice's Golden Hour were rejected, the work was finally published as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in 1865 under the Lewis Carroll pen name, which Dodgson had first used some nine years earlier. The illustrations this time were by Sir John Tenniel.
The overwhelming commercial success of the first Alice book changed Dodgson's life in many ways. The fame of his alter ego "Lewis Carroll" soon spread around the world. He was inundated with fan mail and with sometimes unwanted attention. He also began earning quite substantial sums of money. (Peter Pan had a similar impact on Barrie, though he was somewhat famous already.) However, he continued with his seemingly disliked post at Christ Church. Late in 1871, a sequel – Through the Looking-Glass And What Alice Found There – was published. Its somewhat darker mood reflects the changes in Dodgson's life. His father had died in 1868, plunging him into a depression that lasted some years. (Barrie's mood darkened following the deaths of George and Michael Llewelyn Davies, which found its way into later versions of the Peter Pan story.)
Dodgson's friendships with young girls, his perceived lack of interest in romantic attachments to adult women, psychological readings of his work, and especially his photographs of nude or semi-nude girls, have all led to modern speculation that he was a pedophile. This possibility has underpinned numerous modern interpretations of his life and work, particularly Dennis Potter's play Alice and his screenplay for the motion picture Dreamchild, and numerous recent biographies which more or less assume that Dodgson was a pedophile, albeit a repressed and celibate one. (The same conclusion is commonly reached about Barrie.)
At least four complete volumes and around seven pages of text are missing from Dodgson's 13 diaries, deliberately removed by an unknown hand. Most scholars assume the diary material was removed by family members in the interests of preserving the family name, but this has not been proven. Except for one page, the period of his diaries from which material is missing is between 1853 and 1863, when Dodgson was 22–32 years old. Many theories have been put forward to explain the missing material. A popular explanation for one particular missing page (June 27, 1863) is that it revealed that Dodgson had proposed marriage on that day to the 11-year old Alice Liddell. However, there has never been any direct evidence of this, and a paper that came to light in the Dodgson family archive in 1996 suggests that it addressed some gossip involving the Liddell family's governess, Alice's older sister Lorina, or her mother. Whatever the nature of the incident, Dodgson and the Liddell family broke off social contact afterward. (Barrie never lost touch with the Davies family, and in fact became a de facto member of it.)
In 1876, Dodgson produced his last great work, The Hunting of the Snark, a fantastical "nonsense" poem, exploring the adventures of a bizarre crew of variously inadequate beings, and one beaver, who set off to find the eponymous creature.
He continued to teach at Christ Church until 1881, and remained in residence there until his death. His last novel, the two-volume Sylvie and Bruno, was published in 1889 and 1893. Its extraordinary convolutions and apparent confusion baffled most readers and it achieved little success.
He died on January 14, 1898 at his sisters' home, "The Chestnuts" in Guildford, of pneumonia following influenza, two weeks short of his 66th birthday. He is buried in Guildford at the Mount Cemetery. (Barrie also died of pneumonia, at 67.)
- Wikipedia: Charles Dodgson