Society & Culture & Entertainment Philosophy

Brief Life of the creator of Alice in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll was the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), best known as the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Dodgson was born in Cheshire, England, but moved to Yorkshire when he was eleven. His father was a conservative Church of England cleric.  His family expected him to become a minister, but although he eventually became ordained as a deacon, he never pursued a career in the church.

He was educated at Rugby School, and from there went to Oxford where he obtained first class honours in mathematics in 1854.  For the next 27 years he remained at Christ Church, Oxford, first on a scholarship and then, for most of this period, as a lecturer (and by all accounts, a rather dull one!)

Although Dodgson produced a number of books and articles on topics in mathematics and logic, he would not now be remembered on account of these.  His enduring fame rests on his two Alice books.  The first of these was conceived on July 4th, 1862 when Dodgson and a friend took three young girls, Alice Liddell and her two sisters, on an excursion in a rowboat on the River Thames.  Dodgson made up a story that began with Alice following a white rabbit down a hole.  Asked by Alice to write it down, the story eventually became Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  Illustrated by John Tenniel, the book was published in 1865 under the pen name Lewis Carroll.  It soon became a best seller, and in 1871 Dodgson produced a sequel, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.

Dodgson also wrote a good deal of light and nonsense verse.  Some of these poems are included in the Alice books, the most famous being ‘Jabberwocky.’  ‘The Hunting of the Snark’, a long nonsense poem was published in 1876, and Sylvie and Bruno, a two-volume fairy tale, was published in 1895.  This latter work, however, has never enjoyed the popularity of the Alice books.

In addition to being a mathematician, logician, storyteller, and versifier, Dodgson was also an accomplished in the relatively new art of photography.  He especially liked to photograph young girls, often dressing them in costume, and occasionally photographing them nude.  This has led to much speculation concerning his sexual interest in his subjects.  However, his love of children, and his association of childhood with innocence, a state symbolized by nakedness, was fairly common in Victorian times.  Dodgson who was somewhat shy and spoke with a stammer, clearly enjoyed the company of children, especially young girls.  He made friends with many, and often maintained cordial relations with them as adults (including Alice Liddell).

Since their initial publication, the Alice books have remained among the world’s most popular works written for children.  One reason for this is that they contain much that interests and amuses adults, including numerous logical, linguistic, and philosophical jokes.  They have been translated into scores of languages, and have been made into films, plays, and musicals.  They have also inspired a vast amount of analysis and commentary from psycho-analysts, literary critics, historians, and devotees of counter-culture.

In contrast to the startling adventures experienced by Alice, Dodgson lived a fairly uneventful life.  He never married, only once travelled outside Britain, and lived virtually the whole of his adult life at Christ Church College, Oxford.  He died of pneumonia at his sister’s home in 1898, aged sixty-five, and is buried in Guildford.

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