Lewis Carroll Biography


(History of the World: The 19th Century)
ph_0111201527-Carroll.jpg Lewis Carroll Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Lewis Carroll wrote stories and poems that fundamentally changed and enlivened children’s literature. He also pioneered children’s photography and published books that advanced the fields of logic and mathematics.

Early Life

Lewis Carroll was the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who was born in Daresbury, Cheshire, England, on January 27, 1832. His father, Charles Dodgson, had given up his fellowship and lectureship in mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford University, to marry Frances Jane Lutwidge in 1827. Carroll was the first son of their eleven children. The family lived in Daresbury, where Carroll’s father was parish curate, until 1843. Carroll showed an early talent for mathematics, cultivated by his father, and comic verse. Growing up in a close-knit upper-middle-class family, living in a secluded village, and deeply influenced by a stern but doting father, Carroll found childhood a time of innocent exploration and wonder, a view that colored his later literary works.

In 1844 Carroll attended a grammar school in Yorkshire, and in 1846 he went on to Rugby, one of England’s leading private schools. Instructors at both schools helped him develop his mathematical and literary talents, but he disliked boarding away from his family. At Rugby the often harsh discipline administered by older students especially repelled him. For the rest of his life he disliked boys. At home on vacations, he helped his father teach in the local school, was a leader in games (many of which he invented), and wrote poetry and stories for magazines that he issued to amuse family and friends. These early poems were usually parodies of moralistic verse common in the early nineteenth century, and he explored several themes that appeared in his mature writing: violence, dreams and nightmares, family relationships, and the child’s view of a bewildering adult world.

Carroll was a brilliant student. He won a scholarship to Christ Church, his father’s alma mater. Like his father, he won a first in mathematics, the highest scholastic distinction for an undergraduate, and was awarded a fellowship even before he earned his bachelor of arts degree in 1854. The fellowship provided him a yearly stipend and rooms at Christ Church for life. He was appointed a lecturer in mathematics in 1855 and took vows as an Anglican deacon in 1861, becoming the Reverend C. L. Dodgson. From then on he dressed in black clerical clothes almost exclusively. A stammer made him shy of public speaking, and his clean-shaven boyish features, thick dark hair, and retiring manner made him seem ethereal to some contemporaries.

Using his birth name, Dodgson began to attract attention as a comic poet soon after earning his degree by publishing in newspapers and magazines some of the poems that he later incorporated into his children’s books. In 1856 he published his first work under the name Lewis Carroll, an anagram of the latinized form of his first two names. The same year, he met Alice Pleasance Liddell, the daughter of Christ Church’s dean, and took up photography. These interests—literature, photography, and Alice—blended to produce the most creative period of his life during the next twenty years.

Life’s Work

Carroll remained a fellow at Christ Church for the rest of his life. He never married; in fact, the terms of his fellowship forbade it. He devoted himself to tutoring, lecturing, and performing religious and administrative duties at the college, but such work could not use up his creative energy, and he also pursued social and cultural interests outside his academic work.

Carroll was fastidious and almost obsessive with details, and he loved gadgets. Photography was ideally suited to him. At the time he took it up in 1856, it was a cumbersome art with bulky equipment. The photographer had to smear a glass plate with a colloid and dip it into silver nitrate, insert the plate into the camera, expose it for as much as a minute, and then develop the plate in a darkroom. During the exposure the subject had to stay perfectly still. Carroll soon mastered the techniques and tested his skill on architectural subjects and celebrities. Among those he photographed were the poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson; the poet-painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti; and Queen Victoria’s youngest son, Prince Leopold.

Photography was a means for Carroll to enter intellectual society and make friends. He soon ingratiated himself with parents by photographing their children. Although he occasionally photographed boys, he preferred girls. He believed that girls of about ten to fourteen years of age epitomized innocent beauty. Carroll told the girls stories or posed riddles of his own invention to put them at ease, dressed them in romantic costumes, and carefully posed them. Sometimes he...

(The entire section is 1993 words.)

Lewis Carroll Biography

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s literary achievement under the pseudonym of Lewis Carroll is often separated from his career as a Victorian mathematician and don. As Dodgson the reserved bachelor, he lived an extremely regular life, most of it at Christ Church College, Oxford, where he matriculated in 1850, taught mathematics from 1855 until 1881, and thereafter served as curator of the Senior Common Room. Despite the academic conventionality of these externals, Dodgson had diverse interests: photography, at which he excelled in his special interest areas (children and celebrities); visits with his child-friends; theatergoing; occasional preaching; and writing. As Lewis Carroll, he wrote what he, to some extent, considered children’s humor, indeed calling it “nonsense,” and this side of his work is often viewed as a form of sublimation. Carroll thus becomes the rebel who escaped from the tedium of being Dodgson. Certainly, Dodgson had his part in confining Carroll to the nursery: He allowed only little girls to use his pseudonym and refused in later life to acknowledge letters addressed to Lewis Carroll at his quarters. The Dodgson/Carroll split is too simple in one respect, however; at his best and most distinctive, he merges the perspectives of the logician and the poet. His intellectual agility is behind the playfulness that inspires the word magic.

Dodgson was the third child and eldest son of the eleven children of the Reverend Charles Dodgson and...

(The entire section is 516 words.)

Lewis Carroll Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was the third of eleven children and the eldest son of the Reverend Charles Dodgson and Frances Jane Lutwidge. The younger Charles Dodgson was left-handed and spoke with a stutter, an affliction from which he would suffer his whole life. With eight younger siblings, he very early developed the knack of amusing children, an ability he would keep as an adult. For their amusement, he wrote and drew little magazines that demonstrated the whimsy later seen in his Alice books. Some of the verses in the Alice books received their first auditions in these family magazines.

At age twelve, Dodgson attended Richmond Grammar School, and the following year, the famous public school at Rugby. Nearly four years at Rugby, which he later recalled with displeasure, prepared him for Oxford University: He entered Christ Church College there on January 24, 1851. He distinguished himself in mathematics and classics, though difficulty with philosophy and history kept him in the lower third of his class. On December 18, 1854, he received his A.B. with first-class honors in mathematics. He stayed on at Christ Church as a tutor and lecturer. At this time his earliest stories and poems appeared in periodicals at Oxford and Whitby.

Early in 1856 Dodgson acquired his first camera, then a relatively rare and complicated device restricted to use by specialists. A large number of his photographs, mostly of young girls, survive, and one historian of...

(The entire section is 508 words.)

Lewis Carroll Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born on January 27, 1832, in the parsonage of Daresbury, Cheshire, England. The third child and the eldest son of the eleven children of the Reverend Charles Dodgson and Frances Jane Lutwidge, he was descended from two North Country families with a long tradition of service to church and state. The world has come to know Charles Dodgson as Lewis Carroll, a pseudonym he chose in 1856 for his fictional and poetical works. He reserved his family name for his academic books and essays.

When he was eleven years old, his family moved from Daresbury to the rectory at Croft, just inside the Yorkshire boundary, where his father assumed his new duties as rector. During his years at Croft, Carroll...

(The entire section is 656 words.)

Lewis Carroll Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In contrast with the seeming placidity and orderliness of his life at Oxford, Lewis Carroll’s writings exhibit considerable violence and disorder and a powerful struggle to control and contain those forces underground. This contrast, which gave rise to his two masterpiecesAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There—marks a fundamental conflict within Carroll himself, a ruthless battle between emotion and reason, sentiment and satire, chaos and control. Carroll was sometimes an intensely lonely man who needed the nonthreatening company of children to buoy his spirits and distract him from thoughts of death and the void. His books on mathematics and logic, which...

(The entire section is 150 words.)

Lewis Carroll Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll came to be known to millions as the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, was the son of the rector of Daresbury, the Reverend Charles Dodgson, and Frances Jane Lutwidge. He was the eldest of a family of eleven children, with seven sisters and three brothers. After a pleasant and for the most part solitary childhood he attended Richmond School and then Rugby for three extremely unhappy years. In 1851, the year he formally went into residence as a student at Christ Church College, Oxford, his mother died. He was deeply affected by her death, and his later verses show the affection he felt for his gentle mother. In his nonsense stories some critics have...

(The entire section is 726 words.)

Lewis Carroll Biography

(Poetry for Students)

Lewis Carroll was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson on January 27, 1832, in Daresbury, Cheshire; he was the eldest son of a clergyman in the...

(The entire section is 196 words.)

Lewis Carroll Biography

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, son of Frances Jane Lutwidge and the Reverend Charles Dodgson, was born January 27, 1832, at Daresbury, Cheshire,...

(The entire section is 411 words.)

Lewis Carroll Biography

(Novels for Students)

Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who wrote under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, was one of the most creative writers of children's fantasy in...

(The entire section is 635 words.)