Lewis Carroll 1832-1898
(Born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) English novelist, poet, satirist, and mathematician. See also Lewis Carroll Poetry Criticism and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There Criticism.
Dodgson produced several essays on mathematics and symbolic logic as an Oxford lecturer in mathematics, but it was under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll that he published his most famous works, the fantasy novels Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1872). Originally intended for the amusement of children, the Alice stories, as well as Carroll's highly imaginative poetry, have been subjected to intense scrutiny and widely varying interpretations by scholars around the world since their publication.
The third child and the eldest son of eleven children, Carroll was born in the parsonage in Daresbury, Cheshire on January 27, 1832. In 1843, his father, a country clergyman, accepted a more lucrative position in Croft, Yorkshire, a post that also provided a larger parsonage for the family of thirteen. Carroll's childhood was apparently a happy one, and he spent hours entertaining and caring for his many siblings, particularly his sisters. He began writing at an early age, producing poems and stories for the amusement of his siblings as well as a series of illustrated magazines for his family. Carroll's formal education began at the Richmond Grammar School, where he spent a year and a half; this was followed by three years at Rugby, after which he attended Christ Church, Oxford, where he took a first in mathematics, earned a bachelor's and a master's degree, and remained for the rest of his life, first as a lecturer in mathematics and later as curator of the Senior Common Room. He produced a number of scholarly works on mathematics and symbolic logic and tutored countless students, including young women denied admission to the all-male university, in both subjects. In 1861, he became a deacon in the Church of England but decided not to take holy orders. After the death of his father in 1868, Carroll assumed responsibility for his unmarried sisters, establishing a home for them in Guildford in Surrey.
Carroll never married and had no children of his own, but he was devoted to a succession of little girls he had befriended. The most famous of these was Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, who provided the model for the fictional Alice and for whom Carroll wrote Alice's Adventures Under Ground, which he illustrated himself and never published, presenting it instead as a gift to Alice Liddell. It provided the basis for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass. Both works were published under the name Lewis Carroll, a pseudonym Carroll adopted in 1856. He published all of his poetry and fiction under that name, although he continued to produce scholarly texts under his own name. At the same time, he became fascinated with the emerging field of photography and earned a considerable reputation as one of the first art photographers and the nineteenth-century's most celebrated photographer of children. Carroll died at the age of sixty-five in Guildford.
Carroll's best-known works, all produced under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, were his fantasy novels, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Famously innovative for their unconventional use of language, the stories were also among the first non-didactic, non-moralizing texts aimed at children. Carroll's nonsense verse, most notably The Hunting of the Snark (1876) and “Jabberwocky” (from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) are usually considered related to his prose works by virtue of the similarity of language. His serious verse, published in several collections, is considered uninspired and is largely forgotten today. The later novels Sylvie and Bruno (1889) and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893) were his only fictional works aimed at an adult reading audience. Far more serious and didactic than the Alice stories, the two texts have often been treated by critics as a single, two-volume work, and occasionally as a fairly conventional Victorian novel. Far less famous than his fictional works are Carroll's writings on mathematics and symbolic logic. They include A Syllabus of Plane Algebraical Geometry, Part I (1860), An Elementary Treatise on Determinants (1867), Euclid and His Modern Rivals (1879), and Symbolic Logic, Part I: Elementary (1896).
Carroll's publications as Lewis Carroll, particularly the Alice stories, were enormously popular with juvenile readers at the time of their publication and have since attained an assured place in the canon of children's literature. They have been reprinted countless times in a wide variety of editions and have been translated into virtually every modern language. The two books were originally considered nonsense for the amusement of children and were considered unworthy of analysis by serious scholars. Beginning in the 1930s, however, the Alice stories and the nonsense poem The Hunting of the Snark have attracted increasing attention from literary critics and philosophers. Psychoanalytic critics in particular have for many years been preoccupied with the details of Carroll's life, particularly his sex life. In addition to the much-documented phallic and womb imagery of his fiction, his extreme fondness for pre-adolescent girls—he often took them on overnight outings and photographed many of them nude—made Carroll a suspicious character in his own time and even more so today. Morton N. Cohen confronts speculation about Carroll's relationship with his young friends, claiming that the author was a “model Victorian” who never acted on whatever erotic impulses he may have harbored for the young. As Cohen puts it, “Carroll knew that, given his preference for the friendship of children, if he once succumbed to any temptation, he would never be able to befriend them again. His own uncompromising standards, his forthright, pious nature would not permit it. Besides he loved innocence so, how could he ever violate it?” Robert M. Polhemus seems to agree: “Freudians have had grand times analyzing the kinks in Charles Dodgson's personality, but the striking irony is that psychoanalysis and its theories … seem to flow right out of Carroll's wonderland.” Michael Irwin also acknowledges that “the Alice books, of course, are a gift to the Freudian, proliferating as they do in holes, tunnels, doors, locks, keys, fluids and size-changes.” Nonetheless, Irwin claims, “that game is all too easy.” Daniel Bivona reads Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in the context of nineteenth-century imperialism, referring to Alice as ethnocentric because she assumes that the language and behavior of the creatures in Wonderland operate according to no rules simply because they fail to conform to English rules. “Alice's ‘imperialism,’ such as it is,” contends Bivona, “is a semiotic imperialism: she is incapable of constructing, on a model radically different from her own, the ‘system’ or ‘systems’ that give meaning to the behavior of the creatures.” Several critics maintain that Carroll's fictional work anticipates modernism and even postmodernism, and his name has been linked with many of the literary figures of those movements. Polhemus reports: “From out of his rabbit-hole and looking-glass world we can see coming not only such figures as Joyce, Freud, Oscar Wilde, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Kafka, Proust, Artaud, Nabokov, Beckett, Waugh, Lacan, Borges, Bakhtin, and García Márquez, but also much of the character and mood of twentieth-century popular culture.” Michael Holquist has examined The Hunting of the Snark as a modernist text and concluded that the poem “is the most perfect nonsense which Carroll created in that it best exemplifies what all his career and all his books sought to do: achieve pure order.” Carroll's work does not consist of meaningless gibberish, according to Holquist, but is rather “its own system of signs which gain their meaning by constantly dramatizing their differences from signs in other systems.” Peter Heath also rejects the idea that Carroll was a nonsense writer and claims that the author should be more properly categorized as an absurdist. Heath maintains that the Alice books are rational works “whose frolics are governed throughout, not by a formal theory of any kind, but by close attention to logical principles, and by a sometimes surprising insight into abstract questions of philosophy.” Carroll's two later novels, Sylvie and Bruno and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, have generally been considered far inferior to the author's earlier works. Edmund Miller, however, believes that the two books should be treated as a whole and suggests that the resulting two-volume work has much in common with the early Victorian novel, particularly Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. “Both works are infused with the sentiments of the age and yet combine traditional materials in completely original ways,” claims Miller.