Lewis Carroll 1832–1898
(Pseudonym of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) English novelist, poet, satirist, and essayist.
Lewis Carroll was the author of the critically acclaimed "children's" stories Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There. Fascinating both children and adults, the Alice books and the verse contained within them have gained increasing critical interest in recent years. Today, Carroll is best remembered for his vivid imagination, the masterful parody of his nonsense poetry, and his depiction of Victorian attitudes toward children.
The son of a country pastor, Carroll passed a quiet childhood, showing a precocity in mathematics and poetry. As a child, he and his sisters entertained themselves by writing and performing plays, and even created a literary magazine, where an early incarnation of what would later become "Jabberwocky" was first published. Carroll went to Oxford at age 18, and was made a fellow of Christ Church two and a half years later. He was to remain there for the rest of his life, lecturing in mathematics and writing the occasional satirical poem lampooning a local political matter. It was at Christ Church that Carroll met Alice Liddell, the daughter of the college's dean, for whom he composed the tale of Alice in Wonderland. The normally reserved Carroll lost his shyness and found his voice in the presence of children, and he was able to captivate them for hours with fanciful tales of inquisitive little girls and anthropomorphic animals. Throughout his life, Carroll exhibited this peculiar blend of personalities: on one hand was the reserved and conventional mathematics professor, and on the other was the witty and imaginative author. The story that Carroll made up to amuse his young friend Alice Liddell in 1862 was published in 1865 (after much persuasion on the part of his friends), as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and his literary reputation was immediately established. Its sequel, Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There was published in 1872. While both these books were enormously successful and are the most memorable of Carroll's work, he continued to write poetry and prose. Apart from the Alice books, his most popular works were nonsense poetry, the most famous of which was The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony, in Eight Fits (1876). Following his death in 1898, his family was forced to quickly dispose of his possessions which included most of his letters, sketches, photographs, and
games, which were sold at auction. Most of these are now considered permanently destroyed or lost.
Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) has been considered a children's classic as well as an essential book in the English literary canon. It has been criticized as a savage parody of Victorian attitudes toward children, and as a testimony of Freudian analytical theories. Additional interpretations analyze the tale as one which demonstrates both the imagination and the disturbance of its author. The poem, "Jabberwocky," in Through the Looking Glass (1872) has been seen as a predecessor of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, as well as surrealist art, and modernist literary concepts. The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony, in Eight Fits (1876) is noted for its parody, punning, and mastery of nonsense poetry, a form of poetry arguably part of the historical development of English poetry. Although Carroll's later work is thought to be critically lacking, Carroll's language skills and games have drawn increasing interest and are often additionally seen to be the predecessors of postmodernist theories and poetry.
Carroll's first published work was actually an uninspired mathematical treatise, A Syllabus of Plane Algebraical Geometry, under his real name, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, in 1860. Carroll was encouraged by friends to publish his tale, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which he eventually did, enlisting John Tenniel, the popular political cartoonist, to illustrate it. The book was an immediate and an enormous success. First recognized as a children's book, it later came to be of increasing interest to adults as well, and critics have gradually come to include the book in the literary canon. Through the Looking Glass, its sequel, contained the nonsense poem, "Jabberwocky," which demonstrated a skillful parody of both poetic form and heroic language. Critics have come to recognize this poem's influence on Joyce's Finnegans Wake, and its importance to modernist theories of art and language. Most critics feel that Carroll's later works lack the consummate artistry of the Alice books, with the possible exception of The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony, in Eight Fits.