Carroll. Possibly a self-portrait taken with assistance.The Reverend
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (January 27, 1832–January 14, 1898),
better known by the pen name Lewis Carroll, was an English author, mathematician,
logician, Anglican clergyman, and photographer.
His most famous
writings are Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through
the Looking-Glass as well as the poems "The Hunting of the Snark"
His facility at
word play, logic, and fantasy has delighted audiences ranging from children
to the literary elite. But beyond this, his work has become embedded
deeply in modern human culture. He has directly influenced artists as
diverse as James Joyce, John Lennon, Jefferson Airplane, Aceyalone,
Marilyn Manson and Jorge Luis Borges.
There are societies
dedicated to the enjoyment and promotion of his works and the investigation
of his life in many parts of the world including North America, Japan,
the United Kingdom, and New Zealand.
His biography has
recently come under much question as a result of what has come to be
termed the "Carroll Myth"
Dodgson's family was predominantly northern English, with some Irish
connections. Conservative and High Church Anglican, most of Dodgson's
ancestors were army officers or Church of England clergymen. His great-grandfather,
also Charles Dodgson, had risen through the ranks of the church to become
a bishop; his grandfather, another Charles, had been an army captain,
killed in action in 1803 when his two sons were hardly more than babies.
The elder of these
sons — yet another Charles — was Carroll's father. He reverted
to the other family business and took holy orders. He went to Rugby
School, and thence to Christ Church, Oxford. He was mathematically gifted
and won a double first degree which could have been the prelude to a
brilliant academic career. Instead he married his first cousin in 1827
and retired into obscurity as a country parson.
Young Charles' father
was an active and highly conservative member of the Anglican church
who involved himself, sometimes influentially, in the intense religious
disputes that were dividing the Anglican church. He was High Church,
inclining to Anglo-Catholicism, an admirer of Newman and the Tractarian
movement, 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.
Young Dodgson was born in the little parsonage of Daresbury in Warrington,
Cheshire, the oldest boy but already the third child of the four-and-a-half
year old marriage. Eight more were to follow and, remarkably for the
time, all of them—seven girls and four boys— survived into
adulthood. When Charles was 11, his father was given the living of Croft-on-Tees
in north Yorkshire, and the whole family moved to the spacious Rectory.
This remained their home for the next twenty-five years.
In his early years,
young Dodgson was educated at home. His "reading lists" preserved
in the family testify to a precocious intellect: at the age of seven
the child was reading The Pilgrim's Progress. He also suffered from
a stutter — a condition shared by his siblings — that often
influenced his social life throughout his years. 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 1845, 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. 
The nature of this
nocturnal "annoyance" will probably never now be fully understood,
but it may be that he is delicately referring to some type of sexual
molestation. 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.
He left Rugby at the end of 1850 and, after an interval which remains
unexplained, went on in January 1851 to Oxford, attending his father's
old college, Christ Church. 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-octane 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 in Honour
Moderations, and shortly after he was nominated to a Studentship, by
his father's old friend Canon Edward Pusey. 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
The young adult Charles Dodgson was about six feet tall, slender and
handsome, with curling brown hair and blue eyes. He was described in
later life as somewhat asymmetrical, or as carrying himself rather stiffly
and awkwardly, though this may be on account of a knee injury sustained
in middle age. At the age of seventeen, he suffered a severe attack
of whooping cough which left him with poor hearing in his right ear
and was probably responsible for his chronically weak chest in later
life. The only overt defect he carried into adulthood was what he referred
to as his "hesitation", a stammer he acquired in early childhood
and which plagued him throughout his life.
The stammer has always been a potent part of his myth; it is part of
the mythology that Dodgson only stammered in adult company, and was
free and fluent with children, but there is no evidence to support this
idea. Many children of his acquaintance remembered the stammer while
many adults failed to notice it. It came and went for its own reasons,
but not as a clichéd manifestation of fear of the adult world.
Dodgson himself seems to have been far more acutely aware of it than
most people he met; it is said he caricatured himself as the Dodo in
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, referring to his difficulty in pronouncing
his last name, but this is one of the many 'facts' oft-repeated, for
which no firsthand evidence remains. He did indeed refer to himself
as the dodo, but that this was a reference to his stammer is simply
Although Carroll's stammer troubled him, it was never bad enough to
stop him using his other qualities to do well in society. At a time
when people devised their own amusements and singing and recitation
were required social skills, the young Dodgson was well-equipped as
an engaging entertainer. He could sing tolerably well and was not afraid
to do so in front of an audience. He was adept at mimicry and storytelling,
and was reputedly quite good at charades.
He was also quite
socially ambitious, anxious to make his mark on the world as a writer
or an artist. His scholastic career may well have been seen as something
of a stop-gap to other more exciting attainments that he desired. The
traditional image of his entirely child-centred life has recently been
challenged (see 'Karoline Leach's work on the "Carroll Myth"'
below), and we have been reminded that he did enjoy a very active adult
social life. In the interim between his early published writing and
the success of Alice, he began to move in the Pre-Raphaelite social
circle. He first met John Ruskin in 1857 and became friendly with him.
Dodgson developed a close relationship with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and
his family, and also knew William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais
and Arthur Hughes among other artists. He also knew the fairy-tale author
George MacDonald well — it was the enthusiastic reception of Alice
by the young MacDonald children that convinced him to submit the work
He soon excelled
at the art 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.
A recent study (Roger
Taylor and Edward Wakeling's Lewis Carroll, Photographer (2002) exhaustively
lists every surviving print, and Taylor calculates that just over fifty
percent of his surviving work depicts young girls. Alexandra Kitchin,
known as 'Xie', was a favourite photographic subject; Dodgson made over
50 studies of her from 1869 until his cessation of photography in 1880,
when she was sixteen years old. However before attempting to draw any
conclusions, it should be noted that less than a third of his original
portfolio has survived (see below). We do know he also made many studies
of men, women, male children and landscapes and in all his subjects
ranged from skeletons, through dolls, dogs, statues and paintings to
trees, scholars, old men, scientists and (indeed) little girls. His
infamous (and possibly misunderstood) studies of child nudes were long
presumed lost, but six have since surfaced, four of which have been
published and another two of which little is known.
Photo of John Everett Millais and his wife Effie Gray with two of their
children, signed by Effie. (c1860)He also found photography to be a
useful entré into higher social circles. During the most productive
part of his career, he made portraits of notable sitters such as John
Everett Millais, Ellen Terry, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Julia Margaret
Cameron, Michael Faraday and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
ceased to photograph in 1880. Over 24 years, he had completely mastered
the medium, set up his own studio on the roof of Tom Quad, and created
around 3,000 iimages. Fewer than 1,000 have survived time and deliberate
destruction. 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. He is now considered one of the very best
Victorian photographers, and is certainly the one who has had the most
influence on modern art photographers.
From a young age, Dodgson wrote poetry and short stories, sending them
to various magazines and enjoying moderate success. Between 1854 and
1856, his work appeared in the national publications, The Comic Times
and The Train, as well as smaller magazines like the Whitby Gazette
and the Oxford Critic. Most of this output was humorous, sometimes satirical,
but his standards and ambitions were exacting. "I do not think
I have yet written anything worthy of real publication (in which I do
not include the Whitby Gazette or the Oxonian Advertiser), but I do
not despair of doing so some day", he wrote in July 1855. In 1856
he published his first piece of work under the name that would make
him famous. A very predictable little romantic poem called "Solitude"
appeared in The Train under the authorship of 'Lewis Carroll'. This
pseudonym was a play on his real name; Lewis was the anglicised form
of Ludovicus, which was the Latin for Lutwidge, and Carroll being an
anglicised version of Carolus, the Latin for Charles.
The ruin of Godstow
Nunnery.In the same year, 1856, a new Dean, Henry Liddell, arrived at
Christ Church, bringing with him a young wife and children, all of whom
would figure largely in Dodgson's life, and greatly influence his writing
career, over the following years. He became close friends with the mother
Lorina and the children, particularly the three sisters Ina, Edith and
Alice Liddell. It is from the latter he is often said to have derived
his own "Alice", however, Dodgson himself later denied his
"little heroine" was based on any real child, .
is scarce (Dodgson's diaries for the years 1858-62 are missing), it
does seem evident his friendship with the family was an important part
of his life in the late 1850s, and he grew into the habit of taking
the children (first the brother Harry, but later the three girls) on
rowing trips to nearby Nuneham or Godstow.
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 (after much delay) presented her with a handwritten,
illustrated manuscript entitled Alice's Adventures Under Ground in November
Before this, however,
in 1863, he had taken the unfinished MS 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; Dodgson
evidently realised that a published book would need the skills of a
professional artist. The first edition copy of Alice's Adventures Under
Ground, now highly sought after by literary collectors, changed hands
to a private collector on January 26, 2006. It was sold at Christie's
for GBP4,800 by the Duke of Gloucester, its previous owner, to pay for
his father's death duties
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 sometimes unwanted attention.
He also began earning quite substantial sums of money. However, perhaps
oddly, he didn't use this income as a means of abandoning his seemingly
disliked post at Christ Church.
In 1872, a sequel
— Through the Looking-Glass — was published. Its darker
mood possibly reflects the changes in Dodgson's life. His father had
recently died (1868) plunging him into a depression that would last
The Hunting of
In 1876, Dodgson produced his last great work, The Hunting of the Snark
a fantastic 'nonsense' poem, exploring the adventures of a bizarre crew
of variously inadequate beings, and one beaver, who set off to find
the eponymous creature. It contains some of Dodgson's best and most
mature writing. Most oddly, the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti reputedly
became convinced the poem was about him.
The Later Years
Over the remaining twenty years of his life, throughout his growing
wealth and fame, his existence remained little changed. 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 respectively. Its extraordinary convolutions
and apparent confusion baffled most readers and it achieved little success.
He died in his Guildford home on January 14, 1898 of pneumonia following
influenza. He was not quite sixty-six years old.
Possible Drug Use
There has been much speculation that Dodgson used drugs, however there
is no direct evidence that he ever did. It is true that the most common
painkiller of the time—laudanum—was in fact a tincture of
opium and could produce a 'high' if used in a large enough dose. We
can infer Dodgson probably used it from time to time since it was the
standard domestic painkiller of its day and was to be found in numerous
patent medicines of the time, but there is no evidence he ever abused
it or that its effects had any impact on his work. The rumour that he
smoked cannabis is entirely without any foundation in any known fact.
Charles Dodgson had been groomed for the priesthood from a very early
age and was expected, as a condition of his residency at Christ Church,
to take holy orders within four years of obtaining his master's degree.
However, for reasons not presently explained, he became reluctant to
do this. He delayed the process for some time but eventually took deacon's
orders in December 1861. But when the time came, a year later, to progress
to full orders, Dodgson appealed to the dean for permission not to proceed.
This was against college rules, and Dean Liddell told him he would very
likely have to leave his job if he refused to take orders. He told Dodgson
he would have to consult the college ruling body, which would almost
undoubtedly have resulted in his being expelled. However, for unknown
reasons, Dean Liddell changed his mind and permitted Dodgson to remain
at the college, in defiance of the rules. Dodgson never became a
priest. Dean Liddell's behavior remains puzzling and unexplained, though
some theories have been put forward to explain it.
There is currently
no conclusive evidence about why Dodgson rejected the priesthood. Some
have suggested his stammer made him reluctant to take the step, because
he was afraid of having to preach, but this seems unlikely given his
willingness to take on other public performances (story-telling, recitations,
magic lantern shows), and the fact that he did indeed preach in later
life, even though not in orders. Others have suggested, perhaps more
plausibly, that he was having serious doubts about the Anglican church.
It is known that he was interested in minority forms of Christianity
(he was an admirer of F.D. Maurice) and 'alternative' religions (Theosophy)
so this may well have been a reason. However, it is also true that Dodgson
was deeply troubled by an unexplained sense of sin and guilt at this
time (the early 1860s), and frequently expressed the view in his diaries
that he was a "vile and worthless" sinner, unworthy of the
priesthood , so this may well also have been a contributing factor.
Currently we do
not know why Dodgson was consumed with a sense of sin at this time,
though again several theories have been put forward.
The Missing Diaries
At least four complete volumes and around seven pages of text
are missing from Dodgson's 13 diaries. The loss of the volumes remains
unexplained; the pages have been 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.
All of the missing
material, except for a single page, is believed to date from the period
between 1853 (when Dodgson was 22) and 1863 (when he was 32). Many
theories have been put forward to explain the missing material. A popular
'explanation' for one particular missing page (June 27 1863) was that
it might have been torn out to conceal the fact that Dodgson had proposed
marriage on that day to the 11-year old Alice. However, there has never
been any hard evidence to suggest this was so, and a paper that
came to light in the Dodgson family archive in 1996 provides some evidence
to the contrary. This paper, known as the 'cut pages in diary document'
gives a brief summary of two of the missing pages, including the one
for June 27 1863. The summary reveals that there was gossip circulating
about Dodgson and the Liddell governess as well as 'Ina', Alice's older
sister. The 'break' with the family that occurred after this point was
presumably in response to this gossip.  
Dodgson's undeniable fondness for little girls, together with his perceived
lack of interest in forming romantic attachments to adult women; psychological
readings of his work—especially his photographs of nude or
semi-nude girls, have all led to speculation that he was, in modern
parlance, a paedophile. This possibility has underpinned numerous modern
interpretations of his life and work, most particularly, Dennis Potter's
play Alice, his motion picture, Dreamchild, and numerous recent biographies,
including Michael Bakewell's Lewis Carroll, a biography (1996) , Donald
Thomas's Lewis Carroll: A Portrait with Background (1996) and - most
notably, Morton N. Cohen's Lewis Carroll: A Biography (1995). All of
these latest works more or less unequivocally assume that Dodgson was
a paedophile, albeit a repressed and celibate one. Cohen claims Dodgson's
"sexual energies sought unconventional outlets", and further
We cannot know to
what extent sexual urges lay behind Charles's preference for drawing
and photographing children in the nude. He contended the preference
was entirely aesthetic. But given his emotional attachment to children
as well as his aesthetic appreciation of their forms, his assertion
that his interest was strictly artistic is naïve. He probably felt
more than he dared acknowledge, even to himself. 
Cohen further notes
that Dodgson "apparently convinced many of his friends that his
attachment to the nude female child form was free of any eroticism",
but adds that "later generations look beneath the surface"
Cohen - and many
other biographers - also argue that Dodgson may have wanted to marry
the 11-year old Alice Liddell and that this was the cause of Dodgson's
unexplained 'break' with the family in June of 1863 (Cohen pp 100-4).
But there has never been much evidence to support such an idea, and
the 1996 discovery of the 'cut pages in diary document' (see above)
seems to imply that the 1863 'break' had nothing to do with Alice Liddell.
But the document's provenance is disputed, and its final significance
Those writers, like
Derek Hudson and Roger Lancelyn Green, who have fallen short of accepting
Dodgson was a paedophile, have tended to concur that he held a unique
passion for small female children and had next to no interest in the
adult world. The issue is considered at length in Darien Graham-Smith's
2005 PhD thesis Contextualising Carroll.
The accepted view of Dodgson's biography — and most particularly
his image as a potential paedophile — has received a challenge
in quite recent times, when a new and controversial analysis of Dodgson's
sexual proclivities (and indeed the evolution of the entire process
of his biography) appeared in Karoline Leach's 1999 book In the Shadow
of the Dreamchild. She claims that the image of Dodgson's alleged paedophilia
was built out of a failure to understand Victorian morals, as well as
the mistaken idea that Dodgson had no interest in adult women which
evolved out of the minds of various biographers. She termed this simplified
— and often, in her view, fictional — image "the Carroll
According to Leach,
Dodgson's real life was very different from the accepted biographical
image. He was not, she says, exclusively interested in female children.
She acknowledges he was fond of children, but claims this interest has
been exaggerated. She claims he was also keenly interested in adult
women and apparently enjoyed several relationships with them, married
and single. She claims that many of those Dodgson described as 'child-friends'
were not children at all, but girls in their late teens and even twenties.
She cites examples of many such adult friendships, such as Catherine
Lloyd, Constance Burch, May Miller, Edith Shute, Ethel Rowell, Beatrice
Hatch and Gertrude Thomson (to name but a few of the many she cites).
Some of these were girls he met as children but continued to be close
to in adulthood, others were, says Leach, women he met as adults and
with whom he shared very close and meaningful friendships. Suggestions
of pedophilia only evolved many years after his death, says Leach, when
his well-meaning family had suppressed all evidence of his adult friendships
in order to try to preserve his reputation, thus giving a false impression
of a man only interested in little girls.
According to Leach
the image of 'Lewis Carroll' was constructed almost accidentally by
generations of biographers. One of these, Langford Reed, writing in
1932, was the first to claim that all of Carroll's female friendships
ended when the girls reached the age of 14, though Reed apparently
only intended to suggest that Dodgson was thereby a "pure man"
untainted by sexual desire. This claim that Dodgson lost interest
in girls once they reached puberty was later caught up by other biographers,
including Florence Becker Lennon (Victoria Through the Looking-Glass
— UK title "Lewis Carroll", 1945) and the highly influential
Alexander Taylor (The White Knight), 1952 who remained unaware of the
evidence to the contrary since Dodgson's family refused to publish his
diaries and letters. By the time more evidence became available this
image was so ingrained that any revision seemed "unnecessary, even
impertinent," and thus a 'mythic' biography was preserved.
This, in essence, is Leach's case.
Reactions to Leach's
work have been generally polarised. In a review of the title Michael
Bakewell in The Carrollian wrote: "after Leach's book Carroll studies
can never be quite the same again; we may not agree with it but we cannot
ignore it and it should certainly be read by anyone concerned with Dodgson's
life and work." However, contrastingly, in a review of the
title in Victorian Studies (Vol. 43, No 4) reviewer Donald Rackin wrote,
"As a piece of biographical scholarship, Karoline Leach's In the
Shadow of the Dreamchild is difficult to take seriously". Martin
Gardner was similarly dismissive in a recent article. Morton N.
Cohen repudiates Leach's position as being simply a plea for the defence,
and, in a recent article in the Times Literary Supplement has labeled
Leach and her supporters as 'revisionists' attempting to rewrite history.
Leach has received
enthusiastic support from other scholars and writers (most notably Hugues
Lebailly), some of whom have united to form Contrariwise, the 'association
for new Lewis Carroll studies'. The group argues collectively that a
'myth' has grossly distorted our reading of Dodgson's biography, and
that considering Dodgson's relationship with 'the child' within the
context of his real — as opposed to legendary — life, and
the fashions and mores of his time, makes nonsense of the claims of
paedophilia, which amount to a failure to understand the complexity
of Dodgson's real life as well as the "Victorian Cult of the Child."