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Sunday, 19 January 2014

Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll was born on January 27, 1832 in the little parsonage of Daresbury in Cheshire. His authoritarian clergyman father Dr Charles Dodgson and his uneducated mother, Frances whom Charles adored were first cousins and unusually religious.

He was the oldest boy but already the third child of their four-and-a-half year old marriage. Eight more were to follow and,all of them—seven girls and four boys— survived into adulthood.

Carroll's real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. His pseudonym was a play on his name, Lewis being the anglicised form of Ludovicus, which was the Latin for Lutwidge, and Carroll being an anglicised version of Carolus, the Latin for Charles.

Young Charles grew out of infancy into a bright, articulate boy. In the early years he 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.

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 25 years.

As a youngster, Charles wrote plays and a comic opera to amuse his siblings. He made a troupe of marionettes and a stage with the aid of his family and a village carpenter and manipulated the strings. He also did conjuring in a brown wig and long white robe.

He made pets of snails and toads. He found it easier to make friends with animals than other boys and girls.

Young Charles tried to promote modern warfare among earthworms by giving them small pieces of clay pipe for weapons.

In school holidays between 1845-50, Charles  edited a number of magazines for his own amusement including The Rectory Umbrella, which he illustrated as well as wrote.

As a teenager he was fascinated by trains and loved travelling on them during holidays.

At the age of 12 Charles went to Mr Tate's school at Richmond. Dr Tate wrote to Dr Dodgson that Charles has "a very uncommon share of genius". He also gained reputation as "a boy who knew how to use his fists in a righteous cause".

Two years later he entered Rugby where he was bullied mercilessly because of his stammer. Dodgson 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.”

Charles gained good marks in classical languages and maths.  "I have not had a more promising boy his age since I came to Rugby" observed R.B. Mayor, the Maths master.

Charles left Rugby at the end of 1850 and, after an interval which remains unexplained, went on in January 1851 to Oxford: to his father's old college, Christ Church.

Charles 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.

The following year Charles received a first in Honour Moderations, and shortly after he was nominated to a Studentship (the Christ Church equivalent of a fellowship), by his father's old friend Canon Edward Pusey.

The young adult Charles Dodgson was about six foot tall, slender and handsome in a soft-focused dreamy sort of way, with curling brown hair and blue eyes.

Charles Dodgson in 1856
In 1855, Dodgson's clear brilliance as a mathematician won him the Christ Church Mathematical Lectureship at Oxford University, which he continued to hold for the next 26 years. The income was good, but the work bored him and his stammer hampered him. A dull tutor, students often requested transfers to other lecturers.

Dodgson was never married. Shy and suffering from a stammer, he found children easier to talk to than adults. He was priggish as well and habitually turned away from ladies when helping them over stiles so as not to catch sight of their ankles.

In the interim between his early published writing and the success of Alice, Dodgson 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 and John Everett Millais among other artists.

Dodgson also knew the fairy-tale author George MacDonald well - it was the enthusiastic reception of Alice by the young MacDonald daughters that convinced him to submit the work for publication.

Dodgson was a good friend of Lord Tennyson; he stayed several times at his Isle of Wight home.

He did a great deal of entertaining and kept a track of menus in his diary so that his guests would not have the same dishes too frequently.

In 1856, Dodgson took up the new art form of photography. He soon excelled at the art, and as his fame with the camera grew mothers flocked to have their daughters immortalized. Once he had a studio of his own, Dodgson made portraits of notable sitters such as including the actress Ellen Terry and the poets Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Dodgson abruptly ceased to photograph in 1880. Over 24 years he had completely mastered the medium, set up his own studio at the top of Tom Quad, and created around 3,000 images. Less than 1000 have survived time and deliberate destruction. He spent several hours each day creating a diary detailing the circumstances surrounding the making of each photograph, but this register was later destroyed.
Lewis Carroll (1863). Photograph by Oscar G. Rejlander.

Dodgson wrote books on mathematics such as the formula of Plane Trigonometry and An Elementary Treatise on Determinants.

His perfectionism drove his publishers potty with his wish for every typed line to be exactly in line.

In 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 over the following years. He became close friends with the mother and the children, particularly the three sisters Ina, Alice and Edith. It seems there became something of a tradition of his taking the girls out on the river for picnics at Godstow or Nuneham.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland grew out of story told by Dodgson in July 1862 to amuse the three Liddell sisters. Afterwards he wrote down the story for the nine year old Alice. Originally written as Alice's Adventures Underground  in 1864, a year later he added Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatters Tea Party and others and changed its name to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Alice in Wonderland sold only 48 copies when first published on November 26, 1865. By 1900 nearly 200,000 copies had been sold. The original manuscript can now be found in Philadelphia Free Library. Only 21 copies survive of the original manuscript, which was withdrawn because of printing errors.

Original cover of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

The Mad Hatter was probably inspired by Theophilius Carter, an Oxford furniture dealer who was somewhat potty and was well known for the top hat he wore. He was known as the "mad hatter."

There is no such thing as a Cheshire Cat. The county of Cheshire used to make cheese that came moulded in the shape of a Cheshire cat.

Queen Victoria was so charmed with Alice in Wonderland that she requested something else by the same author be brought for her perusal. She was not amused when instead she received a copy of Lewis Carroll's Syllabus of Plane Algebraical Geometry.

In 1872 Lewis Carroll published Through the Looking Glass, his follow up to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The Alice Band, a wide hair band of coloured ribbon is named after the band worn by Alice in Tenniel's illustrations of Through the Looking Glass.

Dodgson was regarded as a witty dandy in Victorian circles. He scattered many in jokes in his Alice books and his nonsense poetry was incredibly zany for the Victorian age.

Dodgson immortalised croquet in Alice in Wonderland when he depicted the Red Queen wacking rolled up hedgehogs using a flamingo for a mallet.

Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem "Jabberwocky" about the killing of an animal called "the Jabberwock" was included in Through the Looking-Glass. "Jabberwocky" is considered one of the greatest nonsense poems written in English, and has contributed such nonsense words and neologisms as galumphing and chortle to the English lexicon.

Dodgson had a negative attitude towards interviewers and never consented to being interviewed.

He was good at chess and billiards but apart from that not particularly sporty. Dodgson declared that his one attempted ball in cricket would have been a wide if it had ever reached the batsman.

Dodgson devised rules for a form of billiards played on a circular table.

Dodgson was a genius at inventing mazes, ciphers, riddles, magic tricks etc. Whenever he travelled he carried with him a black bag containing various toys and games for his young female friends.

His works are peppered with number 42. No one knows why.

Dodgson was fascinated by mirrors. He used them for conjuring tricks and used to write on them with invisible ink so that when the sun shone the writing was projected on the wall.

Dodgson wanted to go into church and was ordained as a deacon but his shyness and stammer prevented him pursuing a career. He also feared he would have to give up his visits to theatres and art galleries.

Dodgson had a tremendous reverence for sacred subjects and would leave a theatre if a joke on such matters was made in a play.

Alice in Wonderland was one of the first children's books not written for a moral purpose.

Dodgson refused to have his own photo taken on the Sabbath.

He would lie awake all night devising mental puzzles to keep erotic thoughts at bay.

Dodgson wrote 98,721 letters in the last 37 years of his life.

Dodgson showed some interest in the Jack the Ripper case; however, this is hardly unusual, given the profound publicity surrounding the crimes. A passage in his diary dated August 26, 1891, reports that he spoke that day with an acquaintance of his about his "very ingenious theory about 'Jack the Ripper'". No other information about this theory has been found.

At the unusually late age of seventeen, Dodgson 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.

At Oxford Dodgson was diagnosed as an epileptic, then a considerable social stigma to bear.

The only overt defect he carried into adulthood was what he referred to as his "hesitation"—a stammer he had acquired in early childhood and which was to plague him throughout his entire life.

Dodgson lived most of his adult life at Christ Church College, Oxford. In the mid 1860s he settled in a 12 room turreted apartment on the north west corner of Tom Quad where he remained for the rest of his life.

His book royalties allowed Dodgson to stay at the same house at 7 Lushington Road in Eastbourne, East Sussex every summer for about 20 years. He also visited Whitby in Yorkshire 12 times between 1854-71 usually staying in a house in East Terrace.

The Walrus and the Carpenter and most of Jabberwocky was written on Whitburn Sands, Sunderland.

Lewis Carroll wrote standing up.

In 1867 Dodgson went on a trip to Russia with Dr Henry Liddon - his only major excursion. As the journey progressed Liddon became increasingly irritated with his companion’s taste for the absurd and curious & his indifference to catching trains on time.

Towards the end of his life Dodgson began to have "a very peculiar yet not very uncommon, optical delusion which took the form of "seeing moving fortifications."

A posthumous portrait of Lewis Carroll by Hubert von Herkomer, based on photographs

Dodgson died on January 14, 1898 of pneumonia following Chesthunts, Guildford, the residence of his sisters.

The funeral of Lewis Carroll was held at St Mary's Church in Guildford and he is buried in Guildford's Mount Cemetery.

Alice Hargreaves (Liddell) died in 1934 and is buried at St Michael’s Church, Lyndhurst, Hants.

Simon & Garfunkel first met in a 6th grade production of Alice in Wonderland.

Apart with The Bible and Shakespeare, Alice In Wonderland is the most quoted book in the Western World.

Here's a list of songs inspired by Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Sources: Guinness Book of WordsPenguin Book of Interviews, Faber Book of AnecdotesWikipedia, Encarta.

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