Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll (information mainly from Wikipedia)

The Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the author of “You are old, Father William,” was a very interesting man. He was a minister. He taught at mathematics and wrote several mathematical texts, including Symbolic Logic Parts 1 and 2. He was a photographer. And he loved women and children, particularly the Liddell girls, and he had several relationships deemed scandalous by Victorian standards.

Some colleagues knew him as a somewhat reclusive stammerer, but he was generally seen as a devout scholar; one dean said he was “pure in heart.” To readers all over the world, he became renowned as Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

After enrolling at Oxford in 1850, at age 18, Dodgson became a “senior student”—the equivalent of a fellow—at the university’s College of Christ Church. According to college rules, senior students had to be ordained as priests and take a vow of celibacy; Dodgson evaded the ordination rule and lived at the college unmarried, until his death in 1898, less than two weeks before his 66th birthday.

Like many Victorian bachelors, he became a sort of uncle to his friends’ children, making up stories and games and taking them on short trips; the role ensured him a warm welcome in many homes. In 1855, dean Henry Liddell arrived at Christ Church with his wife, Lorina; their son, Harry, and daughters Lorina (or “Ina”), Alice and Edith. (The Liddells would have five more children.) Before long, Dodgson struck up a friendship with Harry, then 9. He is said to have taught Harry rowing and arithmetic, spent time with him and took him on outings. As Harry’s sisters grew older, he also took them under his wing, with their parents’ blessing.

Dodgson particularly liked to pack a picnic lunch and take the Liddell children boating on the Thames, with adult friends or family to share in the rowing. On a July afternoon in 1862, he took the three Liddell sisters on a stretch of the river between Oxford and Godstow and told them the story that would become Alice. Alice Liddell, then 10, was delighted that the main character bore her name and asked Dodgson to write down the story.

At this time, Dodgson was taking photographs. Although the camera was still a relatively new technology, he had been an early enthusiast, starting in 1856, and he found no shortage of friends who wanted him to make likenesses of them or their children. Of the approximately 3,000 photo­graphs Dodgson made in his life, just over half are of children—30 of whom are depicted nude or semi-nude. Some of his portraits—even those in which the model is clothed—might shock 2010 sensibilities, but by Victorian standards they were rather conventional.

Viewed from twenty-first century eyes, he would probably be considered a paedophile. There is no evidence that his relationship with any of these children ever became eroticized, although he did become estranged from the Liddell family for a time, possibly because of developing a romantic interest in Ida, Alice’s older sister.

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