Charles Dodgson

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Charles Dodgson

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll, was a man of diverse interests - in mathematics, logic, photography, art, theatre, religion, medicine, and science. He was happiest in the company of children, more specifically girls, for whom he created puzzles, clever games, and charming letters. As all Carroll admirers know, his book "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (1865), became an immediate success and has since been translated into more than eighty languages. The equally popular sequel "Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There", was published in 1872.

The "Alice" books are but one example of his wide ranging authorship. "The Hunting of the Snark", a classic nonsense epic (1876) and "Euclid and His Modern Rivals", a rare example of humorous work concerning mathematics, still entice and intrigue today's students. "Sylvie and Bruno", published toward the end of his life contains startling ideas including an 1889 description of weightlessness.

The humor, sparkling wit and genius of this Victorian Englishman have lasted for more than a century. His books are among the most quoted works in the English language, and his influence (with that of his illustrator, Sir John Tenniel) can be seen everywhere, from the world of advertising to that of atomic physics.

Charles the Child Photographer

In 1856, Dodgson took up the new art form of photography; first under the influence of his uncle Skeffington Lutwidge, and later his Oxford friend Reginald Southey and art photography pioneer Oscar Rejlander.

Dodgson soon excelled at the art, and it became an expression of his very personal inner philosophy; a belief in the divinity of what he called beauty, by which he seemed to mean a state of moral or aesthetic or physical perfection. He found this divine beauty not simply in the magic of theatre, but in the poetry of words, in a mathematical formula and perhaps supremely, in the human form; in the body-images that moved him.

When he took up photography he sought with his own representations to combine the ideals of freedom and beauty into the innocence of Eden, where the human body and human contact could be enjoyed without shame. In his middle age, he was to re-form this philosophy into the pursuit of beauty as a state of Grace, a means of retrieving lost innocence. This, along with his lifelong passion for the theatre, was to bring him into confrontation with Victorian morality and his own family's High Church beliefs. As his main biographer Morton Cohen noted... "He rejected outright the Calvinist principle of original sin and replaced it with the notion of inborn divinity."

His favorite subjects for photography were little girls, both with and without clothing. These make up just over fifty percent of his surviving work. His favorite model was Alexandra Kitchin ("Xie"), whom he photographed around fifty times from the age of four. Most of his girl subjects would write their name on the corner of the print in coloured ink. Later, Dodgson either destroyed or returned the nude photographs to the families of the girls he'd photographed. They were long presumed lost, but four nudes have since surfaced. Dodgson's practice of photographing or sketching nude girls has added to speculation that he was a paedophile; see below. There is a clear difference between Dodgson's girls and depictions by other Victorian artists; in almost all of his solo portraits of girls they are depicted unburdened by the heavy weight of Victorian symbolism, and are simply and strongly themselves.

He also found photography to be a useful entrée into higher social circles. Once he had a studio of his own, he made portraits of notable sitters such as John Everett Millais, Ellen Terry, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Julia Margaret Cameron and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He also made some landscapes and anatomy studies.

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 in Christ Church College, Oxford 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.

With the advent of Modernism tastes changed, and his photography became 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.

Charles and Lewis

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 being 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, 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.

It was on one such expedition, in 1862, that Dodgson invented the outline of the story that eventually became his first and largest commercial success, the first Alice book. Having told the story and been begged by Alice Liddell to write it down, Dodgson was evidently struck by its potential to sell well. He took the manuscript, at this stage titled Alice's Adventures Under Ground, 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 Dodgson had first used some nine years earlier.

With the immediate, phenomenal success of Alice, the story of the author's life becomes effectively divided in two: the continuing story of Dodgson's real life and the evolving myth surrounding "Lewis Carroll." Carroll quickly became a rich and detailed alter ego, a persona as famous and deeply embedded in the popular psyche as the story he told. To him belongs a large part of the image of little girls and strange otherworldliness that we know from the author of Alice.

Alice Under Skies

As an epilogue to Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll included a nostalgic poem recounting his memories of the boat trips he had taken with the Liddell sisters during which he had first told the fantastic tales he later wrote down in book form. The poem forms an acrostic of Alice's name and expresses the depth of his feelings for Alice, who haunts him even in his sleep.

A boat, beneath a sunny sky, Lingering onward dreamily In an evening of July -

Children three that nestle near, Eager eye and willing ear, Pleased a simple tale to hear -

Long has paled that sunny sky: Echoes fade and memories die: Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise, Alice moving under skies Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear, Eager eye and willing ear, Lovingly shall nestle near.

In Wonderland they lie, Dreaming as the days go by, Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream - Lingering in the golden gleam - Life, what is it but a dream?

- Lewis Carroll, 1871

Works (Online)

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