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Lewis Carroll [Charles Lutwidge Dodgson] (1832-1898)

Published onFeb 10, 2024
Lewis Carroll [Charles Lutwidge Dodgson] (1832-1898)

Lewis Carroll [Charles Lutwidge Dodgson] (1832-1898)

By Emily Bell

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who wrote under the penname Lewis Carroll, was born on 27 January 1832 at Daresbury Parsonage in Cheshire, the eldest son and the third of eleven children born to the curate Charles Dodgson. The family was very isolated in their early years, which allowed the young Charles to develop his imaginative powers and further his education under the instruction of his parents. When the family moved to Croft-on-Tees in North Yorkshire, Dodgson was able to develop his literary interests, producing family magazines and marionette plays. He only began to attend school at age twelve, and in 1851 matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, where his father had studied. His mother died just a few days after he began his university education, which deeply affected him and has been seen by some critics and biographers as a shaping influence on his literary development and his subsequent relationships. Throughout his educational career he distinguished himself with prizes, studying mathematics and classics. He remained at Oxford for the rest of his life; Christ Church dons were required to take clerical orders and remain celibate, and so he was ordained, though he never took priest's orders. Dodgson lectured on mathematics and logic, and this lifelong interest can be found in the riddles of the Alice books. His publishing career began with mathematical works, but from the 1850s onward he also published poetry, short fiction, and puzzles, using the name Lewis Carroll. This pseudonym comes from translating his name into Latin (Charles Lutwidge to Carolus Ludovicus), then back into English (Carroll Lewis), before reversing it.


Much has been written about Dodgson's relationship with Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired one of the most enduring characters of children’s fiction. Alice was the daughter of the dean at Christ Church, Henry George Liddell, and Dodgson met the wider family through his growing interest in photography, taking photographs of the Liddell girls in the garden in various costumes. Although information about this period is lacking due to missing diaries for the years 1858 to 1862, the Liddell family was clearly important to Dodgson in the 1850s, and he regularly took the children on boat trips. The writing of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been mythologised, beginning with the text’s own prefatory poem, which describes how Dodgson told the story to the Liddell daughters Lorina, Edith, and Alice during a river picnic one ‘golden afternoon’ in 1862, though the story was most likely composed over a longer period of time from several adventures Dodgson devised to entertain the children. Alice begged him to write these stories down, and the first manuscript, illustrated by Dodgson, was presented to her as Alice’s Adventures Under Ground in 1864. Dodgson’s friend, the writer George MacDonald, encouraged him to try to publish the book, which appeared in 1865 with illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, a noted caricaturist. The book was an expensive object, with colour illustrations, but it was nonetheless an overwhelming commercial success. The first Alice book was followed by Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There in 1871; other works by Dodgson include The Hunting of the Snark (1876) and Sylvie and Bruno (1895). Dodgson died of pneumonia on 14 January 1898 at the age of sixty-five. He was clearly very close to Alice Liddell, and had other close relationships with children later in life, dedicating stories to them and using their names in acrostic poems as he had done with Alice. In June 1863, there was an event than caused a rift between Dodgson and the Liddell family; critics have tried to guess at what this might have been, including suggesting that he had asked to marry her, but the offending event has been scratched out of Dodgson’s diary. While the nature of their relationship has occupied many critics’ attention, the reader should also be attentive to the allegorical elements of the stories, and Dodgson’s clever use of puzzles, mathematics and logic, in creating the nonsense worlds that Alice explores.

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