Posted by Admin on 25 July 2011, 12:35 pm

“Thank heaven for little girls,” sang Maurice Chevalier – a sentiment Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (alias Lewis Carroll) would have wholeheartedly endorsed. About the fact that “they grow bigger every day” he might not have been so enthusiastic, for he preferred his companions, some of whom he met on the Isle of Wight, to be between four and adolescence. Was this preoccupation with little girls motivated by an innocent affection for them, or was it engendered by some sinister and Freudian aberration? These are questions which confront a biographer, and ones that will be dealt with in due course.

Born in 1832, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was the son of the Reverend Charles Dodgson, a scholar who took a Double First at Christ Church, Oxford, who translated Tertullian, and who married his cousin, Frances Jane Lutwidge. He was one of eleven children and, reading of his boyhood in S. D. Collingwood’s Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll we find no evidence of sexual abnormality. Although not boisterous, at home he climbed trees and played boyish games in marl-pits, and when on holiday on the Isle of Anglesey he explored its ruined castle. At Richmond School, where he excelled at mathematics and showed an ingenuity with words, he protected smaller boys from being bullied. At Croft Rectory, during vacations from Rugby (a college where he was unhappy), he was responsible for editing, writing for, and illustrating a home-made magazine.

Having matriculated in 1850, Dodgson followed his father to ‘The House’ where his rooms overlooked Peckwater Quadrangle, the scene of Guy Fawkes Day bonfires, in a university where the undergraduates were still strictly disciplined, made to write ‘lines’, and where corporal punishment had only recently  been abolished. His academic record shows that he won a Boulter Scholarship, took First Class Honours in mathematics, and a Second in Classical Moderations. Recommended by Mr Pusey, he became a Student – an appointment which required him to remain a bachelor and to take Holy Orders. In 1854 he read for Greats and became a B.A., and the following year he was appointed Master of the House, a position that gave him all the advantages enjoyed by M.A.’s. He then began to teach private pupils.

Meanwhile his talent for humorous writing had developed and, helped by Frank Smedley, the author of Frank Fairlegh, he had poems published in The Comic Times. As the editor of a Christ Church paper called College Rhymes he had another outlet for his material, and he wrote also for The Train. Needing a pseudonym, he submitted five suggestions (Derek Hudson gives four) to Edmund Yates, the latter’s editor who selected ‘Lewis Carroll’. Proof of his versatility and unorthodox mental processes was given when, in 1857, he sent to Bell’s Life an infallible betting system.

Excluding his interest in young girls, let us now consider the main facets of Dodgson’s character. He was apparently a modest man, given to self-deprecation for, although he lived a good life, he regarded himself as a sinner. He had, we are told, a great aversion from publicity. Those to whom he would not lend money said he was mean. This was untrue. A gift of £100 was not unknown, and he often paid for children to have singing lessons or to be trained for the stage. An abnormal fear of disease made him go to great lengths to avoid infection. Collingwood has written of the frugality of his lunch, which usually comprised a biscuit and a glass of wine. The appetites displayed by his young guests were said to astonish him. Another of his foibles was his objection to vividly coloured clothing, one little girl being made to change her red dress. The artist, Harry Furniss, referred to him as ‘an interesting but erratic genius’, in addition to which he was a man who seemed never to grow old.

In December 1861 Charles Dodgson was, by the Bishop of Oxford, ordained a deacon, but by this time he had grave doubts, partly due to a slight stammer, concerning his adequacy for Holy Orders – this in spite of his sermons being sufficiently interesting to hold the attention even of a congregation of children. As might be expected, there were certain subjects about which Dodgson held robust views, some of them unorthodox. Knowing sermons for adults were often boring for children, he was prepared to allow the latter to read books while they were being delivered. A stickler for keeping the Fourth Commandment, he advocated double postage for Sunday mail. At all times, he said, the mind should be employed to make others happy, and to provide no place for blasphemy or evil thoughts. He did not believe in corporal resurrection. Provided there were adequate controls, he was not against vivisection. He opposed the admission of women to Honour Schools. Unlike many church-goers of his day, he often went to a theatre, and we have records of his seeing Edmund Kean as Cardinal Wolsey, Mrs Kean as Queen Catherine, and Ellen Terry as Mamillius in A Winter’s Tale. Accompanied by a little girl he saw Ellen in Faust. In view of their crude and suggestive material, his dislike of music-hall performers is understandable, and a variety theatre was a place he would not enter. Occasionally he would disapprove of a Shakespearian line, and request Ellen Terry to change it. That these attempts at censorship were few can be only attributed to the fact that, in his innocence, the Bard’s double-entendres were not recognised by him. His own plays, of which he wrote several, were never staged.

For Dodgson, mathematics was a subject to be enjoyed and, suffering from insomnia, he would lie awake solving Euclidean problems in his head. At other times his mind was engaged in inventing puzzles with which he amused his young friends. As an artist he had, it is said, an accurate eye for form but not for colour. That medical matters occupied his thoughts was proven by the many books about them contained in his library. An interest in psychic phenomena made him a member of the Psychical Society. Still agile in his fifties, he could walk for between twenty and thirty miles, and twice climbed a ladder to enter an upper window when friends had locked themselves out.

To be continued.

T. C. Hudson

© T. C. Hudson.
This article may not be reproduced without prior permission of the author.

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