Lewis Carroll

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Lewis Carroll was the pen-name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), college tutor of mathematics at Oxford University, poet, novelist, and a pioneer photographer. He achieved lasting fame from his children's book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass; some academics have speculated that Dodgson incorporated various elements of mathematics and social commentary into these works in subtle, almost undetectable ways.

Early life

Dodgson had seven sisters and two brothers.[1]

Dodgson was homeschooled until he was 12. After three years at the Rugby School, he said "no earthly consideration" would ever get him to return to that boarding school, due to mistreatment from the other boys.[2] [3]

As a boy, Charles had a special aptitude for parody.[4]

Dodgson's response to the many restrictions imposed on Victorian children and the absurdities of college life frequently came out in verse. His earliest surviving poem is My Fairy, a dialogue of "must not's" (and no "you may's").[5][6]

Life as an Oxford don

A talented and promising student, Dodgson excelled in mathematics and got a post at Christ Church College, Oxford University, on the nomination of E B Pusey, his arrival coinciding with the appointment of a new Dean, H G Liddell. Dodgson's lifetime post, paying the handsome annual salary of 300 pounds, required that he remain celibate and take holy orders. He was ordained as a deacon, and did some preaching, despite his stutter, but was never ordained as a priest.[7]

Friends in the literary and artistic world

Dodgson became acquainted with many famous men who shared his creative bent, often via his interest in photography (then a new and emerging technology). He met Alfred Tennyson,[8] Thackeray, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, George Macdonald

  • His enthusiasm for photography, and his keen appreciation of the beautiful, made him prefer the society of artists to that of any other class of people.[4]

The beginning of Wonderland

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland began as a one of many fantastic tales while rowing on the Thames. Dodgson used the name of his most avid listener, Alice Liddell,[9] for the name of the story's hero, but the character was not based on her.[10]

Dodgson tapped each other member of the boating party for the name of a minor character: Lorina Liddell as Lory, Edith Liddell as the Eaglet, Reverend Duckworth as the Duck, and himself as the Dodo (a nickname he picked up in public school, from having stuttered his surname). The three Liddell girls also appear as Prima, Secunda and Tertia in the prefatory poem All in the Golden Afternoon.[11] In the Mad Tea Party, the Dormouse begins a tale of three little sisters, Elsie (L.C. = Lorina Charlotte), Lacie (anagram of Alice), and Tillie (family nickname for Edith).[12]

Dodgson wrote four versions of Alice in Wonderland:

  1. the written text was actually begun on the night following the boat ride[5]
  2. Alice's Adventures Underground - presented to Alice a handwritten and illustrated manuscript for Christmas 1865 (about 18,000 words)
  3. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - For publication, he nearly doubled its length, adding the Mad Tea Party and getting Punch cartoonist to create illustrations (to Dodgson's exacting specifications)
  4. The Nursery Alice was a much shorter work aimed at toddlers

Dodgson wrote a serious work on determinants under his own name, and an introductory textbook on symbolic logic as Lewis Carroll:

  • you will find Logic to be one of the most - if not the most - fascinating of mental recreations ... I have myself taught most of its contents ... to many children, and have found them [to] take a real intelligent interest in the subject. ... It will give you clearness of thought - the ability to see your way through a puzzle - the habit of arranging your ideas in an orderly and get-at-able form - and, more valuable than all, the power to detect fallacies, and to tear to pieces the flimsy illogical arguments, which you will so continually encounter in books, in newspapers, in speeches, and even in sermons, and which so easily delude those who have never taken the trouble to master this fascinating Art. [1]


  1. Charles Dodgson's Immediate Family
  2. "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 Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll): A Brief Biography by Karoline Leach
  3. The nature of this nocturnal 'annoyance' will probably never now be fully understood, but it may be that he is delicately referring to some form of sexual abuse. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll): A Brief Biography - Antecedents and Early Life, Karoline Leach
  4. 4.0 4.1 The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll by Stuart Dodgson Collingwood
  5. 5.0 5.1 My Fairy by Lewis Carroll
  6. as Clark points out, "The many absurdities in the Oxford University Statutes were not lost on a humorist of Charles Dodgson's calibre." Indeed, such references were to find their way into his epic The Hunting of the Snark (1876) later on. Lewis Carroll: The Poetry Foundation
  7. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  8. On another occasion he showed the poet a photograph which he had taken of Miss Alice Liddell as a beggar-child, and which Tennyson said was the most beautiful photograph he had ever seen. The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll by Stuart Dodgson Collingwood
  9. afterwards Mrs Hargreaves
  10. "The frequently-quoted 'fact' that the fictional Alice is based on Alice Liddell was actually denied by Carroll himself, who afterwards stated, on at least two occasions, that his 'little heroine' was entirely fictional. The Real Alice
  11. Most of Mr. Dodgson's stories were told to us on river expeditions to Nuneham or Godstow, near Oxford. My eldest sister, now Mrs. Skene, was "Prima," I was "Secunda," and "Tertia" was my sister Edith. The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll by Stuart Dodgson Collingwood - "Alice" herself (Mrs. Reginald Hargreaves)
  12. Alice Liddell - the original Alice