Happy Birthday

Lewis Carroll, Charles L. Dodgson

Happy Birthday, Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson), Author of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”

January 27, 2010
by Emily Coakley
Rev. Charles L. Dodgson was a man of the church, a mathematician, photographer, poet and author of the most famous children’s stories in Victorian England. Writing under the pen name Lewis Carroll, he turned his lifelong love of entertaining children into a set of books that are still read today.

Lewis Carroll's Early Days

Lewis Carroll was born Charles L. Dodgson on Jan. 27, 1832 in Cheshire, England, the third of 11 children born to a church curate and his wife. After some public school and then tutoring by his father, Carroll attended Oxford University. He was top of his class in his mathematics work, and was also a top student of the classics. Carroll became a deacon in the Church of England in 1861. While at Oxford, he submitted poems and short stories to national magazines. He translated his first and middle names “Charles Lutwidge” into Latin, got “Carolus Ludovicus,” switched the two names, translated them back into English and got “Lewis Carroll.” He published his first poem as Lewis Carroll in 1856.

Notable Accomplishments

Carroll, throughout his life, loved children. Some theorize that it’s because he grew up entertaining his younger siblings, or because he had a stammer and was shy with adults. At Oxford, he became friends with the children of his college dean, Henry Liddell. Carroll would tell the girls, Alice, Edith and Lorina, all sorts of stories, and sometimes the girls were characters in those tales. In 1862, Alice asked him to write one of the stories down, so he did. A novelist visiting the Liddells happened to read it and suggested that Carroll publish his story. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” appeared in 1865.
The book was a huge success, and Carroll published the sequel, “Through the Looking Glass,” in 1872, and a lengthy poem, “The Hunting of the Snark,” four years later. A subsequent two-volume novel, “Sylvie and Bruno” and “Sylvie and Bruno Concluded,” unfortunately failed to appeal to a larger audience.

He remained as a lecturer at Christ Church College at Oxford, and published mathematical papers and texts as his given name, Dodgson. Some of Dodgson’s logic problems and mathematical works are available from the Lewis Carroll Society of North America.

Carroll also reportedly invented a word puzzle known variously as Doublet, Word Ladders and Laddergrams, among other names. It involves changing one word into another by changing one letter at a time. The example on Thinks.com transforms “more” into “less”: more, lore, lose, loss, less.

The Lewis Carroll Society of North America notes that Carroll “was considered one of the best amateur photographers of his time.” He took photographs of both adults and children, but specialized in photographs of children, some of which were nude studies.

The Rest of the Story

Carroll died of pneumonia on January 14, 1898. According to Biography, at his death, the Alice books (referred to as a single work), “had become the most popular children's book in England: by the time of his centenary in 1932 it was one of the most popular and perhaps the most famous in the world.

Aspects of Carroll’s life, especially his many friendships with young girls, and his nude photographs of children have raised eyebrows among scholars. Some have accused Carroll of having pedophilic tendencies. Others say traits attributed to him are exaggerated or made up.

In 1999, Karoline Leach set off a firestorm among Carroll researchers with her book “In the Shadow of the Dreamchild,” which argued that depictions of Carroll either as a pedophile or as a celibate man who shunned adult company were a distortion of the facts. She claimed that Carroll actually had many close friendships with adult women, and that it was very likely that several of them were sexual.

The complete truth about Dodgson/Carroll’s personal life may never be determined, but the readers who know him solely through his works continue to be glad of the acquaintanceship.

Most Recent Features