Tag Archives: Lewis Carroll

Alice in Wonderland (4)

When discussing Lewis Carroll, though, there are always issues which need to be dealt with, other than the quality of the books that he wrote, books which are surely among the best known, most widely translated and most familiar books in history. Have no fears. Alice will be outselling Harry Potter fifty to one in a hundred years’ time:

Whenever I have said how much I like that druggy golden afternoon, though, I am invariably assailed  by some deep thinker’s blunt statement “He was a paedophile”.

Well, as far as we know Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was not a paedophile, and as long as there is no documented proof, that is how it must stay. It is only too easy to throw stones at a man who died more than a century ago.

For me, the most important thing is to remember that the world of the 1860s, say, was very, very different from that of today.

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

(LP Hartley in The Go-Between )

The sharp differences between 1860 and now will invariably be reflected in the relationships between a single man and single young girls or women. In 1860, for example, the minimum legal age for marriage, with the consent of the parents, was only twelve for a girl and merely fourteen for a boy. In the 1861 census, 175 women in Burnley had married at 15 or less. In Burnley, the figure was 179. The Orange Arrow points at Burnley and, an inch or so further on, at Bolton.

On that golden afternoon of Friday, July 4th 1862, Lorina Liddell was thirteen years old. Another year, and it would have been completely reasonable and wholly acceptable for young gentlemen to be calling round at her house to pay court to her.

Last time, I spoke about the sudden break in the relationship between the Liddells and Dodgson and the missing page in Dodgson’s diary. Supposedly it read:

“L.C. learns from Mrs. Liddell that he is supposed to be paying court to the governess—he is also supposed by some to be courting Ina”

At the same time though, there are plenty of biographers such as Morton N. Cohen who think that Dodgson merely wanted to marry Alice when a few years had passed. Alice Liddell’s biographer, Anne Clark, writes that Alice’s descendants were certainly under the impression that Dodgson wanted to marry her, but that “Alice’s parents expected a much better match for her.” Mrs Liddell, for example, was aiming rather high perhaps, at the somewhat gormless looking Prince Leopold of Belgium:

Such “spring and autumn marriages” as Dodgson and Alice would have been, were actually quite common. John Ruskin the leading English art critic of the Victorian era was looking at one point to marry a twelve year old girl, while Dodgson’s younger brother sought to marry a 14-year-old, although he eventually postponed the wedding for six years. This is what Dodgson might have done. Wait five years, say, until Alice was sixteen or seventeen, and marry her then, when Dodgson was thirty five or so. Hardly outrageous, even by the standards of today.

A general pattern emerges with these “spring and autumn marriages”. The man usually falls in love with the girl when she is between ten and twelve years of age, and they are then married by the time she is sixteen or eighteen. Sometimes the little girl falls in love, but this was a lot less common.

We often tend to forget that the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was a teacher of mathematics at Oxford University and a deacon of the Anglican Church. Some colleagues knew him as a somewhat reclusive stammerer, but he was generally seen by everyone as a devout and serious scholar. One college dean said he was “pure in heart.”

Supposedly, Dodgson took around 3,000 photo­graphs in his life.

Supposedly 1500 are of children of whom only 30 are depicted nude or semi-nude. A great deal will depend on what is meant by “semi-nude”, of course. Here is Alice as “The Beggar”. Is she semi-nude? She is certainly not nude. All our attention is drawn, of course, to her enormous feet and weird toes:

Dodgson had the permission of both Liddell parents for this photograph and they were so pleased that they kept it in a beautiful Morocco leather case. Dodgson soon became so well thought of that he was invited to entertain two of the grandchildren of Queen Victoria herself.

Taking photographs of children was viewed in a very different way some 150-odd years ago. Here is the very sentimentalised, “The Prettiest Doll in the World”:

Victorians saw childhood as a state of grace; even nude photographs of children were considered pictures of innocence itself.

Such photographs of nude children sometimes appeared on postcards or birthday cards, and nude portraits—skilfully done—were praised as art studies.  Probably the most famous of society photographers at the time was Dodgson’s contemporary, Julia Margaret Cameron. As well as the rich, famous and beautiful, though, Cameron also took photographs such as” Nude child with hands folded” or “Venus Chiding Cupid And Removing His Wings “. Here she is, looking worryingly like a man, possibly even a man who has played 344 games of Rugby League for Wigan Warriors:

There was certainly no shortage of parents quite happy to have their children photographed nude by Dodgson, who was regarded as a top class photographer who had produced a large number of superb quality portraits of adults. And Dodgson was not the first Victorian to photograph nude children either. Wigan prop forward, Julia Margaret Cameron, among many others, predated him by at least three or four years. She was the most gifted artistically in this field. Dodgson’s nude photographs “by Victorian standards were, well, rather conventional.”

When he died, Dodgson left very few nude photographs behind him. As he grew old, he himself destroyed the majority of the negatives and prints of his nude studies. He asked the executors of his will to destroy any others that he had missed and this appears to have been done. This was not because the photographs were obscene. Every set of parents had already been given their own set of the photographs he took (and had posed no objections, in fact quite the opposite), so that was not the problem.

In 1881 he wrote to Mrs Henderson:

“Would you like to have any more copies of the full front photographs of the children? I intend to destroy all but one of each. That is all that I want for myself, and, though I consider them perfectly innocent in themselves, there is really no friend to whom I should wish to give photographs which so entirely defy conventional rules.”

The Hendersons (the father, incidentally, was a fellow of Wadham College, Oxford) had enormous  admiration for Dodgson’s work and were completely happy to for him to photograph their children nude. They left the children with him, unsupervised, and picked them up later. And there were no problems whatsoever.

Two families, the Hatches and the Hendersons, have passed down to us the only pictures we have which were taken by Dodgson of little girls in the nude. They were Beatrice Hatch, age 7, Evelyn Hatch, age 8, Ethel Hatch, age 9, Annie and Frances Henderson, ages 7 and 8. Anybody who finds them on the internet can see just how innocent they were, particularly in that world where:

“Victorians saw childhood as a state of grace; even nude photographs of children were considered pictures of innocence itself.”

The whole issue has perhaps been exacerbated by the fact that Dodgson died suddenly on January 14 1898. Before 1899 arrived, Dodgson’s nephew Stuart Collingwood wrote and had published, the biography of his uncle which contained two chapters on his friendships with little girls and yet no mention whatsoever of the many women that Dodgson counted among his friends:

Overall, my conclusion would be that the ball is very much in the court of the accusers. They have looked at Dodgson, a strange man admittedly, seen some of his photographs, and, without bothering to put them in the context of the age, cried “Foul”! It is now up to them to come up with irrefutable proof, something which nobody has done in over 120 years.

And don’t be fooled by the way, by the fake photograph of Alice supposedly kissing Dodgson. And above all, a full frontal of a young girl of fourteen or fifteen, supposed to be Lorina,  found in a French museum. Again, the burden of truth is on the museum is to prove its veracity.

And don’t forget, it wasn’t that many years ago that a French museum claimed to have found the real Beast of Gévaudan in its stuffed animal section.

They explained that they had “lost it”.

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Alice in Wonderland (3)

I mentioned previously that “Alice in Wonderland” began its life as a book on Friday, July 4th 1862, when a select group of people, both adults and children, took a short trip by boat on the River Thames. They went from Folly Bridge near Oxford to the village of Godstow, a trip of some three miles. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll was with his friend the Reverend Robinson Duckworth, a fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, and they had with them some of the daughters of the Dean of Christ Church College, namely “Prima”, Lorina Liddell (13), “Secunda”, Alice (10) and “Tertia”, Edith (8). Here’s Dodgson’s photograph of Edith, Lorina and Alice:

The tale was told that day, for the most part while resting under the haycocks of Godstow village. The story was a particularly rich and complex one, and Alice Liddell in particular asked several times that Dodgson should write it down. The latter spent most of the night recalling all of the many events he had invented. This is his first draft of the tale and can be bought as a book in its own right:

Dodgson, the son of a clergyman, was a long standing family friend of the Liddells, although the relationship ran off the rails rather badly in June 1863 when he stopped seeing both the parents and the children for many, many weeks. Dodgson would later mix socially with the Dean and his wife as he previously had, but the children would never be taken out by him again. Here’s Henry George Liddell, the Dean of Christ Church College, Oxford:

In 1864, Dodgson gave Alice a bound edition of the very first manuscript entitled “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground”. In 1865 the printed book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” appeared and made the nom de plume of “Lewis Carroll” a household name. Here’s a first edition, dedicated to “Ella Chlora Williams from the Author”. It is currently on sale at Abebooks for £75,000.

There is a tale attached to the first edition:

“The very first edition was printed in Oxford at the Clarendon Press in June 1865. On July 19th 1865, Dodgson discovered that John Tenniel was not happy with the printing, and he withdrew all two thousand copies from sale. He had gifted some to his friends, but he recalled them and then donated them to local hospitals in Oxford. There, over the weeks and months, they were trashed. Only 23 are thought to have survived, and one of the Holy Grails of book collecting was born.”

In 1871, the sequel, “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There” was published…..

This first edition will set you back £40,000.

Go on! Buy them both!! You know you want to !

We do not know why the sudden rift occurred between Dodgson and the Liddell family. The page of Dodgson’s diary for June 27th-29th 1863 has been torn out of the book by one of his family members, most probably his niece, Violet Dodgson, or her sister Menella. Reasons suggested include the idea that he had proposed marriage between himself and Alice when she was old enough. Mrs Liddell, though, supposedly wanted Alice to marry Prince Leopold of Belgium.

Further reasons were that there was gossip about Dodgson’s feelings towards Ina Liddell, then fourteen, going on fifteen and, by the standards of the time, ready to accept suitors (the age of consent was then twelve). Equally Dodgson may also have been making a play for the children’s governess, whose name I have been unable to discover.

In 1996, Karoline Leach found what have become known as the “Cut pages in diary” document—a note allegedly written by Charles Dodgson’s niece, Violet Dodgson, summarising the missing page from June 27th–29th  1863, apparently written before she (or her sister Menella) removed the page. The note reads:

“L.C. learns from Mrs. Liddell that he is supposed to be using the children as a means of paying court to the governess—he is also supposed by some to be courting Ina”

In her book, The Mystery of Lewis Carroll, Jenny Woolf argues that the problem with Mrs Liddell was caused by Lorina herself becoming too keen on Dodgson and not the other way around.

I have the feeling that, as she gradually grew up, Alice became less and less happy, as if she was beginning to mourn for the passing of her childhood. Or perhaps she finally became fed up with her mother’s pushy ambitions. When she was twenty, Alice had her photograph taken by the society photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron. The results look as if she has just got back from storming the beaches of Iwo Jima:

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In actual fact, Mrs Liddell had already returned to Dodgson when Alice was eighteen, but only in his capacity as one of top society’s most fashionable photographers. She wanted the now famous author to take a series of photographs of her daughter, possibly to show Alice off as a good marriage prospect to potential suitors.

Dodgson then photographed Alice for the last time. There has been much speculation about why she has that “1,000 yard stare”, but my personal guess is that having found out that she was not allowed to marry Prince Leopold because she did not have royal status, Alice may not have been best pleased when she then found out that she could have had one of the nation’s most famous authors as her husband, only to have her own mother put a stop to it all.

Alice went on to marry Reginald Hargreaves who was immensely wealthy. When he died in 1926, though, the cost of maintaining the estate was such that Alice had to sell her bound edition of the manuscript entitled “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” which Dodgson had gifted her in 1864.

It realised £14,500 at auction, nearly four times the reserve price. The book was eventually bought by a consortium of American bibliophiles and presented to the British people “in recognition of Britain’s courage in facing Hitler before America came into the war”. And quite right too!

 

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Alice in Wonderland (2)

Last time I was looking at how ““The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass” by Martin Gardner added to our understanding of the two books.

One of the most famous characters of Carroll’s book is the Cheshire Cat. Here’s Tenniel’s illustration:

Ao, what does “Annotated Alice” have to say about the Cheshire cat? Well, did you know that “He grins like a Cheshire cat” was already a well known saying before Alice ever met this particular cat? Or that Cheshire cheese was once sold in the shape of a grinning cat? (Difficult to believe that one!) Here’s Mabel Lucie Atwell’s Cheshire Cat:

“Annotated Alice” reveals that Lewis Carroll’s father was once the rector of St Peter’s church at Croft-on-Tees near Darlington in northern England. There, Joel Birenbaum recently found a stone carving of a cat’s head on the east wall of the church’s chancel, just a few feet above floor level. When Joel went down on his knees and looked upward, just the cat’s mouth could be seen as a broad grin.

Alice’s conversation with the Cheshire Cat has even been compared to Jack Kerouac:

“Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

In “On the Beat” apparently, the conversation runs:

“Where we goin’, man?”

“I don’t know, but we betta go.”

I personally would even compare a subsequent piece of dialogue between Alice and the Cheshire Cat with the novel “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller. Carroll wrote:

“In that direction lives a Hatter and in that direction lives a March Hare. Visit either you like. They’re both mad”.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people.”

“Oh, you can’t help that, we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?”

“You must be, or you wouldn’t have come here.”

The absolute “Star of the Show”, of course, is the Mad Hatter.

Apparently, in the 1850s and 60s, the phrase “Mad as a Hatter” was as equally common as “Mad as a March Hare”. The expression may originally have been “mad as an adder” but it is thought to be much more probable that it comes from the fact that hatters did frequently go mad through using mercury to cure felt, from which hats may be made. Mercury is highly poisonous.

“Hatter’s shakes” were exactly that, and eyes, limbs and speech were frequently affected. After that came hallucinations and psychotic episodes. Apart from that, “hatter” was quite a good career.

There are a good few different versions of the Mad Hatter. There are two styles of Tenniel and also Mabel Lucie Atwell, Blanche MacManus and Charles Robinson:

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My own favourite is WH Walker in his “I want a clean cup”. Notice how the ears of the Mad March Hare are used as cowls on the chimneys of the Mad Hatter’s house. Or is that all part of the hallucination?:

“Annotated Alice” has very little to say about the Mad March Hare. This is from Wikipedia:

“A long-held view is that the hare will behave strangely and excitedly throughout its breeding season, which in Europe peaks in the month of March. This odd behaviour includes boxing at other hares, jumping vertically for seemingly no reason and generally displaying abnormal behaviour.”

On the other hand, “Annotated Alice” reveals that Victorian children used to keep dormice as pets and housed them in large old teapots with dry grass as bedding. Here the Mad Hatter and the March Hare try to stuff the sleeping dormouse into the teapot:

“Annotated Alice” seems to know something about virtually every event in the two books, no matter how trivial they seem. I have only scratched the surface of what subtleties are hidden away in the story. Does anybody realise nowadays, for example, that the Victorians thought a lot about falling down a hole that went straight through the centre of the earth?

And did we notice very much about the Pool of Tears in Chapter Two? Who was in it? Well, there was “A Duck and a Dodo, a Lory and an Eaglet and several other curious creatures.”

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Did they represent anything?

Well, they represented that select group of people, who took that short trip by boat on the River Thames on Friday, July 4th 1862.

As they progressed slowly down the river, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll recounted the story of Alice. He was the Dodo. His stammer made him give his name as “Do—Do—Dodgson”. The duck was his friend the Reverend Robinson Duckworth, a fellow of Trinity College, Oxford. The Lory is Lorina, the eldest of the Liddell sisters. Edith Liddell is the Eaglet.

“Annotated Alice” has these and a thousand other hidden details. What an excellent book!

Next time, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the man.

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Boot the Caretaker

Sir Jesse Boot, later the First Baron Trent, was, of course, a very famous figure in the history of Nottingham. In the High School, however, far more famous was Bill Boot, the school caretaker during the middle period of the twentieth century.

The school looked roughly the same in those days as it does now, except it was black and white.

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This photo shows the boys leaving school around this time.  Look at the great variety of means of transport compared to today…

around this time

Bill Boot was a much loved figure as the school caretaker, and in December 1949, the following poem appeared in the school magazine. It was a much modified version of the original, which was written by Lewis Carroll and appeared in his book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, published in 1865.

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It was written by F.Martin Hall and John G.Golds, and was dedicated to Mr.Boot…

“To Bill Boot on his 70th birthday

You are old, Father William, the schoolboy said,
And your tooth is of marvellous length,
Yet your tap on the door makes the whole building rock,
Where on earth do you find all that strength ?

In my youth, said the Sage, when I fought for the Queen,
Frequent exercise, Generals demanded,
I chased Kruger each morning around Spion Kop,
Do you wonder my muscles expanded ?

You are old, Father William, the schoolboy said,
And your hair has long since turned quite grey,
Yet your voice like a clarion round the School rings,
How d’you manage such volume, I pray ?

In my youth, said the Sage, when I served with Lord “Bobs,”
His commands could not travel by wireless
So I bawled them (in code) right across the Transvaal,
And my throat, by this means, became tireless.

You are old, Father William, yet your eagle eye
Seems as bright as the stars high in heaven,
Pray, how does your eyesight thus function so well,
With no help from Aneurin Bevan ?

I have answered your questions, the wrathful Sage said,
And as sure as my name’s William B.,
If you pester me further, my patience will go,
So be off, or I’ll put you in D.

(With apologies to Lewis Carroll. In the last verse it was considered impolite to suggest that Mr. Boot would actually threaten to kick anyone downstairs.) ”

Bill Boot retired as school caretaker only a year later in 1950, after twenty-eight years’ service. He was replaced by Mr.T.H.Briggs, who had previously worked as a policeman in the city.

Bill Boot had been in the British Army and had fought bravely in the Boer War of 1899-1902. He was famous among the boys for his rapid, shuffling gait, and his extremely rapid speech, which, with his accent,  frequently became almost unintelligible.

Bill’s hobby was fishing, and he travelled widely at weekends. When he retired, he received a small pension, but, alas, he did not live very long to enjoy it, as, tragically, he was killed as he was crossing the road on December 7th 1952. As far as I know, no photographs of Bill Boot have survived, and only Old Boys in their seventies would now be able to remember this fine gentleman “of the old school”, as they say.

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