The Mystery of Lewis Carroll: Discovering the Whimsical, Thoughtful, and Sometimes Lonely Man Who Created Alice in Wonderland

Like the recently passed J.D. Salinger, Lewis Carroll was an author who shunned publicity and sought privacy. While it may have made his life easier to live, all the secrecy can be damaging to one’s reputation, especially if you’re no longer around to defend yourself.

Carroll has had it harder than most, notably demonized as a pedophile. Long a fan since devouring his stories in her childhood, London journalist Jenny Woolf set out to find the truth — or as much that could be determined — in her biography of the legendary writer, THE MYSTERY OF LEWIS CARROLL: DISCOVERING THE WHIMSICAL, THOUGHTFUL, AND SOMETIMES LONELY MAN WHO CREATED ALICE IN WONDERLAND.

With 10 brothers and sisters, Carroll had no shortage of support throughout his years, right up to his death in 1898. But it’s his non-familial relationships that, understandably, remain under society’s microscope. Woolf finds that while many women were taken with Carroll’s charm, it’s likely that he died a virgin, as rumored, or at least found his limited sexual experiences so shameful, that he chose celibacy at great length.

Perhaps that’s why his interest in young girls — we’re talking not yet “age of consent” here — has set so many tongues a-wagging. Woolf spends a great deal of time discussing his interest in photography, particularly shooting friends’ children scantily clad or even nude. While Woolf notes that this was normal for the times, the creepiness is tough to shake.

His most famous object of affection, of course, is Alice Liddell, for whom he wrote ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, and even that relationship became fractured, as Woolf investigates. What’s more interesting are the Freudian analyses of ALICE she presents from others, such as the interpretation that a shrinking and growing Alice represented Carroll’s erection, or that “going down the rabbit hole” was his thinly veiled desire to penetrate Liddell.

Even if not all of the mystique is solved, THE MYSTERY OF LEWIS CARROLL at least clears up some misconceptions, putting a mild spit-polish on the author’s rep (as there’s no evidence he diddled kids). I’d place Woolf’s work on par with Rebecca Loncraine’s recent L. Frank Baum bio, THE REAL WIZARD OF OZ: neither definitive nor mandatory, but certainly smart and stimulating enough. —Rod Lott

Buy it at Amazon.

RSS feed

8 Comments »

Comment by Steve W
2010-02-03 15:57:46

There’s a good movie on the Carroll-Liddell relationship from several years ago, called “Dreamchild,” which is about her unresolved feelings for him.

(Comments wont nest below this level)
 
Comment by Jenny Woolf
2010-02-11 06:08:19

Thanks very much for your review. I just wanted to correct one point of fact, (and that’s simply because I’m a nit pickety biographer). There’s no evidence that Carroll wrote “ALice’s Adventures in Wonderland” FOR Alice Liddell. He was careful to make that clear, just as he also made the point that Alice Liddell wasn’t the “Alice” of the stories. As usual nobody took any notice of what he actually said! But to me this is one of the interesting but so far unsolved mysteries of just what was going on.

(Comments wont nest below this level)
 
Comment by Mikeindex
2010-02-12 05:57:34

If you liked Jenny Woolf’s book you might well be interested in Karoline Leach’s ‘In the Shadow of the Dreamchild’ (Peter Owen 1999, extended 2nd edn 2009), which along with the articles of Hugues Lebailly really kicked off the New Carroll Studies movement and exposed the myth-driven nature of LC’s popular image. (Leach kicks the Freudian critics’ collective arse good and hard too).

Steve – Coral Browne is extremely good in ‘Dreamchild’, and so are the Jim Henson puppets. But don’t take it as history.

(Comments wont nest below this level)
 
Comment by Putrid Pete
2010-02-21 09:16:06

Why is it likely he died a virgin? Who says there’s no evidence he diddled kids? Or anyone else? Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.

(Comments wont nest below this level)
 
Comment by mathew
2012-07-06 16:17:34

Why is saying that he was a pedophile “demonizing”? Do you also think that saying that someone is gay is “demonizing”?

What makes you think that being a pedophile is being a “demon”? Or that saying that someone is a pedophile is “demonizing” him?

The bigotry of this article is astoninshing. Having a different sexual orientation is not “demonizing”. You dont choose to who you fall in love with.

We live in a mad world where pedophiles are so demonized that people think that someone who has a different sexual orientation is “perverse”, “evil”, just for being different!

Being a pedophile has nothing to do with who you are as a human being! Is just a sexual orientation!

If anything, this book “proves” that Lewis Carroll was a great pedophile and a good guy. But wait, those are incompatible, right? Being a pedophile and being an excellent and charitative person are incompatible, right? Bigots.

(Comments wont nest below this level)
Comment by Slade Grayson
2012-07-08 13:18:24

Well, if you agree that the definition of “perverse” is “Showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable” and “Contrary to the accepted or expected standard or practice,” then yes, pedophilia is perverse.

 
 
Comment by Rod
2012-07-06 20:19:42

Your definition of “pedophile” must differ from everyone else’s. It has nothing to do with being gay.

(Comments wont nest below this level)
 
Comment by frankie
2012-07-07 23:47:06

do you come to the defense of rapists when “bigots” tell them their sexual orientation is wrong? weirdo…

(Comments wont nest below this level)
 
Name (required)
E-mail (required - never shown publicly)
URI
Your Comment (smaller size | larger size)
You may use <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> in your comment.