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The Mystery of Lewis Carroll: Discovering the Whimsical, Thoughtful, and Sometimes Lonely Man Who Created "Alice in Wonderland" Hardcover – Bargain Price, February 2, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


From USA Today, 12 January 2010 'Woolf sheds more light on the mysterious Dodgson in this new biography, examining everything from his relationship with Alice and her older sister to his controversial photographing of nude young girls. 'The more closely Lewis Carroll is studied, the more he seems to slide quietly away,' Woolf writes' - Craig Wilson. -- Craig Wilson USA Today 20100112 'In her book, The Mystery of Lewis Carroll, to be published next month, Woolf says the payments show that he detested the idea of children or any helpless creature being abused. He was certainly not trying to assuage a guilty conscience, she believes.' The Sunday Times 20100214 'For decades, biographers of Lewis Carroll have been too fixated on the question of whether the author of Alice in Wonderland was a secret pedophile who got away with taking pictures of scantily-dressed girls during the Victorian era. But a new book by English author Jenny Woolf, out today in the U.K. to coincide with Tim Burton's 'Alice' film, claims that the unearthing of never-before-published bank statements absolves him of many of the wild allegations made against him over the years. 'The Mystery of Lewis Carroll' goes beyond the central controversy over his life to shed light on a man who has proved elusive to his biographers.' -- Javier Espinoza The WSJ 20100305 'Woolf's research and reading of other Carroll biographies is extensive and this comes together to provide a very comprehensive and fascinating overview of the author that gave the world Alice. This highly recommended biography will allow the reader to learn much of Carroll and the times into which he was born.' Fantasy Book Review 20100218 'Woolf sheds more light on the mysterious Dodgson in this new biography, examining everything from his relationship with Alice and her older sister to his controversial photographing of nude young girls. 'The more closely Lewis Carroll is studied, the more he seems to slide quietly away,' Woolf writes' -- Craig Wilson USA Today 20100112 The Mystery of Lewis Carroll reveals new facts about the famous mathematician and author of Alice In Wonderland. Lewis Carroll's real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Woolf uses recently discovered facts, such as Carroll's accounts ledger and unpublished correspondence with his Alice Liddell's family. Alice was the daughter of his dean at Oxford and inspiration for Alice In Wonderland. Woolf explores how Carroll was repressed by the Victorian era as well as his upbringing as a cleric's son. There were many rumors about Carroll, was he in love with young girls or was it the idea of innocents? There are also rumors that he had affairs with married women. Woolf tries to dispel some of the worst rumors about Carroll. She talks about his love for photography and how he took photographs of friend's children nude, a common practice during the Victorian age rather than an indication of pedophilia. There's no evidence that he harmed any children, although some say he wished to marry 11-year-old Alice Liddell. Four lost volumes of his 13-volume personal diaries might tell that story, if they're ever found. Woolf got the idea for the book about Carroll after she found his personal bank account, forgotten and unnoticed in an archive for over a hundred years. Once transcribed and interpreted, it revealed much about this interesting man. Woolf used documents and family letters to piece together Carroll's life from various archives all over the world. "Some of them I visited in person, others list their holdings online and researchers can buy photocopies of relevant documents," says Woolf. "Some of the material had been transcribed by other researchers and some experts and collectors kindly allowed me the run of their material." "I read all the biographies, plus any monographs, studies, and magazine articles, and all the original documents I could find which had not been published," says Woolf. "I also consulted letters, published and unpublished, and the nine existing volumes of his diary. In short, a lot of work. I wanted to be sure I had seen as much as possible so I could put together my own impression of this intriguing man." The BBC produced a half hour program about Woolf's discovery of Carroll's personal bank account. "There's been movie interest in the book from a British company doing TV co-productions," says Woolf. "It's been interesting to me to realize how many different types of people are interested in Lewis Carroll, from sweet old ladies to the likes of Marilyn Manson."... "The original publisher of this book is Haus in the UK," says Flamini [of St. Martins Press]. "I gave all of my editorial suggestions to the wonderful editor there who worked on this book. They've produced a great book that is also a beautiful object."... The Mystery of Lewis Carroll is the perfect book for those who love Alice in Wonderland and want to know more about its unusual author.' Hollywood Today 20100214 'To coincide with the release of the film, this biography seeks to redress the misconceptions that have grown over Lewis Carroll's personal life.' The Times 20100302 'To his adoring readers he was Lewis Carroll, the sweet-natured writer who wandered through life with a head full of stories. To his long-suffering colleagues in Oxford he was the Rev Charles Dodgson, the prickly mathematician who walked around with a poker-straight back and a head full of algebra. The two were like strangers who merely happened to inhabit the same skin.Both sides of him would have appreciated Jenny Woolf's sensible and generous new biography, The Mystery of Lewis Carroll... Dodgson might ruefully have recognised the contradictions of a professional life in which he upheld standard forms of piety in public while privately devouring books about ghosts and witchcraft. Carroll might have been grateful for the detective work involved in going through his bank account, which shows that the figure post-Freudian readers have been encouraged to see as pathetically seedy, if not actively predatory, actually donated large sums to charities that supported children who had been sexually exploited. Both would have been thankful for Woolf's dismissal of previous biographers' more lurid hypotheses, from drug addiction to stories about Jack the Ripper, and both would have enjoyed Woolf's own enjoyment at his verbal gymnastics and philosophical contortions. They might even have been briefly reconciled before they resumed their endless quarrel, like a real-life Tweedledum and Tweedledee.' The Telegraph 20100308 "Woolf has uncovered new evidence, mostly in the form of letters, about the mysterious, often-contradictory life of Charles Lutwidge Dodson... Woolf admires Carroll, and works hard to answer long-standing questions about his life and work." Minneapolis Star Tribune 20110701 --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

About the Author

JENNY WOOLF has written for The Sunday Times Magazine (UK), Reader’s Digest, and Islands and has reviewed children’s literature for Punch. She is author of Lewis Carroll in His Own Account. She lives in England.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1 edition (February 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312612982
  • ASIN: B004E3XI9E
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,632,990 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

When I was a young child, "Alice in Wonderland" was my favourite book. Wonderland's bossy people and its strange, wonderful and alarming surprises exactly reflected my own experience of life. I wanted even then to meet this writer who seemed to understand the world of children so well.

When I grew up and read the biographies of Carroll, I just felt puzzled. So finally I went back to the basic facts about him to see if I could get a glimpse of who he'd really been. After all, he had eaten, bathed, blown his nose, smelt a rose, had feelings and a life of his own. THIS was the man I wanted to find

I was helped on my way by discovering his personal bank account, unseeen since his death. It was an amazing find, and my book "Lewis Carroll in his own Account" was the result. I made a BBC documentary about it, and it paved the way for the biography.

At present I'm still mentally dwelling in the nineteenth century, although only part-time now. I'm writing a time slip story which deals with who we really are: a subject that might have interested Lewis Carroll

I live in the Hampstead area of London, England.

Here are some links to Lewis Carroll Societies in London :
and in the USA :
Here's Lenny's Alice in Wonderland site, probably the most comprehensive on the web:
And here is Contrariwise, which aims to demolish some of the stupider myths about Lewis Carroll:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on April 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
It has become part of our received knowledge that Lewis Carroll, author of the Alice books, liked being with little girls, and liked photographing little girls without their clothes, and that for all we may enjoy Alice's adventures, we have to wince at their author's being a pedophile. I have heard a presenter classify him in that category in a medical presentation on child abuse, for instance. I want to put quickly into this review that such accusations are not true, even though clearing them away is only one of the many insights within _The Mystery of Lewis Carroll: Discovering the Whimsical, Thoughtful, and Sometimes Lonely Man Who Created Alice in Wonderland_ (St. Martin's Press) by Jenny Woolf. Woolf is a reviewer of children's literature, and has written about Carroll before. There are plenty of other biographies of the famous author, but she says, "The more closely Lewis Carroll is studied, the more he seems to slide quietly away." (She doesn't mention it, but this is rather like Alice trying to put her hands on items on the shelves of the sheep's shop.) Some of the problem is that the original source documents we would like to read about Carroll have disappeared, like diaries from certain years that seem to have been deliberately cleared away by his family after his death. Part of the problem is that very few of the people that knew him, even close friends, wrote about him or talked to biographers after he was gone. Part of the problem is that there was gossip about Carroll while he was alive (and the gossip was about subjects other than his relationships with little girls). Part of the problem is that his times and his locale in academic Oxford were peculiar viewed from our own time. And a big part of the problem is that he was very peculiar himself.Read more ›
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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Wilkin on February 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having read many other books about Lewis Carroll, I thought this was excellent. It was very easy to read and I thought the theories were all reasonable, and made use of the latest information avialable. The actual 8 page "Personal Conclusion" did seem a bit disjointed and rushed for some reason, but this did not detract from the whole. This book focuses in on the innner man, his motivations and true character. It makes use of the facinating new discovery of Lewis Carroll's bank account which was recently found in the archives of the Barclay's Bank. One thing this clearly reveals is what a charitable man he truly was, with a deep concern especially for women and children who had fallen on hard times in the streets of London. This book would be well to read in conjunction with Morton Cohen's biography which tries to give a much more historical look at the man; going into detail about all of the names and places and dates surrounding the man. But this book is much more pleasant to read and gives you a quick glance into the phyche of a very private man; a most beloved friend to dozen's of children, brother to seven sisters and three brothers, and famous author of children's books.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the century since his death, the life of Lewis Carroll became ensnarled in dark innuendo. Biographers and commentators have unleashed modern psychological theory on him to accuse him of pedophilia and other perversions. Jenny Woolf's fine new biography rescues Carroll from the darkness and describes the kindly, shy and admittedly eccentric man as he really was.

Carroll was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the oldest son in a large family fathered by a clergyman whose means never kept up with his expanding brood of children. Dodgson grew up surrounded by loving siblings then endured a difficult education at Rugby School. At Oxford his gift for mathematics blossomed, and he became a professor at Christchurch. He was not successful teaching college men since his shyness, stammer, and general diffidence did not inspire respect among the upper class hearties with whom he was afflicted. He did much better teaching young women at a private school in Oxford. This seems to have been the general pattern of Carroll's life: a preference for the company of young women and girls with whom he could let his gift for being droll and even nonsensical develop.

In our era a man who prefers the company of children, especially young girls, is viewed with suspicion. In the nineteenth century, as Woolf ably points out, attitudes were different. In a number of remarkable and illuminating chapters Woolf describes Carroll's love for children, chronicling his celebrated friendship with Alice Liddell and her siblings among others and linking it to his interest in photography. Seen in this light, his "fairy photos" of scantily clad children have a much more innocent explanation than is commonly given them today.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Loves the View VINE VOICE on June 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Jenny Woolf interprets the life of Charles Dogson, known to the world as Lewis Carroll. She examines far flung letters and diaries and recently discovered bank account records. From these she pieces together his story, noting gaps and speculating on how and why these gaps exist.

She concludes that the innuendo that surrounds Carroll is not deserved. She presents him as a pious eccentric with wide ranging interests. He was a Renaissance man for his time with accomplishments in photography, mathematics, and medical studies in addition to his famous children's novels.

His stammer may be a reason for his bachelor life or it could be the restrictive economics and career options of his time. As the oldest of 11 brothers and sisters (only 3 of whom married), upon his father's death he became the head of his birth family. His teaching position provided room and meals. If he married, he would lose his faculty position and would need to become a minister, most likely in a rural parish.

While he had many adult friends, it appears his closest friendships were with young children, mostly girls. When they became adults, most remained his friends. Woolf contends that these childhood friendships and the nude photographs (1% of his photographic output) that resulted from them are the root of Lewis's tarnished reputation. She says that there is no evidence that the girls' Victorian families had any reservations about the photos for reasons that she explains as an extension of the period's views of women and children. She presents Carroll as a deeply religious and repressed Victorian man, trapped by the morals and class system of his time.

The book is arranged by topic which had me flipping on a few occasions to understand the time relationship of the photos, the bank records and other topics.
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