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Lewis Carroll: A Biography Paperback – November 26, 1996
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From Publishers Weekly
Biography of the multitalented author and mathematician.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
In his time, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was known to the world as an outstanding pioneer photographer of children, particularly of female children, as well as for being the author Lewis Carroll. One of Dodgson's "child-friends," Alice Lidell, served as the inspiraton for his literary Alice. These child-friend associations subjected Dodgson to public scrutiny, gossip, and suspicion concerning his emotional and sexual proclivities, suppressed though they may have been. Dodgson chose to "let them talk." Biographer Cohen (Lewis Carroll: Interviews and Recollections, Univ. of Iowa Pr., 1988) uses previously unavailable family and personal documents, diaries, and letters to show that the shy bachelor Dodgson, Oxford mathematics don and lecturer, held himself to the strictest of moral codes. While Lewis Carroll has been probed and analyzed by countless writers (see, for instance, John Pudney's Lewis Carroll and His World, 1976), this book is about the intimate and complex life of the man behind all those who lived on the other side of the looking glass. Recommended for all literature collections.?Robert L. Kelly, Fort Wayne Community Schs., Ind.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Morton Cohen's biography of Charles Dodson ("Lewis Carroll") is an insightful examination of a complex and flawed man. Dodson (1832-1898) was an English clergyman, mathematician, writer and photographer. He is better known to us as the author of "Alice and Wonderland." A prolific correspondent, Dodson wrote thousands of letters and kept extensive diaries, many of which are included in Cohen's book. But there are several gaps in the narrative: his diaries from 1858-1862 are missing, and many pages have been excised with a razor from the remaining ones.
Dodson apparently was a man whose conscience bothered him; his diaries contain countless references to "impure thoughts" and temptations, which might be traced to his inordinate fondness for pre-pubescent girls.
Dodson made no secret of his affection for children, spending hours in their company, buying them gifts, and photographing them "au naturel." Cohen writes: "ever in the company of children as he grew, he became accustomed not only to their presence but also to their childish ways. In time, perhaps through a combination of biological, spiritual, and psychological forces, this interest developed into a need, an essential component of his own happiness." But this affection, which in today's world would be ascribed to nascent pedophilia, was apparently chaste and innocent. Whatever its origin, it made for memorable literature. "Alice" stands as a monument to the Victorian idealization of the child and to the imagination of one man.
What caused me to comment here is the statements by some readers that Cohen's book should be updated due to "new evidence" by Karoline Leach that Carroll was not in love with Alice, but her governess. She further states that the Carroll was not as attracted to children as one is led to believe and the whole "little girl" thing is a myth!
I will not comment in great length about this since I am not reviewing HER book, but I feel I must make a few points.
Nothing in the diary page that Ms. Leach quotes from proves anything, and is greatly taken out of context. She totally ignores more obvious evidence to the contrary.
While many people in Oxford thought Carroll's attentions to be for the governess, this was understandable because to think of a grown Oxford don in love with the Dean's daughter was more far fetched.
However, Mrs. Liddell and Carroll himself didn't think so....
Not only did Carroll in his later diaries admit to a long talk with Alice's' mother after her marriage, where he admits to his "foolish" ways (toward Alice) in the past, his estrangement from the Deanery. During that talk, Mrs. Liddell forgives him. (note: that with Alice's marriage, she didn't view Carroll as the "threat" he once was)
Ina, Alice's sister in letters to Alice before her death , mentions that she always thought Dodgson was in love with her sister, and when Alice denies this, Ina points out the many times she had been sitting inappropriately on Dodgson's lap and alludes to other incidents.
Then, there is the letter to Carroll's uncle, where he is upset at the news that his brother wants to marry 14 year old Alice Jane Donkin.
Carroll alludes to the similar problems he himself had gone through with "AL"..now..who could THAT be??
And why DID Alice's mother burn all of Carroll's letter to her daughter?
Because of his love for the governess?
I think not.
While it is certain that Dodgson was not the shy recluse, and had many adult friends including women, and did remain loyal to his girl friends even after they grew up.... a man who spent his time, money, and most of his life devoted to his child-friends is clearly not using it as a smoke screen to meet adult women.
If anyone still has doubts about Carroll's love and devotion to Alice, one just has to re-read the framing poems of the two Alice books again.
In Through the Looking Glass, published a few years after his falling out with the Liddell family, he wrote:
"Still she haunts me phantom wise, Alice moving under skys..never seen by waking eyes...
Yeah, he was in love with the governess all right!!!!
Read Morton Cohen's book if you seek the truth, as much as we can know, about Lewis Carroll.