British and Irish Literature Lewis Carroll
by
Selwyn Goodacre
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0138

Introduction

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (b. 1832–d. 1898) was born on 27 January 1832 at Daresbury, near Warrington, England, the third child and eldest son of the Reverend Charles Dodgson, Perpetual Curate of Daresbury. In 1843 the family moved to Croft, near Darlington in Yorkshire. Charles attended Richmond School from 1844 to 1845, and then Rugby School from 1846 to 1849. In May 1850 he matriculated at Christ Church Oxford. In November 1852 he gained second class in Classics, and in December first class in Mathematics (Moderations). In 1854 he achieved First Class in Mathematics (Final Schools). He was nominated for a “Studentship” (i.e., lecturer) in December 1854, and he remained as Mathematical Lecturer at Christ Church until 1881. He was ordained deacon in the Church of England in 1861 but never proceeded to full orders. In his early twenties he contributed some humorous verse and prose to magazines, usually under his pseudonym “Lewis Carroll”—a playful reversal of his given names. He was always fond of children, and he enjoyed telling them stories. On 4 July 1862, he hired a rowing boat and made an expedition up the river to Godstow with his companions, the Reverend Robinson Duckworth of Trinity College Oxford and the three daughters of Dean Liddell of Christ Church, Lorina, Alice (his favorite), and Edith. Dodgson, at the earnest pleading of the three girls, narrated the early stages of a story that was to become Alice’s Adventures under Ground. At Alice’s urging, he wrote down the story, and later expanded it to become Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The book was published in 1865. It was followed in 1871 by a sequel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. In 1876 he published a long narrative nonsense poem The Hunting of the Snark, and toward the end of his life two rather unsuccessful books for children, Sylvie and Bruno and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded. He published three books of verse, a number of mathematical works, and pamphlets on diverse subjects that ranged from Oxford politics to theories on elections and even scoring in lawn tennis. He was a brilliant amateur photographer in the early days of the “wet collodion” process; arguably he was the greatest photographer of children in the 19th century. In 1896 he published a definitive work on Symbolic Logic. Carroll died on 14 January 1898.

Biographies

Several biographies of Lewis Carroll have been written, starting with Collingwood 1898, the “official” biography. Lennon 1972 is a full-length American biography, using Freudian insights, but one in which the author shows a poor understanding of Carroll’s work in mathematics and logic. Hudson 1954 is a measured sensible English biography using insights from the recently published 1953 abbreviated Diaries of Lewis Carroll (ed. Roger Lancelyn Green) Clark 1979 is probably the best general biography to date, a fine and detailed work. Cohen 1995, written by the editor of The Letters of Lewis Carroll (Cohen 1979, cited under Compilation Editions) is rather lengthy and is more in the nature of extended essays on certain chosen aspects, but it is authoritative. Bakewell 1996 is more recent straightforward biography. Leach 1999 is a controversial study, challenging the idea that Carroll was interested only in child friends, suggesting he fell in love with Alice Liddell’s mother, and attacking with vigor what the author believes are false ideas promoted by previous scholars. Wakeling 2015 is a fine collection of essays on various aspects of Carroll’s life and work. Douglas-Fairhurst 2015 is the most recent biography, a fine modern view of the life of Carroll.

  • Bakewell, Michael. Lewis Carroll: A Biography. London: Heinemann, 1996.

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    A recent biography, basically sound.

  • Clark, Anne. Lewis Carroll: A Biography. London: J. M. Dent, 1979.

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    A commendable biography, straightforward and accurate. A very readable, excellent, and comprehensive biography full of understanding of the subject.

  • Cohen, Morton N. Lewis Carroll: A Biography. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1995.

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    An extensive and authoritative biography, divided into particular subjects, by the editor of The Letters of Lewis Carroll (Cohen 1979, cited under Compilation Editions).

  • Collingwood, Stuart Dodgson. The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1898.

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    The official biography written by Lewis Carroll’s nephew. Indispensable, with contemporary memories, and basic detail on the life and works, based on personal knowledge. Contains useful list of publications (available on “Print to order” websites).

  • Douglas-Fairhurst, Robert. The Story of Alice, Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland. London: Harvey Secker, 2015.

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    The most recent biography, a fine modern view of the life of Carroll.

  • Hudson, Derek. Lewis Carroll. London: Constable, 1954.

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    The first biography to use the recently published (1953) abbreviated Diaries of Lewis Carroll (ed. By Roger Lancelyn Green). A fine basic biography, revised (1976) as an illustrated edition.

  • Leach, Karoline. In the Shadow of the Dreamchild: A New Understanding of Lewis Carroll. London: Peter Owen, 1999.

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    A controversial study, written with enthusiastic vigor.

  • Lennon, Florence Becker. The Life of Lewis Carroll. New York: Dover, 1972.

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    A fine biography, with excellent research and Freudian insights. Third revised edition of biography first published in 1945.

  • Wakeling, Edward. Lewis Carroll The Man and his Circle. London: I. B. Tauris, 2015.

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    A fine collection of essays on various aspects of Carroll’s life and work.

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