If you were to examine the life of one of history’s most revered storytellers, you would surely find yourself lost in a vast rabbit hole. That’s because various aspects of this particular author’s life have remained a mystery. This rabbit hole is a one-way trip — there are questions, but no definite answers.
Literary fans all over the world know who Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was. Better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll, Dodgson is famous for writing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But the scope of his life’s work went far beyond just literature. Dodgson was also a mathematician, logician, an ordained minister and a photographer.
He was considered one of the greatest amateur photographers of his time. However, of the roughly 3,000 images he created, half of them were portraits of children. He had a peculiar interest in the innocence of young girls. These photographs sometimes portrayed his subjects nude or semi-nude. Allegedly, by Victorian standards, doing so wasn’t considered vulgar or indecent.
One of his famous photos shows six-year-old Alice Liddell, the child protagonist in his novel, as a beggar girl standing barefoot up against a wall and in a ragged dress.
Dodgson first met Alice and her family on April, 25, 1856, while she was playing with her sisters, Lorina and Edith, in the Dean’s Garden. Soon after this chance encounter, Dean Liddell, Alice’s father, invited him to capture the family’s first photographs together, though many of the ones that followed were focused on Alice in particular.
Alice and her sisters spent countless hours with Dodgson for photo shoots, but they even accompanied him on boating parties and day trips along the riverbank, such as the one described in the first chapter of his book.
Up until the summer of 1863, Dodgson spent nearly every day with the Liddell children. Although the real reason for the sudden end to their relationship is not clear, scholars and biographers have long questioned his motives concerning Alice.
“Lewis Carroll is treated like a man you wouldn’t want your kids to meet,” Will Brooker, author of Alice’s Adventures: Lewis Carroll in Popular Culture explains to Smithsonian Magazine, “yet his stories are still presented as classics of pure, innocent literature.”
If any clues did exist to the nature of their relationship, that evidence was removed from his diary after he died in 1898. The pages from late June 1863, the time when his friendship with the Liddells took a turning point, are missing, along with four of the 13 sections. Evidently, one of his descendants cut them out.
Also worth noting is the fact that fewer than 1,000 of his photographs have survived. While time may have taken their toll on the images, some believe many of them were deliberately lost — much like his journal entries.
For decades, the suggestion that Dodgson had an objectionable affinity with Alice has refused to go away. There is no hard evidence, and yet, there have been biographies published about him that indicate he was a pedophile who had urges but never actually carried out his desires.
One such biography is Florence Becker Lennon’s Victoria Through the Looking Glass. In 1945, she made a case of his sentiments.
“People have wondered what he did with his love life,” Lennon wrote. “Now it can be told. He loved little girls, but, like Peter Pan, he had no intention of marrying them.”
On Saturday, January 31, the BBC broadcasted The Secret World of Lewis Carroll to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his novel’s publication. The documentary provides a closer look at the actual relationship that went on between Alice and Dodgson.
It may finally lead those seeking answers to Dodgson’s motives out from the rabbit hole.