This coming Wednesday, 4 July 2012, marks the 150 th anniversary of a real-life event which led to a major happening in the literature of the nineteenth century. Two young Anglican clergymen, dons at the University, hired a boat at Folly Bridge, in Oxford, (1) and rowed their boss’s daughters upriver to Godstow, a distance of about three miles.
1. “Folly Bridge” a painting by Doug Myers
One of the clergymen was Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, and his boss was Dean Henry Liddell (pronounced liddle) of Christ Church College. The three daughters, Lorina, Alice and Dora, were to have picnic ashore, in the meadows of Godstow, (2) near the ruined Abbey.
2. The River Thames near Godstow
Rev. Dodgson was a great storyteller and he entertained the three little girls (3) with stories of imaginative and fantastic adventures. At the request of the eldest child, Alice Liddell, aged eleven, Dodgson wrote these down and they proved to be such a success with the Liddell children, and the MacDonald children, of his friend George MacDonald that he had them published in 1865 as “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” under the pen-name Lewis Carroll, which Dodgson first used some nine years earlier.
The pen-name, “Lewis Carroll” is based on word-play. His middle name, Lutwidge, or Ludwig, is a Germanic version of the Latin name Ludovicus, rendered in French as Louis, often spelled “Lewis” in English. Charles, in Latin is Carolus, now rendered as “Carroll”.
The reader is directed to the wikipedia article on Lewis Carroll which provides a wealth of biographical material, and a section on “The Carroll Myth”. This explores a series of popularly repeated fallacies about the character of the author of the “Alice” books.
3. The Three Liddell Children
The issue of Carroll’s supposed paedophilia, (4) is thoroughly explored and the author of the article finds it baseless, despite the various biographies and articles with different conclusions. Most are based on pure speculation, whereas the wikipedia author quotes contemporary accounts, and important documentary evidence of the time.
4. Alice Liddell as a “Gypsy Child” in a photograph by Carroll
Perhaps the most compelling argument for Carroll’s innocence as the fact that Alice Liddell as a mature married woman, (5) and eventually as an elderly lady, always spoke of him with great affection.
5. Alice Liddell as a mature woman
6. “Lewis Carroll”, in a photographic self portrait
These were the early days of photography, and Carroll had plenty of time to remove the lens cap to begin the exposure, sit down in front of his camera, and compose himself for two to three minutes of total stillness, (6).