Lewis Carroll Biography

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Alice in Wonderland Author/Context

The man the world would come to know as Lewis Carroll was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson on January 27, 1832, in Daresbury, in England's Cheshire county. His parents were from good North Country families, and his father was a clergyman. He was the third of eleven children, and the eldest son. During his childhood, Lewis Carroll entertained his brothers and sisters with games he invented and with stories and verses from family magazines that he edited, illustrated, and largely wrote.

At the age of 12, Carroll went off to school. It seems that he was a hardworking student but he did not enjoy life at boarding school. Carroll was quite shy and reclusive, in part due to a stammer. He distinguished himself in mathematics, and went on to study at Oxford's Christ Church at the age of 19. The Oxford where Carroll spent his college years was not quite the staid institution of previous generations. Oxford in Carroll's time was the site of heated debates over such issues as church reform and Charles Darwin's Origin of Species. Carroll himself tended to be orthodox and conservative in his beliefs.

After taking his degree, Carroll became a teacher of mathematics at Christ Church, where he lived until almost the end of his life. At Oxford, Carroll made a name for himself as a freelance humorist, parodist, and versifier. His pseudonym first appeared in 1856. (The name Lewis Carroll was derived from a Latinized version of Charles Lutwidge-Carolus Ludovic.)

Though he did well at writing, Carroll was not well suited for the teaching profession. He disliked lecturing both undergraduates and boarding school boys. In the classroom, he had a very difficult time keeping order. Carroll hated disorder and tried to keep his own life in meticulous order; for example, he kept a detailed log of every letter he wrote and received during his adult life. Carroll's bad experiences at teaching may have contributed in part for his distaste of boys. He once wrote, "I am fond of little children (except boys)."

Some of the little children he knew and loved best at Oxford were the daughters of Henry Liddell, the dean of Christ Church. One of these daughters, Alice Liddell, was the first in a long line of what Carroll called his "child-friends." In an age in which young girls were sentimentalized as emblems of purity and beauty, Carroll regarded little girls with great adoration, almost worship.

On a boating outing in July of 1862 with a teaching colleague and three of the Liddell children, Carroll told a story so entertaining that Alice, for whom the story's heroine was named, begged Carroll to write it down for her. Carroll agreed, and he later expanded upon the tale to create Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which was illustrated by John Tenniel and published in 1865.

Carroll wrote other books, such as the nonsense poem The Hunting of the Snark and the didactic children's tale Sylvie and Bruno, as well as books and pamphlets on mathematical theory which are almost forgotten today. He is best known for Alice and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. These two books broke from traditional children's literature, which was expected to be realistic, educational, and above all, moral. In most children's books before Alice, authors condescended toward their young readers and did not provide much opportunity for a child to use his or her imagination. Carroll encouraged imagination and was quite determined that Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland would not have a moral purpose.

In addition to his professions of author and mathematician, Carroll was a talented amateur photographer and an ordained deacon of the Church of England. He was a celebrated author in his lifetime, but as he grew older he avoided attention and preferred that people not realize that Charles Dodgson the private person was Lewis Carroll the author. He died on January 14, 1898 in Guildford, England.

Bibliography

Carroll, Lewis. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1993.

Cohen, Morton N. Lewis Carroll and Alice: 1832-1982. New York: The Peirpont Morgan Library, 1982.

Gardner, Martin, ed. The Annotated Alice. New York: Bramhall House, 1960.

Kelly, Richard. Lewis Carroll. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1977.

Pudney, John. Lewis Carroll and His World. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976.

Taylor, Alexander L. The White Knight. London: Oliver & Boyd, 1952.

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