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Lewis Carroll

(1832-1898), British

Biography

Lewis Carroll was the pseudonym of Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a lecturer in mathematics at Oxford, who lived from 1832 to 1898. Carroll lived with physical deformities, partial deafness, and an irrepressible tamer. His unusual appearance caused him to behave awkwardly around other adults, and his students at Oxford saw him as a stuffy and boring teacher. He held strict religious beliefs, serving as a deacon in the Anglican Church for many years. Beneath Carroll’s awkward exterior, however, dwelled a brilliant and imaginative artist. A gifted amateur photographer, he took numerous portraits of children throughout his adulthood. Carroll’s keen grasp of mathematics and logic inspired the linguistic humor and witty wordplay in his stories. Additionally, his unique understanding of children’s minds allowed him to compose imaginative fiction that appealed to young people.

Carroll felt shy and reserved around adults but became animated and lively around children. His crippling stammer melted away in the company of children as he told them his elaborately nonsensical stories. Carroll discovered his gift for storytelling in his own youth, when he served as the unofficial family entertainer for his five younger sisters and three younger brothers. He staged performances and wrote the bulk of the fiction in the family magazine.

In 1856, Carroll became close with the Liddell children and met the girl who would become the inspiration for Alice, the protagonist of his two most famous books. It was in that year that Classics scholar Henry George Liddell accepted an appointment as Dean of Christ Church, one of the colleges that comprise Oxford University, and brought his three daughters to live with him at Oxford. Lorina, Alice, and Edith Liddell quickly became Carroll’s favorite companions and photographic subjects. During their frequent afternoon boat trips on the river, Carroll told the Liddells fanciful tales. Alice quickly became Carroll’s favorite of the three girls, and he made her the subject of the stories that would later became Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Almost ten years after first meeting the Liddells, Carroll compiled the stories and submitted the completed manuscript for publication.

In 1881, Carroll resigned from his position as mathematics lecturer at Oxford to pursue writing full time. He composed numerous poems, several new works for children, and books of logic puzzles and games, but none of his later writings attained the success of the Alice books. Carroll died in 1898 at the age of sixty-six, soon after the publication of the Sylvie and Brunobooks. He passed away in his family’s home in Guildford, England.

Carroll’s sudden break with the Liddell family in the early 1860s has led to a great deal of speculation over the nature of his relationship with Alice Liddell. Some books indicate that the split resulted from a disagreement between Carroll and Dean Liddell over Christ Church matters. Other evidence indicates that more insidious elements existed in Carroll’s relationships with young children and with Alice Liddell in particular. This possibility seems to be supported by the fact that Mrs. Liddell burned all of Carroll’s early letters to Alice and that Carroll himself tore pages out of his diary related to the break. However, no concrete evidence exists that Carroll behaved inappropriately in his numerous friendships with children. Records written by Carroll’s associates and Alice Liddell herself do not indicate any untoward behavior on his part.

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SparkNotes

Lewis Carroll Quotes

All in the golden afternoon / Full leisurely we glide

So many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.

If you drink much from a bottle marked 'poison' it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.

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Fiction

  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

    (1865)

  • Rhyme? And Reason?

    (1869; also published as Phantasmagoria)

  • Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There

    (includes "Jabberwocky" and "The Walrus and the Carpenter")

  • The Hunting of the Snark

    (1876)

  • A Tangled Tale

    (1885)

  • Sylvie and Bruno

    (1889)

  • Sylvie and Bruno Concluded

    (1893)

  • What the Tortoise Said to Achilles

    (1895)