Lewis Carroll, Christ Church College, And The Alice Books Essay, Research Paper
Lewis Carroll, Christ Church College, and the Alice Books
Many of people know the children’s books, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There,” but do you know the person that wrote the two most recognized children’s books of all time. Lewis Carroll, who attended Christ Church College in Oxford, is considered the greatest writer of children’s literature.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born on January 27, 1832. He was the oldest of eleven children. His father, Dr. Dodgson was the vicar of Daresbury, Cheshire. Dodgson’s parents were unusually religious and they were first cousins. Because Daresbury was so isolated and there was no want of children, Dodgson invented games to keep him and his brothers and sisters entertained. He made a troupe of marionettes and a stage with the help of family and a village carpenter. He wrote all the plays himself and manipulated the strings of the puppets. He made pets of snails and toads and attempted to promote modern warfare with earthworms by giving them small clay pipes for weapons (Kunitz 119). Dodgson’s father from the first took an active part in his son’s education and the following anecdote will show that he had at least a pupil who was anxious to learn: “One day, when Charles was a very small boy, he came up to his father and showed him a book of logarithms, with the request, ‘Please explain.’ Dr. Dodgson told him that he was much to young to understand anything about such a difficult subject. The child listened to what his father said, and he still insisted, ‘But please explain!’”(Collingwood 12) Until the age of twelve Dodgson’s father educated him, and then he went to Mr. Tate’s School at Richmond. From Richmond he went to Rugby under Dr. Tate (Kunitz 119). On May 23, 1850, he applied at Christ Church College, Oxford. In January the following year he became a resident of the college, and “from that day to the hour of his death – a period of forty-seven years – he belonged to ‘the House,’ never leaving it for any length of time…” (120).
Now I do not know if Dodgson’s matriculation to Christ Church provided him with his first view of Oxford. Perhaps he saw it from Magdalen Bridge, when one could look “straight across the Christ Church cricket-ground to the meadows beyond Cherwell…for an uninterrupted view of every tower in the city from Magdalen to the Cathedral…” (Morton 30). At Christ Church College, the undergraduates dining in the hall were divided into “messes.” Each mess consisted of about half a dozen men, who had a table to them. In Dodgson’s mess was Philip Pusey, the late Rev. G. C. Woodhouse, and among others, one who still lives in “Alice in Wonderland” as the “Hatter.” (Collingwood 47) The Dean of the College, Henry Liddell acquired a post of great influence. He spent thirty-six years at the College. Liddell married and had five children, two boys, one of which died of scarlet fever, and three daughters. Alice Liddell later became the reason for the writing of “Alice” (Morton 57).
It was when writing for a paper, The Train, that Dodgson felt the need of a pseudonym. He suggested four names to the editor of the paper, Edmund Yates, Edgar Cuthwellis, Edgar U. C. Westhall, Louis Carroll, and Lewis Carroll. The first two were formed from the letters of his two Christian names, Charles Lutwidge; the others are merely forms of those names – Lewis = Ludovicus = Lutwidge; Carroll =Carolus = Charles. Mr. Yates chose the last, as is apparent, and that became Dodgson’s ordinary nom de plume (67). In 1855, he received the appointment of lecturer in mathematics at Christ Church College. He held that position until 1881. Six years later he was ordained a deacon but never went on to priests orders. He did preach every once in a while, often to the servants of the college, but what he enjoyed most was preaching to children. Now from this time until his death in 1898, the story of Lewis Carroll is the story of his literary work and of his child friends. The story of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, mathematician, lecturer, and scholar, is secondary (Kunitz 120). On June 27, 1865 was when “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was published (Morton 129). Six years later in 1872, “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There” was published (132). Carroll died at Guilford of influenza (Kunitz 121).
One day Dodgson took the day off and went rowing with the smaller daughters of the Dean of the College. That very eventful picnic was noted in Carroll’s neat and interminable diary that night. The entry runs as follows: “I made an expedition up the river to Godstow with the three Liddells; we had tea on the bank there and did not reach Christ Church until half-past eight.” But at that time he did not deem one subsequently enhanced detail of the day sufficiently important to be worth chronicling. He said nothing of the fairy tale he told that day. It was a tale of a little girl as the gravely attentive Alice Liddell who used to prod him when he ventured to not continue the story for a time. In response to such prodding he carried the story 1along on that and other afternoons and finally committed it to manuscripts as “Alice’s Adventures Underground.” Somewhat expanded this was published three years later as “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (Woollcott 1). The publishing process was not the hard part of getting the book released. The difficult part was finding someone to illustrate the book. They eventually found John Tenniel, a well-known British caricaturist. When the book was released two thousand copies were printed, and were later recalled because Tenniel wasn’t satisfied with the printing of the pictures. After the release of the first “Alice,” Carroll then decided to write a sequel. “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There” was released six years later in 1872. Since their release neither “Alice” book has ever gone out of print. Now, in 1974 the London auctioneering firm of Sotheby Parke Bernet and Company listed, inconspicuously, the following item in their June 3 catalog:
Dodgson (C.L.) “Lewis Carroll.” Galley proofs for a suppressed portion of “Through the Looking-Glass” slip 64-67 and portions 63 and 68, with autograph revisions in black ink and note in the author’s purple ink that the extensive passage is to be omitted. The present portion contains an incident in which Alice meets a bad-tempered wasp, incorporating a poem of five stanzas, beginning “When I was young, my ringlets waven.” It was to have appeared following, “A very few steps brought her to the edge of the brook” on page 183 of the first edition. The proofs were bought…and are apparently unrecorded and unpublished.
The word “apparently” in the last sentence was an understatement. Not only had the suppressed portion not been published but also Carroll experts did not even know it had been set in type, let alone preserved. The discovery that it still existed was an event of major significance (Gardner ix). The main question of many experts is, “Was the Wasp episode worth preserving?” It was definitely worth it historically, but does it have essential merit? Many that have recently read the episode say that it is not up to standards with the rest of the book. Peter Heath feels that one reason the episode lacks the vivacity of the other parts of the book is that it repeats so many themes that occur elsewhere (3-4).
Christ Church College, the home of Lewis Carroll, had a great influence on what is considered the two greatest children’s books of all time. Lewis Carroll’s contribution to the world will never be forgotten, and he himself will never be forgotten as the greatest writer of children’s literature.
Cohen, Morton N. Lewis Carroll: A Biography. New York, 1995.
Collingwood, Stuart Dodgson. The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll. New York, 1898.
Gardner, Martin. The Wasp in a Wig. New York, 1977.
Kunitz, Stanley J. British Authors of the Nineteenth Century. New York, 1936.
Woollcott, Alexander. The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll. New York, n.d.