Biography of Lewis Carroll

Born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson in Cheshire, on January 27, 1832, the man who would become Lewis Carroll was an eccentric and an eclectic whose varied works have entertained, edified, enlightened, and evaded readers for over a century. The son of a vicar and his first cousin, Dodgson was a precocious child who showed early interest in both writing and mathematics. After studying mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford, from 1850-1854, Dodgson was appointed to a lectureship there, where he was to continue studying, remain unmarried, and prepare for holy orders for almost 30 years. Although he never reached the priesthood, he did reach the level of deacon. During his very successful academic career, he wrote extensively on mathematics and logic, among other subjects. However, it is not for his academic work that he is best remembered, but rather the works for children which he created under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll.

Dodgson was intensely interested in and an advocate for the freedom and wisdom of childhood, and wrote his books as pleasurable amusements for the people he admired. His muse, Alice Liddell was the young daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, who he wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland for in 1865. The work started out as an oral tale which he later wrote down as Alice's Adventures Underground, but later revised into Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In 1872, Carroll published Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Wonderland. The books were illustrated by Sir John Tenniel, a top political illustrator of the day, whose crisp etchings work with Carroll's sly text to create the world of Wonderland still known today. These books brought Carroll great fame and renown during his lifetime, but the shy Dodgson made a great effort to distance himself from the fame of his alterego Carroll. An intensely awkward and introverted man, he was almost unable to have interactions or friendships with adults, but was happy and at peace when around children. He spent most of his later years in the company of young children who he entertained with his stories and documented in his famous photography.

Recent scholarship has called into question Carroll's tarnished reputation. Dubbed the "Carroll Myth", the author's preoccupation with child photography has been set in the context of Victorian aesthetics, which held that nude children were an expression of innocence. Further, a close examination of his diaries and letters reveals that he enjoyed relationships with women of all ages. Also, many of the "children" with whom he was supposedly involved were, in fact, older teens and young women in their twenties. The myth has persisted mainly because his family withheld information on his relationships out of concern for his reputation. Ironically, this led many to believe he harbored an obsession for little girls.

Along with the Alice books, Carroll published Phantasmagoria and Other Poems in 1869, The Hunting of the Snark in 1876, and Sylvie and Bruno in 1893, though none of his other works were ever nearly as popular as the Alice duo either in his lifetime or afterwards. He died January 14, 1898 in Guilford, Surrey.


Study Guides on Works by Lewis Carroll

Through the Looking Glass is Carroll's sequel to Alice in Wonderland. A few of the characters who appeared in Wonderland reappear in Through the Looking Glass, including Alice's cat and the Hatter and the Hare. More significantly, however, is the...