(Smithsonian) Jenny Woolf—Lewis Carroll’s Shifting Reputation

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was a teacher of mathematics at Oxford and a deacon of the Anglican Church. Some colleagues knew him as a somewhat reclusive stammerer, but he was generally seen as a devout scholar; one dean said he was “pure in heart.” To readers all over the world, he became renowned as Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Alice was popular almost from the moment it was published, in 1865, and it has remained in print ever since, influencing such disparate artists as Walt Disney and Salvador Dali. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, just released in movie theaters nationwide, is only the latest of at least 20 films and TV shows to be made from the book. But if Alice has endured unscathed, its author has taken a pummeling....

In 1999, Karoline Leach published yet another Dodgson biography, In the Shadow of the Dreamchild, in which she quoted the summary of the missing diary information and argued that her predecessors, misunderstanding the society in which Dodgson lived, had created a “Carroll myth” around his sexuality. She concluded that he was attracted to adult women (including Mrs. Liddell) after all.

The reaction among Dodgson scholars was seismic. “Improbable, feebly documented...tendentious,” thundered Donald Rackin in Victorian Studies. Geoffrey Heptonstall, in Contemporary Review, responded that the book provided “the whole truth.”

Which is where Dodgson’s image currently stands—in contention—among scholars if not yet in popular culture. His image as a man of suspect sexuality “says more about our society and its hang-ups than it does about Dodgson himself,” Will Brooker says.

Read it all (in honor of his birthday this past weekend, and, yes, the emphasis is mine).

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)* Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryMinistry of the Ordained* Culture-WatchBooksChildrenEducationHistoryPsychologySexuality* TheologyAnthropology

Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:45 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

I agree with the conclusion, which is well stated. I think we have to be very careful when we start analyzing other cultures and time periods because we become convinced that they were as obsessed with sex as a culture as we are currently, and that may or may not be the case. I usually use the analogy of Victorian era obsessions with death. I am convinced if a Victorian was alive and was analyzing our current culture, they would see us obsessed with death just like they were, and I think that’s not correct. We’re obsessed with violence but death itself is something we prefer to avoid entirely.

January 29, 9:08 am | [comment link]
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