Posts Tagged ‘Charles Dodgson’

And what is the use of a book, without pictures or conversations?

July 20, 2010
Alice and her sister

Alice and her sister

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do. Once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”

— Lewis Carroll

Probably the most famous opening lines in English literature, the opening lines from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written for Alice Liddell. She and her two sisters, Lorina Liddell and Edith Liddell, were on a boat trip on the river near Oxford, with Reverend Robinson Duckworth and the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. To keep the girls from getting bored, Charles Dodgson told them a story about a little girl called Alice who followed a White Rabbit down a rabbit hole.

The three girls were the daughters of Henry George Liddell, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University and Dean of Christ Church. Henry George Liddell was also headmaster of Westminster School.

The journey started at Folly Bridge near Oxford and ended five miles away in the village of Godstow.

Alice asked to be given a copy of the story she had been told. Charles Dodgson consented and two years later, 26 November 1864, gave her the handwritten manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, with illustrations by himself.

Simultaneously he had been negotiating with the publisher Macmillan for a published copy. This was published as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, with illustrations by John Tenniel (then a political cartoonist). This was published December 1865, with a publication date of 1866.

The sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, again with illustrations by John Tenniel, was published by Macmillan in 1871.

Also see

Life of Lewis Carroll in Guildford

Legacy of Lewis Carroll

Life of Lewis Carroll in Guildford

July 19, 2010
Chestnuts – home of Lewis Carroll and his sisters in Guildford

Chestnuts – home of Lewis Carroll and his sisters in Guildford

Fight for your dreams, and your dreams will fight for you. — Paulo Coelho

It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting. — Paulo Coelho

An excellent talk by Mary Alexander, curator of Guildford Museum, on the Life of Lewis Carroll in Guildford, drawing upon his journals.

The Rev Charles Dodgson lived three lives (apart from that as the writer Lewis Carroll), he lived at Christchurch College Oxford, lived in Guildford with his sisters, spent time in Eastbourne on holiday.

Charles Dodgson came from a large family. His father was ordained, as was his grandfather. It was a tradition for the men of the family to go into either the army or the church. Charles Dodgson chose neither, his preferred profession was mathematics at Oxford.

To hold a position at Christchurch it was necessary to be ordained. He also could not marry.

He was very religious and would attend church twice on a Sunday. Not always the same church. Although ordained, he chose not to go into the Church, but he did occasionally preach.

After he was ordained, it was six months before he delivered his first sermon. He was pretty relaxed about it. He made no preparation the night before on the grounds he was too tired. Over breakfast he made a few notes.

He gave a few more sermons over the next few years, then nothing for twenty years.

He noted in his journal that he felt unworthy to enter the church, but intriguingly does not say why. This has opened the door to worthless speculation that too often gets reported as fact.

None of his sermons survive, but he was known as a good story teller, we can therefore only speculate. A contemporary account speaks well of his sermons.

One myth to be knocked on the head: He did not befriend children because he did not get on well with adults. He had an active social life whilst in Guildford. He also had several female friends.

Note: Edward Wakeling (Lewis Carroll researcher and editor of the Dodgson Journals) makes a similar point in a talk he gave a few years previous to the Lewis Carroll Society. Charles Dodgson was a socialite! Edward Wakeling slams biographers for perpetuating myths, for writing what readers wish to hear to sell more copies, for failing to use primary sources, and even when they do, failing to comprehend the context. All very basic for historical research. [see The Real Lewis Carroll]

In his talk Edward Wakeling cites a lovely example from the Dodgson journals relating to St Mary’s (only it was St Mary’s Oxford, not Guildford!):

Dec: 6. (Sun). “Preached at St. Mary’s, at the evening service. One of our Chaplains, the Rev. Sydney Baker, is curate in charge, and had asked for my help. It was indeed a privilege to be thankful for – but a formidable task: I had fancied there would be only a small audience, and the church was full, as well as the West Gallery, and the North one partly filled as well. I took as text Mark IX, 24, and the sermon lasted about 18 minutes.”

The Dodgsons moved to Guildford from Croft in Yorkshire when their father died and the rectory had to be vacated.

Cross given to St Mary's by sisters of Charles Dodgson

Cross given to St Mary's by sisters of Charles Dodgson

His sisters were also active in the Parish, helping with good causes. The brass cross on the altar at St Mary’s is believed to have been given by his sisters. They are known to have given St Mary’s a cross and there is no record of a subsequent cross.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written in Oxford following a story telling for his friend Alice Liddell. Through the Looking-Glass was part written in Guildford.

He liked walking. He would walk to Albury. Or walk to Farnham along the Hog’s Back and return on the train.

His death was sudden and a shock. He took ill with flu, it went to his chest and he never recovered. His funeral was poorly attended. He lies buried in Guildford. His sisters placed a simple white cross on his grave with the words ‘Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) fell asleep Jan. 14, 1898.’

Mary Alexander has written a booklet, Lewis Carroll and Guildford, published by Guildford Museum (July 2010). The front cover is illustrated with Chestnuts, the house a few minutes walk from St Mary’s where Charles Dodgson lived with his sisters.

Mary Alexander was an excellent speaker, knowledgeable on her subject, it was therefore very unfortunate that most of her talk was drowned out by the ringing of the church bells. Pleasant walking to the church, but a headache once inside.

Mary Alexander and Edward Wakeling

Mary Alexander and Edward Wakeling

The talk was followed by Matins. Mary Alexander read the two lessons, Selwyn Goodacre, from the Lewis Carroll Society, gave the sermon.

Selwyn Goodacre spoke of the religious aspect of the life of Charles Dodgson. It was not the odd sermon, or regular attendance at church, it permeated all aspects of his life. Father of Selwyn was ordained and a good friend of Father Somerset Ward. Father Somerset Ward draw religious and spiritual insight from Alice.

I was reminded of Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho. Not because his style is similar to Lewis Carroll (as it is not) or that he writes nonsense (as he does not) but the spiritual element of his writing. The Alchemist is a fairy tale of sorts. Alice descends into a dream, Santiago follows his dreams.

Two of the hymns had a Lewis Carroll connection.

Breathe On Me Breath of God, written by Edwin Hatch, father of the three Hatch sisters who were friends of Lewis Carroll. Evelyn Hatch went on to edit the 1933 volume of The Letters of Lewis Carroll. Selwyn met Ethel Hatch many years ago when she was over 100 years old!

All Creatures of Our God and King, written by W H Draper who married one of Lewis Carroll’s friends. Selwyn has written a booklet about Lewis Carroll and W H Draper.

The pulpit from which Mary Alexander gave her talk and Selwyn Goodacre the sermon, is the same pulpit used by Charles Dodgson.

Matins was followed by sherry, which I thought was very kind and generous of St Mary’s.

Members of the Lewis Carroll Society went off to have lunch. I decided to follow the example of Charles Dodgson and took myself for a walk along the River Wey to St Catherine’s Lock.

St Mary's Church

St Mary's Church

St Mary’s is the oldest church in Guildford. The tower dates from around 1050 AD and is the town’s oldest pre-conquest building. Norman columns and arches dominate the interior. Somewhat unusual it is twinned with Holy Trinity Church at the top of the High Street. I thought this was our secular society, churches and parishes having to time share the same vicar, but I learnt this was not the case. When Charles Dodgson was involved with St Mary’s this arrangement existed. I spoke with the Curate who took the service and he told me that the parish had two churches and this arrangement had existed since at least 1699. As well as occasionally preaching at St Mary’s, the funeral of Charles Dodgson also took place in St Mary’s.

Charles Dodgson and his sisters lived at Chestnuts, a house only a few minutes walk from St Mary’s.

Curiouser and Curiouser: A programme of events in Guildford, part of (though extending beyond) the Guildford Summer Festival.

The Lewis Carroll Society meet at places associated with Lewis Carroll.

Serendipity: Little did I know when I took the photo at St Mary’s of Mary Alexander and Charles Wakeling comparing notes, that Charles Wakeling had made a similar point to Mary Alexander on Dodgson Myths in a talk he had given to the Lewis Carroll Society a few years earlier. A talk I literally stumbled upon a few days later! Synchronicity? [see The Real Lewis Carroll]

Also see

Legacy of Lewis Carroll

Tai Chi in the Jabberwocky Maze

Legacy of Lewis Carroll

July 19, 2010

A series of afternoon talks at the Surrey History Centre in Woking mounted by the Lewis Carroll Society. Part of a Lewis Carroll weekend.

Woking is one of those places one passes through on the train, but never visits. It is easy to see why. I have seen more derelict town centres, for example Farnborough and Aldershot, but I do not think I have ever visited a place as depressing as Woking. I had visions of the resident population committing mass suicide.

I had not a clue where the venue was, and it did not help that Surrey County Council in an act of crass stupidity, removed that day the information from their website. I did eventually find directions for arriving on foot, only they were completely wrong! I walked up and down through the depressing town centre three times realising that I was hopelessly lost without a clue where I was going. There were signs, but they pointed anywhere and everywhere but the Surrey History Centre. If in doubt ask a cycle shop, which is what I did, and I am pleased to say they put me on the right track and I did eventually find the venue, but not helped by the lack of names on the roads and few buildings having street numbers.

The talks were not well organised, poor speakers, bad sound system. Not even a list of speakers and the topic of their talk. Nothing more designed to bore the pants off you than a speaker reading from notes. If you know your subject you should be able to talk about it with enthusiasm. Nothing more annoying than a bad sound system, and speakers using it when they are far clearer and audible when they speak unaided. The slide projections were too small for the size of the room and washed out by bright sunlight outside as no one thought to draw the blinds.

Better facilities would have been available had the Parish Centre at St Nicolas Church in Guildford been used!

The worst speaker was an American who droned on from her script, made worse by the poor sound system. I had difficulty understanding a word she was saying and I was not the only one.

But, I always make the best of what is on offer and this what I gleaned from a variety of speakers.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was originally for reading by friends and family. It was presented to Alice Liddell as Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, It was illustrated by Lewis Carroll. It was published by Macmillan (1865) illustrations by John Tenniel (who was a political cartoonist). It cost six shillings. Quite a high cost and a cheaper People’s Edition was published which remained in print until the 1960s.

When the copyright of the Mcmillan edition expired, rival publishers jumped on the Alice bandwagon, but they could not use the Tenniel illustrations which were still in copyright and so had alternative illustrations.

Through the Looking-Glass was the sequel, again published by Mcmillan.

Alice in Wonderland, as it is commonly referred to, has never been out of print, and is the most widely published book after the Bible.

Lewis Carroll has introduced a number of words and phrases into the English language, for example ‘chortle’ and ‘curiouser and curiouser’. He invented portmanteau words, that is words derived from two or more existing words, for example mimsy from miserable and flimsy.

Whilst in common usage when I was young, I assume because used by older generations, the words and phrases have now all but disappeared from the English language, at least from common everyday use. The English language is poorer for their loss.

For reasons not explained, Alice is a favourite of science fiction and crime writers, either in the title or the plot. Many examples were given.

Many parodies have been published, though it seemed to be stretching the point if many were parodies beyond the title. Collectors of Alice memorabilia have to have every single copy, including any reprints and subsequent editions. One, by George Bernard Shaw, itself parodied, I could not see was a parody at all, at least from the title or book cover, but maybe I was missing something blindingly obvious.

There are several hundred Alice plays, though many of these have not got beyond the imagination of their authors.

Jenny Woolf author of a recent biography of Lewis Carroll, The Mystery of Lewis Carroll (Haus Publishing, 2010), was asked to talk on his appearance. Of all the things that could have been said of Lewis Carroll, his writing, his life, his character, this was the least interesting aspect of his life, especially as little is known. He was slightly asymmetrical in appearance, he stammered, he had a ramrod back (but was this not trues of all Victorians?), he was physically fit and enjoyed long walks, he was liked by children but not so liked by adults who found him remote and stand-offish, he did not sport a bushy beard (cf Charles Darwin), he was always immaculate dressed, he did not like his image being recorded, either by photography (he himself was a keen photographer) or by sketch or painting, when one of his young friends drew a sketch of him, he turned red of face, tore it out of her hands, ripped it up and threw it in the fire.

Note: The following day, Mary Alexander, referring to the journals of Charles Dodgson, dismissed it as a myth he did not mix in adult company. Such is the pitfall if in writing a biography you do not stick to primary sources, but to do so is hard work. [see Life of Lewis Carroll in Guildford]

The highlights of the afternoon were White Rabbit before the interlude and a talk on the journals Lewis Carroll kept.

Any age reinterprets Alice through the lens of its own experience. In the 1960s it was the acid drug culture. Surely Lewis Carroll was on one big drug trip. Think Aldous Huxley, Wilkie Collins, Sherlock Holmes, Carlos Castaneda.

White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane was played, a classic sixties rock number which sends shivers down my spine, the lyrics illustrated with Alice drawings that reinforced the not very subliminal drug message. It was a brilliant montage and I have asked that it be put on YouTube.

And no, those who have researched the background of the Rev Charles Dodgson, can find no evidence of a secret Lewis Carroll drug culture.

Edward Wakeling with a replica of the first Charles Dodgson journal

Edward Wakeling with a replica of the first Charles Dodgson journal

The Rev Charles Dodgson kept a journal. In it he recorded his every day thoughts. On his death he was up to Journal 13. They were numbered sequentially. Four are missing, pages are missing from the existing journals! Who was the villain, what were they trying to hide. This was the subject of the last speaker, and such was the interest and his enthusiastic presentation, he held everyone (including myself) spellbound.

On his death, the Charles Dodgson estate was administered by his two brothers, one of who was out of the country. A nephew of Charles Dodgson wished to write an account of the life of his uncle and he worked from all thirteen journals, therefore we know they existed then. On the death of the brother of Charles Dodgson, the management of the Charles Dodgson estate passed to the son of the brother, ie the nephew of Charles Dodgson. The nephew got so sick and tired of handling inquiries on Lewis Carroll that he decided, helped by his sister (niece of Charles Dodgson), to publish an edited version of the journals. Typescripts were drawn up.

The journals were known to have existed on the death of Lewis Carroll. Were known to have existed in 1914 as his brother quoted from all thirteen. They were known to have existed in 1930 and 1932 as they were seen by a journalist who visited the nephew, were cited in correspondence.

Who therefore destroyed four journals, who ripped or cut out ten pages from the nine remaining journals? The nephew is known to have been sensitive to personal and intimate information in the journals, and as the journals went missing whilst in his custody, the finger of suspicion points at him. It has previously pointed at his sister, but as it was she who took her role as archivist seriously, expressed concern at censorship and worked diligently to get the journals published, it seems unlikely that she was the culprit.

I was kindly given copies of the Lewis Carroll Review and Bandersnatch (the newsletter of the Lewis Carroll Society). What can you fill up a journal and newsletter with many years after the death of a writer? Very little and I could feel the bottom of the barrel being scraped. Interesting tidbits, Michael Corner has written medieval-style Alice songs, maybe interesting to hear but no contact details (other than for the score so maybe never recorded or performed), Jasmine Becker-Griffith has apparently interesting Alice pictures on the net (I have yet to check), Oxford Storypods (I assume a play on ipod) has produced an apparently worth-listening-to audio book Alice in Wonderland & Nonsense Verse and Prose (but it is mp3 on CD, cuts down number of CDs but tough if your CD player cannot play it), a rather savage and badly written review of The Mystery of Lewis Carroll (by one of the day’s speakers).

The meeting was a special Lewis Carroll Society event and I was possibly the only non-member present. Apart from being kindly given the aforementioned journal and newsletter, I was invited to St Mary’s Church in Guildford, where the Rev Charles Dodgson occasionally preached. Something new I had only learnt in the last few days. It was a necessary requirement to be ordained to be a fellow of the Oxford College where the Rev Charles Dodgson taught. At St Mary’s there was to be a talk followed by the morning Sunday service.

Also see

The Real Lewis Carroll

Life of Lewis Carroll in Guildford

Tai Chi in the Jabberwocky Maze

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