Fond of Children

about Lewis Carroll

During his tenure at the University of Oxford, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a mathematics lecturer, met the family of then-dean Henry Liddell and began spending time with his wife and helping her with the children, particularly the three daughters, Lorina, Edith, and Alice Liddell. It was during a rowing trip with the children that Charles began to invent a fantastical tale involving the youngest sister, Alice and her adventures “under the ground.” The book was published by his pen name, Lewis Carroll.

In both his writings and photographic work, she and characters in her likeness came up consistently — most notably as the inspiration for the protagonist in Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland — despite him saying any connection was merely coincidental. And in the end, he was an artist and a poet, even if some late twentieth-century biographers have suggested that Charles’s interest in children had an erotic element. Morton N. Cohen, in his Lewis Carroll: A Biography — 1995, claims that his “sexual energies sought unconventional outlets” and “given his emotional attachment to children as well as his aesthetic appreciation of their forms, his assertion that his interest was strictly artistic is naïve”.

As in countries like Italy, where unfortunately some “sexual energies” still anticipate the genius of an author like Pier Paolo Pasolini, often very miserably, elsewhere too human thought seems to be dully folded down on a medieval way of approaching a special sensibility, by refusing to understand its sexual aspects — of which an artistic soul is sometimes the victim itself. The idea that Charles’s attraction to young girls wasn’t just spiritual or avuncular isn’t a recent one. Tedious psychoanalytical studies about him have been written since at least the early 1930s, a major contribution to that field being Dr. Phyllis Greenacre in Swift and Carroll — 1955. As well, Florence Becker Lennon didn’t shy away from the topic when she wrote Victoria through the looking glass — 1945, revised 1962 as The Life of Lewis Carroll. All this material more often than not proves but a way to speculate on someone whose only crime was to see childhood as “a state of grace”, a way of looking and feeling which, at the Victorian era, was not necessarily related to an inappropriate action as it is now.

According to the Smithsonian Magazine, “Photographs of nude children sometimes appeared on postcards or birthday cards, and nude portraits — skillfully done — were praised as art studies, as they were in the work of Dodgson’s contemporary Julia Margaret Cameron. Victorians saw childhood as a state of grace, even nude photographs of children were considered pictures of innocence itself”. Another quote that can maybe explain the nostalgic side of that feeling is from Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita: “What I heard was but the melody of children at play… and then I knew that the hopelessly poignant thing was not Lolita’s absence from my side, but the absence of her voice from that concord”.
Of course this may not be enough to illuminate the so corrupt judgments of our time, a time when a fake document is used by many just to draw attention or simply shock public opinion, as in the case of the “digital” kiss between Lewis Carroll and Alice.

Another argument made by Charles revisionists is that his aversion to boys is also mythical, and makes his interest in girls seem more pronounced than it actually was. “I am fond of children — except boys —,” he’s often quoted from a letter to Kathleen Eschwege on October 24, 1879, “and have more child-friends than I could possibly count on my fingers, even if I were a centipede…” That adds up to a lot of girls, and he wasn’t exaggerating: a diary entry for March 25, 1863 contains a list of the names of 107 girls “photographed or to be photographed”.

At least four complete volumes and around seven pages of text are missing from Charles’s 13 diaries. The loss of the volumes remains unexplained: the pages have been removed by an unknown hand. Most scholars assume that the diary material was removed by family members in the interests of preserving the family name, but this has not been proven. Except for one page, material is missing from his diaries for the period between 1853 and 1863 — when he was 21–31 years old. This was a period when he began suffering great mental and spiritual anguish and confessing to an overwhelming sense of his own sin. This was also the period of time when he composed his extensive love poetry, leading to speculation that the poems may have been autobiographical.

In his diary for 1880, Charles recorded experiencing his first episode of migraine with aura, describing very accurately the process of “moving fortifications” that are a manifestation of the aura stage of the syndrome. Another form of migraine aura called Alice in Wonderland syndrome has been named after his little heroine because its manifestation can resemble the sudden size-changes in the book. It is also known as micropsia and macropsia, a brain condition affecting the way that objects are perceived by the mind.

Born on 27 January 1832, in the small parsonage at Daresbury, in Cheshire, Charles died of pneumonia following influenza on 14 January 1898 at his sisters’ home, “The Chestnuts”, in Guildford.

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