Lewis Carroll

View: Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll was an English logician, mathematician and novelist, best-known for his classic fantasy novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871). Carroll used the surrealistic settings of his fantasy world to question the norms of the Victorian age in a way that many critics considered his work subversive. Unlike other children’s books of the time, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland did not try to teach a moral message. Carroll also wrote poetry which have remained open to all explanations of meaning.

Lewis Carroll was born at Daresbury in Chesire into a wealthy family. He attended a Yorkshire grammar school and Rugby. At Christ Church, Oxford, he studied mathematics and worked from 1855 to 1881 as a lecturer (tutor). Carroll’s career in education was troubled by a bad stammer. He lectured and taught with difficulty and he also preached only occasionally after his ordination in 1861. Carroll was very shy and he even hid his hands continually within a pair of gray-and-black gloves.

In spite of his stammer, Carroll was able to speak easily to children, whom he loved to photograph, especially small girls. Carroll had seven sisters and his attraction to young girls was perhaps more innocent than has been imagined. During one picnic he started to tell a long story to Alice Liddell (died in 1934), who was the daughter of Henry George Liddell, the head of his Oxford college. Carroll wrote down the story and the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was born.

The friendship with the Liddell family ended abruptly, and Carroll turned his attention to other young girls. He spent his holiday’s in Eastbourne, and recorded in his diary discussions with his new friends.

The sequel Through the Looking Class, appeared in 1871, and is perhaps more often quoted than the first, featuring the poems Jabberwocky and The Walrus and the Carpenter. The artist John Tenniel refused to illustrate one chapter in Through the Looking Class because he thought that it was ridiculous. The chapter was published later in 1872 as The Wasp in a Wig. Carroll himself always wished to be an artist and as a boy he illustrated all the manuscript magazines which he made for his younger brothers and sisters. Carroll’s original drawings for Alice’s Adventures Underground were published in 1961.

Carroll also wrote humorous verse, such as The Hunting of the Snark and mathematical works. He was a rather exceptional student of Aristotelian logic. The author’s life and work has become a constant area for psychological speculation. According to Carl Jung, “a typical infantile motif is the dream of growing infinitely small or infinitely big, or being transformed from one to the other – as you find, for instance, in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.” (in Man and His Symbols, 1964) Modern physicist have often compared the world of Lewis Carroll with the incredible phenomena of quantum reality – such as cats that are both alive and dead at the same time (‘Schrödinger’s cat’) or with particles that change their identities for no apparent reason. They are against Alice’s common sense: ‘I can’t believe that!’ said Alice. ‘… one can’t believe impossible things. But the White Queen has her own principles: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’ (from Through the Looking Glass)

At the time of their publication, Alice’s adventures were considered children’s literature, but now his stories are generally viewed in a different light. Carroll’s work has fascinated such critics as Edmund Wilson and W.H. Auden, and logicians and scientist such as Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell. Virginia Woolf remarked, “the two Alices are not books for children; they are the only books in which we become children”. In the 1960s hippies were attracted to their surrealistic world, and Carroll’s characters gave inspiration to such songs as Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ and The Beatles’s ‘I am a Walrus’. Fredric Brown used Carroll’s characters and lyrics in his novel Night of the Jabberwock (1950). In the 1990s Jeff Noon continued Alice’s adventures in Automated Alice, in which she is transported to the modern world.

Links

- Fairy Tales

- Alice In Wonderland

- Stories and Tales home