Carroll, Lewis (1832–1898)

The English writer, mathematician, Oxford don, and photographer Charles Lutwidge Dodgson is best known by his pen name Lewis Carroll. The eldest son of the Anglican minister Charles Dodgson and Frances Lutwidge, Dodgson spent his early childhood in Cheshire and later in Yorkshire. Educated as a boy away from home at Richmond School and at Rugby, he matriculated in 1851 at Christ Church College, Oxford, which would prove to be his home for the remaining forty-seven years of his life. Dodgson excelled in mathematics and gained a studentship (equivalent to a fellowship at other colleges), which he kept for life, fulfilling the double requirements of remaining unmarried and taking orders in the Church of England, although he proceeded to ordination only as a deacon. He served as a mathematical lecturer at Christ Church from 1855 to 1881 and published mathematical works as C. L. Dodgson. He was also a distinguished photographer. Dodgson achieved fame as Lewis Carroll upon the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in 1865 and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, six years later. After his two Alice books, Dodgson, as Lewis Carroll, wrote several more books for children, including The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits (1876), Sylvie and Bruno (1889), and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded


Although Dodgson has been described often as a retiring Oxford don who only liked the company of children, Dodgson's surviving diaries and letters attest to the strong adult, as well as child, friendships that he cultivated. His adult life followed a steady routine. Dodgson spent term times at Christ Church, where he kept busy with college and mathematical affairs. During holidays he visited the family home, and he spent summers at the seaside. Dodgson made several trips to London every year. While there, he led a busy social life, avidly attending the theatre and art exhibitions and visiting with friends. He also traveled widely around England, again visiting friends and acquaintances. In 1856 Dodgson took up photography, still a nascent technology, and for the next twenty-four years of his life, until he stopped taking pictures in 1880, it played a major role in his social activities. He specialized in portraiture, taking pictures of any adult and child acquaintances whom he could persuade to sit for his camera.

Dodgson was one of a number of Victorian men, such as John Ruskin and George MacDonald, who turned to GIRL-HOOD for creative inspiration and for emotional solace. Some scholars have suggested that Dodgson's fascination with girlhood stemmed from feelings of nostalgia for his domestic childhood home after being sent away to the masculine environment of school. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, shifting ideas concerning the relationship between childhood and sexuality have led scholars to debate whether or not Dodgson was in fact sexually interested in young girls. This speculation is fueled, in part, by the uncertain number of photographs he took later in his life of children in the nude. As he grew older, however, Dodgson's "child-friends," as he often termed them, tended more and more to be young women in their teens and twenties.

The Alice Books

The Alice books are seminal to the history of CHILDREN'S LITERATURE, for they liberated the genre from the didactic and moral children's books fashionable at the time. Replete with wit, humor, nonsense verse, and parodies of the illogical conventions of everyday life, the books were immediately popular upon publication, amusing and delighting both children and adults. They have never gone out of print, have been translated into many languages, and have been dramatized and filmed countless times since their first appearance on the London stage in 1886.

The character of Alice originated in Dodgson's close friendship with Lorina, Alice, and Edith Liddell, the eldest daughters of Henry George Liddell, the dean of Christ Church. Dodgson first narrated the adventures of his heroine Alice during a boating trip with the Liddells. Following the trip, Dodgson wrote and illustrated the manuscript Alice's Adventures Under Ground, which he gave to Alice Liddell as a Christmas gift. The book chronicles seven-year-old Alice's dream of entering a world populated with bizarre characters, from the March Hare and the Mad Hatter, to the Queen of Hearts and the White Rabbit. Alice went against the grain of previous literary child heroes and heroines. In her, Dodgson created a modern child. She is "curiouser and curiouser" and, throughout her adventures, progresses through many moods, sometimes cheerful, sometimes peevish, as she attempts to make sense of the nonsensical world in which she finds herself.

Dodgson's portraits of children also hold a place in the history of childhood. Rooted in the sentimental bonds of friendship between Dodgson and particular children he knew and entertained, such as the Liddells, both his children's books and his photography depict childhood as playful, informal, intimate, and, above all, separate from adult experience. Dodgson's model has proved relevant throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.

See also: Photographs of Children.


Cohen, Morton N., ed., with the assistance of Roger Lancelyn Green. 1979. The Letters of Lewis Carroll, 2 vols. New York: Oxford University Press.

Cohen, Morton N. 1995. Lewis Carroll: A Biography. New York: A. A. Knopf.

Kincaid, James R. 1992. Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture. New York: Routledge.

Knoepflmacher, U. C. 1998. Ventures into Childland: Victorians, Fairy Tales, and Femininity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Leach, Karoline. 1999. In the Shadow of the Dreamchild: A New Understanding of Lewis Carroll. London: Peter Owen.

Mavor, Carol. 1995. Pleasures Taken: Performances of Sexuality and Loss in Victorian Photographs. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Robson, Catherine. 2000. Men in Wonderland: The Lost Girlhood of the Victorian Gentleman. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Smith, Lindsay. 1999. The Politics of Focus: Women, Children, and Nineteenth-Century Photography. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

Taylor, Roger, and Edward Wakeling. 2002. Lewis Carroll: Photographer. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Waggoner, Diane. 2002. "Photographing Childhood: Lewis Carroll and Alice." In Picturing Children, ed. Marilyn R. Brown. Aldershot, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

Wakeling, Edward. 1993–2000. Lewis Carroll's Diaries, the Private Journals of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, 6 vols. Luton, UK: Lewis Carroll Society.