Lewis Carroll


Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) was a Victorian-era British writer, photographer, mathematician, and deacon.

He is the author of the famous children”s books Alice in Wonderland, Alice Behind the Mirrors (or Alice in Mirrorland) and The Hunting of the Snark. With his aptitude for wordplay, logic and fantasy, he managed to captivate wide circles of readers. His works, known as nonsense literature, have remained popular to this day and have influenced not only children”s literature, but also writers such as James Joyce, the Surrealists such as André Breton and the painter and sculptor Max Ernst, or the cognitive scientist Douglas R. Hofstadter and the composer Paul McCartney. Carroll also became known as a photographer: like Julia Margaret Cameron and Oscar Gustave Rejlander, he practiced photography as an art from the mid-19th century.


Dodgson, alias Carroll, came from a northern English family with Irish connections-conservative, Anglican, upper middle class-whose members chose careers in the army and church typical of their class. His great-grandfather, also named Charles like his grandfather and father, had risen to the rank of bishop in the Anglican Communion. His grandfather died in action in December 1803 as a Captain in the British Army (4th Dragoon Guards) when his two sons were infants. He was stationed in Ireland and was shot in ambush while trying to meet at night with an Irish rebel who had claimed to want to surrender.The older of his two sons, Charles Dodgson, born in 1800, the father of Lewis Carroll, turned to the other family tradition and took up the clerical career. He went to Westminster School, then to the University of Oxford. He excelled in mathematics and in the classical languages; he graduated summa cum laude, became a lecturer (Lecturer) in mathematics at Oxford University as well as a fellow of his college, and experienced ordination as a deacon. This could have been the prelude to a distinguished career; for higher office he would have had to be celibate. However, he married his cousin Frances Jane Lutwidge (1803-1851) in 1827, after which he retired to the inconspicuousness of a country parsonage.

One of Lewis Carroll”s favorite uncles, Robert Wilfred Skeffington Lutwidge (1802-73), a brother of his mother, was an inspector of the British Asylums for the Insane (Lunacy Commissioner) and died when a patient stabbed him in the head with a nail he had made himself.

Childhood and youth

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born in 1832 in the small rectory of Daresbury in Cheshire, he was the eldest son and the third child. Another eight children followed, and all of them (seven girls and four boys) survived to adulthood, which was unusual for the time. When Charles was eleven, his father was given the vicarage at Croft-on-Tees in North Yorkshire, and the whole family moved into the spacious rectory that remained their home for the next 25 years.

Dodgson senior, meanwhile, made something of a career within the church: he published some sermons, translated Tertullian, became archdeacon of Ripon Cathedral, and interfered, sometimes influentially, in the intense religious disputes that divided the Anglican Communion. He belonged to the Anglican High Church, was an admirer of John Henry Newman and the Oxford Movement, and tried to impart these views to his children.

Charles junior did not go to school in his early years, but was home-schooled until the age of eleven. His reading list was handed down in the family and is evidence of his outstanding intellect: at the age of seven, for example, he read The Pilgrim”s Progress by John Bunyan. His first biographer, nephew Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, reported that his uncle went to his father as a three-year-old asking him to explain the formulas of a logarithm table and, after being told he was too young for that, insisted, “But, please explain it to me!” His relationship with his father was described as sober and matter-of-fact, while his mother, who was the only son for a long time, cared for him lovingly and preferentially.

Charles invented a “railroad game” as an eleven-year-old, inspired by the new, revolutionary technical invention of the railroad, which he experienced in his neighborhood in Darlington. The game with his siblings took place according to precisely defined rules, which he wrote down with sarcastic humor, and which already show through the later Lewis Carroll. He also wrote plays for a puppet theater, such as the tragedy of King John or the opera La Guida di Bragia, in which he brought the wide world into the walls of the rectory for himself and his siblings. Here we can already see the double world that will define his life: the staging, which is subject to precise rules, and the uncontrollable world outside.

In 1844, at the age of twelve, he was sent to a small private school in nearby Richmond, where he was already conspicuous for his mathematical talent. During this time he wrote poems in Latin, which were followed by stories in English. The principal, James Tate, attested to his exceptional level of genius, but advised his father not to let his son know this superiority; he should gradually experience it himself. Carroll suffered from this lack of affirmation throughout his life, and it could be a cause of his stuttering, his lack of self-confidence, and his identity crisis.

A year later, however, Charles transferred to Rugby School in Rugby, one of England”s best-known private schools, where he was obviously less happy. Ten years later, after leaving the school, he wrote about his stay in the diary:

During his time at the unpopular school, which was known for its disciplinary system, Charles began to study literature intensively, reading, for example, David Copperfield by Charles Dickens and studying history books about the French Revolution. He published his literary experiments, complete with drawings, in the school magazine and in various family magazines published by his family. In December 1849, again receiving high praise from the principal, he left Rugby School to enroll at Oxford University in 1850.

Charles Dodgson, a young adult, was about six feet tall, slender, had curly brown hair and blue eyes. At age 17, he had suffered from a serious infection of whooping cough, resulting in hearing loss in his right ear. The only serious disability, however, was what he called his “insecurity,” a stutter that had bothered him since early childhood and plagued him throughout the rest of his life. The stutter has always been a significant part of the myths that have formed around Lewis Carroll. In this context, for example, it was claimed that he stuttered only in the company of adults, but spoke freely and fluently in the presence of children. There is no evidence to support this claim; many children in his circle of acquaintances remembered his stuttering, while many adults did not notice it. Although stuttering bothered him, it was never so bad that he lost his ability to interact with those around him.

Study – Tutor for mathematics in Oxford

Dodgson attended his father”s college, Christ Church, from May 1850, where he took mathematics, theology, and classical literature. He had been at Oxford for just two days when he was recalled home. His mother had died of “inflammation of the brain” (probably meningitis or a stroke) at the age of 47.

When he returned to Oxford, learning came easily to him; the following year he completed his undergraduate studies with top marks, and an old friend of his father”s, Canon Edward Pusey, put him forward for a scholarship that enabled him to pursue his graduate studies.

Dodgson”s early academic career vacillated between high ambitions and lack of focus. In 1854, he was also preparing for ordination to the priesthood. A regional paper, the Whitby Gazette in Yorkshire, published some of his poetry around this time. Through laziness he missed out on an important scholarship, but because of his brilliance as a mathematician, he was hired as a tutor in mathematics at Christ Church in 1855 after graduating in 1854; he was to fill this position for the next 26 years. He made a good income as a tutor, but the work bored him. Many of his students were stupid, older than he was, richer than he was, and above all, they were completely disinterested. They didn”t want to learn anything from him, he didn”t want to teach them anything; mutual apathy determined their daily interactions.

Carroll and the new medium of photography

His poet name, Lewis Carroll, which was to make him famous, first appeared in 1856 in connection with a romantic poem, Solitude, in The Train newspaper, where some of his parodies, including Upon the Lonely Moor, were published. Edmund Yates, the publisher of The Train, gave him the idea. This pseudonym derives from his real name: Lewis is the anglicized form of Ludovicus, the Latinized form for Lutwidge, and Carroll is the anglicized form of Carolus, the Latin name for Charles.

Photography was invented in the 1830s, but it was not available to amateur photographers until the 1850s, at which time the development of the collodion wet plate facilitated the photographic process. In March of 1856, Carroll purchased a new camera in London with the accompanying chemical materials at a cost of 15 pounds, a large sum at the time. In the new technical achievements, in which he always showed interest, he was influenced by his uncle Skeffington Lutwidge, whom he had visited in his childhood, and his friend from Oxford, Reginald Southey, with whom he made the first photographic experiments.

Despite the chemical solvents he was emitting, Carroll developed the photographs in a corner of his room. In 1868 he got a larger studio in Christ Church and built his own studio above it, but it was not completed until 1871. From that time on, he had photographic equipment that was professional according to the times.

Carroll”s most famous subject was Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, Henry George Liddell. He had caught sight of her in 1856 through the window of his workplace as she played with her sisters in the deanery garden. In April of that year, he made an attempt to photograph the church from this garden, which failed because of unfavorable lighting conditions. Carroll met the siblings on this occasion and became friends with them.

In 1857 he earned a master”s degree (MA) and met Alfred Tennyson, John Ruskin, and William Makepeace Thackeray, whom he would later photograph. He had connections with the Pre-Raphaelites, making friends with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his family, and meeting William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Arthur Hughes, among others.

When Carroll was on vacation on the Isle of Wight, he met the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, who was also known for portraits of famous people. Like Carroll, she was influenced by the motifs of Pre-Raphaelite painting.In 1861 he was ordained as a deacon, he no longer had to take up the priesthood, which was fine with him, as he feared he would stutter when preaching; so he only preached a few sermons in his life.

Carroll becomes a writer

On July 4, 1862, Carroll took a boat trip on the Thames with his friend Robinson Duckworth and three sisters, Lorina Charlotte, Alice and Edith Liddell, and told a story. When Alice Liddell expressed the wish that he write down the story, the inspiration for his world-famous children”s book Alice in Wonderland was born.

In February 1863, Carroll had completed the manuscript of Alice in Wonderland. It had become 90 pages in his meticulous little handwriting, which had numerous blanks in which Carroll wanted to insert personally made illustrations. It took him another nearly two years to complete the original handwritten version, entitled Alice”s Adventures Under Ground, which he gave to Alice Pleasance Liddell in November 1864 with the dedication “A Christmas present for a dear child in memory of a summer”s day.” His own drawings had their appeal, but the amateurish execution was not suitable for a printed edition, which Carroll in the meantime did not want to exclude as a possibility.

The friendship between the Liddell family and Carroll broke up in June 1863. There is only speculation about the causes, since the relevant diaries from that time are lost and Carroll”s letters to Alice were destroyed by her mother. Speculation ranges from his alleged infatuation with Alice and desire to marry her, to speculation that a love affair with Alice”s oldest sister Ina was brewing. Further explanations can be found in the reception section on the history of the diaries.

In Hastings he met the Scottish writer George MacDonald – it was the enthusiastic reception of his Alice by the young MacDonald children that finally convinced him to publish the work.

The publisher Macmillan accepted the now greatly expanded manuscript for publication in 1863. The book appeared in 1865, first under the name Alice”s Adventures Under Ground and then after extensions as Alice”s Adventures in Wonderland with illustrations by the renowned illustrator John Tenniel. The book was well received immediately after its publication and found many enthusiastic readers. These included the young writer Oscar Wilde and Queen Victoria.

As is well known, Carroll stuttered, so he occasionally introduced himself as “Do-Do-Dodgson.” There is therefore conjecture that Carroll intended to portray himself with the figure of the bird Dodo in his first work. The real Dodo is a long-extinct bird that Alice first saw in the Oxford University Museum and is currently still on display there.

In 1886 Carroll contacted Alice Liddell, by then married to Hargreaves, again after a long time and asked her for permission to have a facsimile edition produced from his original manuscript. This appeared at the end of the year in an edition of 5000 copies; in the 1980s there was another reprint.30 years after Carroll”s death, Alice Hargreaves released the original manuscript with the drawings in her own hand for sale in 1928. It fetched high prices and only returned to England in 1946 through an initiative of the American National Library (Library of Congress) and bibliophile supporters. The Americans saw the handover “as a small token of appreciation that the English had kept Hitler at bay while we were still preparing for war.” It is on display in the “Manuscript Room” of the British Museum in London.

From June to September of 1867, a trip took him to Russia, and he began working on the manuscript Through the Looking-Glass (Alice Behind the Mirrors), a sequel to the successful Alice in Wonderland. In the same year Bruno”s Revenge was published, later it would become a part of Sylvie & Bruno.

In 1868 Carroll”s father died, so the family had to move out of the rectory in Croft. Carroll was now the new head of the family and looked for a new place for his unmarried sisters to live. He found, after many efforts, “The Chestnut”, a house in Guildford in the county of Surrey, which was to become the new family residence. The death of his father caused him to fall into depression for several years. There appeared his first mathematical publication under the title The Fifth Book of Euclid. His second scientific publication appeared in 1879 as Euclid and his Modern Rivals.

In 1869, the title Phantasmagoria and Other Poems, in which several poems had been combined, was published in a small edition.

For Alice Behind the Mirrors, published in 1871, Carroll wrote individual stories, fables, or poems, in contrast to his first book, which consisted of a continuous narrative. Despite some difficulties that had arisen with the first publication, he again engaged John Tenniel as illustrator. The impetus for the book was again a girl named Alice. Carroll met Alice Raikes in August 1868 at her uncle”s house in London and led her to a mirror as they played together. He gave her an orange in her right hand and asked in which hand Alice”s reflection held the orange. “In the left,” was the answer. Carroll”s question for a solution was answered by the girl as follows: “If I were on the other side of the mirror, wouldn”t the orange still be in my right hand?” Carroll further embellished this episode and shaped it into the story of Alice Behind the Mirrors.

From his family newspaper Mischmasch he took for the edition the nonsense poem Jabberwocky (in Christian Enzensberger”s translation it is called Der Zipferlake), which begins with the first verse in mirror writing; this spelling was originally intended for the entire book.

Also particularly well known in Alice Behind the Mirrors as characters are the egg on the wall called Humpty Dumpty, the twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and the Red Queen appearing in it, who explains to the curious Alice, “In this country you have to run as fast as you can if you want to stay in the same spot.”

In 1876 Carrol”s third major work was published, The Hunting of the Snark, a fantastic nonsense ballad. The illustrations were created by Henry Holiday. The poem is about a strange hunting expedition that sets out with care, hope, and a completely blank sea chart to catch a mysterious creature called a snark. In it, among other things, the interesting view is expressed that something is true if it is said three times. The snark combines extraordinary properties. For example, he is practical in lighting lights, has the habit of getting up only in the afternoon, does not understand a joke and loves bath carts. The Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti is said to have believed that the poem is related to him.

It is legendary in the English-speaking world, but the poem is less well known in Germany. Nevertheless, there are several German translations of “Agony in Eight Convulsions,” as the subtitle goes, including Die Jagd nach dem Schnark by Klaus Reichert and, as a Reclam edition, Die Jagd nach dem Schnatz.

Die Jagd nach dem Schnark was also adapted in several variants for the stage and as a musical, for example by Mike Batt in 1987. Michael Ende translated the poem for the opera based on it by composer Wilfried Hiller, which premiered on January 16, 1988 at the Prinzregententheater in Munich under the title Die Jagd nach dem Schlarg.

The later years

Carroll was one of those writers who, unlike other colleagues, became very well known and wealthy during his lifetime. In 1880, however, he abruptly ended his successful photographic work. The background has never been fully clarified. However, conjectures relate, among other things, to increasing problems with the parents of the little girls he wanted to photograph unclothed. Carroll was fascinated by young girls, who were usually five to six years old when he photographed them; they had to express liveliness, innocence and beauty in their appearance. The English painter Gertrude Thomson, who helped him from 1878 onwards

He continued as a tutor at Christ Church College until 1881; a stint as a trustee followed until 1892. The studio in the college continued to be his residence in the following period, as the faculty of the college generally had a right of residence for life.

Carroll”s only novel, Sylvie and Bruno, on which he had worked for ten years, was published in two volumes in 1889 and 1893. The illustrations were by Harry Furniss. Unlike the Alice books, children and adults meet here, and for the first time in his work a male main character appears. In contrast to his playful first stories, the novel is governed by strict moral rules, and the levels of reality and fantasy are clearly discernible, unlike his earlier works. A common feature is the search for identity. Various interpreters have emphasized the parallels between the conflicts of the novel”s characters and those of the author. For example, in addition to the search for identity, themes include the importance of the father, who played no role in any other of Carroll”s works, the superiority of the two older sisters, his belief in technology, and a certain criticism of science. This work was denied the outstanding success of its predecessors, presumably because of the glaring differences between it and his earlier fantastic works. The Anglist Klaus Reichert sees in Sylvie and Bruno Carroll”s desire “to see himself as identical with himself.

Death of Lewis Carroll

In the last years of his life, Carroll often thought about death. Just before Christmas in 1897, he went to visit his sisters in Guildford, as he did every year. He had a cold, as he often did, due to the lack of heating in his rooms at Christ Church College. Around the turn of the year, his health deteriorated. In the early afternoon of January 14, 1898, Lewis Carroll died of pneumonia at the sisters” home, “The Chestnuts.” Among the mourners was the painter Gertrude Thomson, with whom he had worked for a time.

Lewis Carroll”s grave pedestal in Mount Cemetery, Guildford”s cemetery, bears the inscription “Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson” in parentheses beneath it, along with the addition “(Lewis Carroll)” – a testament to the double life that accompanied him to his death.

The mathematician and clergyman Charles Lutwidge Dodgson

Using his real name, Carroll began teaching at Christ Church College in 1855. As a tutor of mathematics, he had to supervise a group of students who did not make it easy for him. His teaching was not appreciated by the students, apparently Carroll lacked there the humor that flavors his literary works.In a letter he described that a tutor must be dignified and keep distance from his students:

There followed an absurd dialogue between student and teacher, mediated through the servants, which caused many misunderstandings. This letter already contains the satire of his later work as a writer, by referring to the conservative orientation of the college, which was under the influence of the church. Proposals for reform were aimed at granting more power to university authorities. Under the title Notes by an Oxford Chiel, Carroll published a collection of short satires on various matters of university politics at Oxford.

The reputation of being a reformer had preceded the new dean, Henry George Liddell, father of Alice, appointed in 1855, but nothing significant changed during his tenure. Carroll himself participated in reform proposals in the scientific sense, but he was conservative in matters of theological traditions.

After giving up his job as tutor in 1881, he had himself elected curator in 1882. His job was to supervise the Common Room and organize activities. There, for example, Carroll demonstrated a magic lantern and provided information about the new world of technical media. In 1892, he gave up this position again.

In addition to his teaching activities, Carroll wrote under his real name various mathematical treatises and books on algebra, plane algebraic curves, trigonometry, two books on Euclid, a two-volume book Curiosa Matematica (1888, 1893), the second part of which is devoted to conversational mathematics, and in 1896 his last work entitled Symbolic Logic. According to contemporary statements, Carroll was not a significant mathematician, as he was shown to have made errors in form and content, but since the 1970s his contributions to logic, in particular, have been reassessed through the study of his estate (see Reception). What distinguished his works was the presentation; for example, he conceived his main mathematical work Euclid and his Modern Rivals as a play; the argument over mathematical questions was presented in dialogue form, with the ghost of Euclid appearing in his defense. In the book, his concern was to defend Euclid”s ancient textbook in its original form for use in the classroom. He defends Euclid”s treatment of the parallel postulate, but takes a very different standpoint of his own in his first volume of Curiosa Mathematica, published in 1888.

In the debate about new perspectives in natural science, Carroll took a conservative stance and emphasized that science should not put into practice everything that was theoretically possible for it. For example, he rejected animal experimentation (then called vivisection), which he considered justified in only a few cases. In his 1875 treatise Some Widespread Errors About Vivisection, he put forward 13 theses to justify his point of view.

Particularly in his later years, he invented puzzles, riddles, and stories that often took numbers as their starting point, but which basically asked questions about human existence, reality, and staging. A series of brainteasers was printed in the London magazine The Monthly Packet beginning in 1880. Ten episodes appeared, called “Knots” by him, each with one or more mathematical-logical tasks clothed in a short story. Later these stories were published in book form as A Tangled Tale. Among the puzzles he devised were word ladders, called doublets by him.

By virtue of his admission to Christ Church College, Carroll had been required to commit himself to undergo training as a priest. In this way, he received a scholarship and a lifelong right of residence in the college. In 1861 he was ordained a deacon by Samuel Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford. However, he did not pursue the priestly career desired by his father, who wanted to see this family tradition carried on by his son, since this would have required him to give up the theater visits he loved so much, and he was not predestined to preach sermons because of his tendency to stutter. However, his strict religious convictions continued to shape his life.

Caroll was a member of the Society for Psychical Research, an association for the study of parapsychological phenomena.

The Photographer and the Girls – The “Carroll Myth”

When Carroll began photography, he wanted to combine his own ideas with the ideals of freedom and beauty to create the innocence of paradise, where the human body and human contact could be enjoyed without false shame.

For more than 24 years he had occupied himself with the medium of photography and created around 3000 images. Fewer than 1000 have survived time and destruction. A coffee table book published in 2002 by Roger Taylor and Edward Wakeling shows every photograph that has survived the test of time, and Wakeling estimates that over 50 percent depict young girls, while adults and families take up 30 percent, photographs of his own family 6 percent, topographical shots 4 percent, and others such as self-portraits, still lifes, and skeletons 10 percent.

Alexandra Kitchin, known as Xie, was his favorite model with over 50 photographs from 1869 until 1880 when he stopped taking pictures. By then she was approaching her 16th birthday. His photographs of nude children seemed lost for a long time, but four have survived. They were the cause of suspicions about Carroll”s pedophilic tendencies; Morton N. Cohen, among others, expressed himself in this sense in his 1995 biography of Carroll. In Carroll”s collection of letters to little girls, as well as in his diaries, it is obvious that he had an above-average interest in little girls. That the basis for this interest would be a pedophilic background of Carroll is not proven.

The English writer Karoline Leach has a controversial view: In her book In the Shadow of the Dreamchild, published in 1999, she wants to prove that Carroll had unconventional relationships with several adult women for the time, for example with the artist Gertrude Thomson and the writer Anna Thackery. “Dreamchild” refers to Alice Liddell. French literary scholar Hugues Lebailly of the Sorbonne added that Carroll”s biographers from earlier times drew the wrong conclusions based on the diary entries, which are no longer complete, and neglected socio-historical contexts. Victorian views toward child nudity had not been taken into account, he said. In that period, many artists and photographers would have portrayed unclothed children. Such images expressed innocence and were very popular. The motif appeared on Christmas and vacation cards, and Carroll would have created the relevant photographs for contemporary artistic and commercial reasons like his professional colleagues. Leach”s catchphrase of the “Carroll Myth” still dominates literary-critical arguments about Lewis Carroll”s personality in the present day.

Carroll”s fantastic literature

The story of the creation of Alice in Wonderland indicates that many details come from the author”s imagination and unconscious. Alice seems like a dream, one narrative element follows the other; therefore, there is no continuous narrative thread. Carroll has given appropriate information about his methodical procedure, always noted down the associations that came to his mind while writing and then added to the text:

Unlike 19th-century art fairy tales such as those by Dickens, Thackeray, and Oscar Wilde, Carroll”s poetic and aesthetic constructions take a back seat to his chains of associations. As his biographer Thomas Kleinspehn points out, references in individual passages to authors of world literature such as Cervantes and E. T. A. Hoffmann are of little help. Although Carroll makes no direct reference to contemporary texts, he was a good connoisseur of Victorian literature, as evidenced by his extensive library, whose works contained therein are well documented. This is evident in the parodies incorporated into his works, the origins of which are occasionally mentioned in Carroll”s diaries. Many, however, are so heavily encoded that they have only been discovered or await uncovering through meticulous literary scholarship. A classification of Carroll”s unusual work is rather possible in the Nonsens literature, which reacted with its counter-worlds to the Victorian narrowness of society and its rationalism. Its most important representative was Edward Lear, twenty years his senior, who is best known for his grotesque limericks in children”s games and counting verse, which formed a contrast to the cautionary Victorian children”s literature. Whether Carroll knew Lear personally is disputed.

Carroll had been fascinated by Charles Dickens since his youth. Dickens figures seem to reappear in his work in some animals. In addition to the influence of Tennyson and Thackeray, it was the representatives of the Pre-Raphaelites, such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, portrayed by Carroll, who attempted to create a counter-world to Victorian conventional and rational everyday life in their transfigured images. A departure from the real world also characterizes Carroll”s works and, through their satirical and parodic forms, form a kind of social criticism.

Effect during lifetime

The actress Isa Bowman described her impressions of the artist in The Story of Lewis Carroll, published in 1899; his silvery gray hair, which he wore far longer than was fashionable at the time, his deep blue eyes, smooth shave, and somewhat unsteady gait, and she noted that he had been quite a well-known figure in Oxford. His clothes were a bit eccentric, she said, as he never put on a coat even in the coldest weather, and he had “the curious habit of wearing a pair of gray woolen gloves at all seasons.”

In his autobiography, the American writer Mark Twain tells of a meeting with Carroll, “the author of the immortal Alice,” that the latter was one of the quietest and shyest adult men he had ever met. Carroll, he says, sat quietly the entire time, only occasionally responding curtly to a question. “I don”t recall him elaborating at any point.”

Carroll”s effect on the Surrealists

The Surrealists were fascinated by the profundity and the function of the dream in Carroll”s work, and associative writing in particular found acceptance as écriture automatique in Surrealist literature. The surrealist painter and graphic artist Max Ernst created illustrations for Carroll”s works starting in 1950.

Louis Aragon notes in his 1931 Le surréalisme au service de la revolution, No. 3, that The Hunting of the Snark appeared at the same time as Lautréamont”s Chants de Maldoror and Arthur Rimbaud”s Une saison en enfer. He cites the massacres in Ireland, the oppression in the factories, the Manchester capitalism that beset the people, and sums up, “What had become of man”s freedom? It was entirely in the tender hands of Alice, in which this strange man had placed it.”

Carroll”s text Lobster Quadrille was included in André Breton”s 1940 anthology of black humor. The surrealist summed up that Carroll”s nonsense literature derives its meaning from the resolution of the contradiction between the acceptance of faith and the practice of reason, on the one hand, and between poetic consciousness and professional duties, on the other.

The versatile Alice

Alice in Wonderland is seen as a cultural icon. The book is considered a classic of children”s literature, but is also associated with natural sciences, especially mathematics, astronomy, physics and computer science, with eroticism and the canon literature. Lewis Carroll”s stories were not only copied in children”s books. Victorian poet Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894) and modernists such as T. S. Eliot (1888-1965), Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), and James Joyce (1882-1941) in his novel Finnegans Wake drew inspiration from the Alice books. Other writers and critics who referenced Carroll”s texts included Sir William Empson (1906-1984), Robert Graves (1895-1985), and Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), and more recently Julian Barnes, Stephen King, and the postmodern critics Gilles Deleuze and Jean-Jacques Lecercle. The composer Paul McCartney was also influenced by Carroll in his textual ideas.

Hofstadters Gödel, Escher, Bach

In Douglas R. Hofstadter”s book Gödel, Escher, Bach – an Endless Braided Tape, the author describes the connection between his and Carroll”s work under the heading Meaning and Form of Mathematics:

Carroll”s mathematical work from today”s perspective

In logic, Carroll treated propositions of logic in the form of games in diagrams that resembled the later Venn diagrams, and used truth tables, as the unpublished manuscripts of the sequel to his Symbolic Logic (1896) show. Its second part, entitled Advanced, which was unpublished during his lifetime, was published in 1977. The third part (probably burned like so much of his estate. According to a table of contents assigned to the third part, he treats in it, among other things, the rules of logical deduction, “The Theory of Inference”. With his “Method of Trees” he gave in the estate a procedure to show the provability of propositions of the one-place predicate calculus. In this way he partially anticipated work by Leopold Löwenheim, who proved in 1915 that this problem is decidable (see also Theorem of Löwenheim-Skolem). The published part of his Symbolic Logic, on the other hand, was intended as an elementary textbook of classical syllogistic (that is, elementary) logic, illustrated by diagrams. As such, it is still used today by logicians in the classroom. As a result of other work, he also came to be regarded more positively as a mathematician from the 1970s onward than had been the case earlier, for example in his treatment of voting systems (1884), in which he anticipates ideas from game theory. His work on mathematical puzzles has always been appreciated by the doyen of U.S. entertainment mathematics, Martin Gardner, who republished some of Carroll”s books with commentary. In 1995, newly discovered Caroll “puzzles” in the estate were published.

The question of drug use

Some critics have perceived the unreal descriptions in the Alice books as hallucinations of the author. The idea that Carroll had used drugs made him very popular in the underground culture of the 1960s, which claimed that one of the most famous writers had taken forbidden substances. Within the LSD movement, passages from Alice in Wonderland were interpreted as describing LSD trips or trips of other hallucinogenic drugs (psilocybin, mescaline). There are allusions in the book that suggest drug experiences. For example, the protagonist Alice”s size changes as a result of consuming mushrooms, cookies, or liquids. However, the intoxicant LSD, which is consumed in the 1960s, did not exist at Carroll”s time; its hallucinogenic effect was not discovered until 1943 by the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann.

It has never been documented that Carroll used drugs.During Carroll”s lifetime, the frequently used painkiller available was laudanum, which was an opium-containing tincture capable of inducing a state of intoxication in a high enough dose. Carroll may possibly have taken it from time to time for his migraine attacks, which are documented in his diary in 1880. There is also speculation that the fantastic adventures of Alice may have been influenced by the occasional aura from migraine attacks. In this context, it should be mentioned that a seizure-like condition in which people perceive themselves or their surroundings altered in a hallucinatory way is called Alice in Wonderland syndrome.

The missing diaries

Four volumes are missing from Carroll”s 13 diaries. The loss of the volumes and pages is ultimately unexplained. Many Carroll experts believe that the diaries were removed by family members to protect the family name, but this assumption is not supported by evidence. The missing material, with the exception of a missing single page, is attributed to the period between the years 1853 (Carroll was 22 years old at the time) and 1862.

One popular theory among many for the missing June 27, 1863 page is that it was torn out to disguise Carroll”s marriage proposal to eleven-year-old Alice that day. A sheet of notes that surfaced in 1996 in the Dodgson family archives in Woking claims otherwise.

This paper, known as cut pages in diary document, was compiled by family members after Carroll”s death. It briefly summarizes the contents of two diary pages that are missing, including the June 27, 1863 leaf. The summary reveals that Mrs. Liddell told Carroll that gossip was circulating about him, the Liddell family, and about Ina, presumably Alice”s older sister Lorina; the break with the family probably resulted from this. Another interpretation was that Ina was also the shortened name of Alice”s mother. This leads to the interpretation that Carroll”s break with the Liddell family was unrelated to Alice.

The surviving diaries of Lewis Carroll were acquired from the C. L. Dodgson Estate by the British Library in London in 1969 and are kept there.

In the footsteps of Carroll in England

Reverend Dodgon”s workplace as a mathematician and clergyman at Christ Church in Oxford, where he occupied a studio in the northwest tower, was also where he wrote his stories as Lewis Carroll. He met the children of his dean, Henry George Liddell, including Alice, his inspiration for his most famous book, Alice in Wonderland. The “Great Hall,” where he ate his meals, contains many of Wonderland”s secrets, so the “rabbit hole” is believed to be the door through which Dean Liddell entered the “senior common room.” Liddell himself may be the “white rabbit” because he was always late. There are guided tours for the visitor to see, for example, the “Jabberwocky”, the “Cheshire cat” and Alice”s secret door to Wonderland.

At the Museum of Oxford, which describes the city and its inhabitants from prehistoric times to the present day, there is a special exhibit called “Looking for Alice,” which includes Alice Liddell”s clothing and personal belongings.

Shortly after Carroll”s death, his brother Wilfred had agreed to have many bundled bags of papers from the rooms at Christ Church burned; the Dodgsons sold other papers at auction. In 1965, the younger generation of the family gave many of their remaining memorabilia to the Surrey History Centre and the Guildford Museum. The Surrey History Centre in Woking therefore holds a significant archive of Carroll”s life, consisting of documents relating to his childhood, letters and original photographs of his brothers, sisters and aunts. Among these papers are reminiscences of ”child friends,” a page of notes on the cut pages of the diary, and the matching letter from 1932 that refers to conjecture expressed by family members about the missing diary pages. Donations from other sources from the 1950s to the 1990s complete the collection.

In Guildford, the Dodgsons” family home after their father”s death, an exhibition about Victorian childhoods is on display at the Guildford Museum. It includes toys made by Carroll and his siblings, such as a cow on wheels, a dollhouse and a paper doll with clothes made by his sisters.


Themes from Carroll”s Alice books have been incorporated into literature, film, pop music and computer games, among others. In 2007, the opera Alice in Wonderland was premiered at the Bavarian State Opera. A list of these adaptations can be found under the lemma Alice in Wonderland.

The Lewis Carroll Shelf Award was given from 1958 to 1979 to books considered to be of the same quality as Carroll”s Alice in Wonderland. Examples include Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni in 1962, Maurice Sendak”s Where the Wild Things Are in 1964, Astrid Lindgren”s Christmas in the Stable in 1970, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by the Brothers Grimm in 1973.

In Alice in Wonderland, a compound word was compared to a suitcase – and the term “portmanteau word” was born. A synonym is “portmanteau word”, the English word for suitcase is portmanteau, derived from the French portemanteau. In a suitcase one gathers different objects, in a portmanteau word accordingly parts of words – and joins with them their meanings. About 70 years after Lewis Carroll, James Joyce created thousands of portmanteaus in his late work Finnegans Wake. In the title of his novel Der satanarchäolügenialkohöllische Wunschpunsch, Michael Ende exaggerated a portmanteau in 1989.

The Cheshire Cat is a cat that appears in Alice in Wonderland; when it disappears, its grin still remains. After it a concept of theoretical elementary particle physics was named, which is used in bag models and originates among others from Holger Bech Nielsen, it is called “Cheshire Cat Principle” (CCP). Snarks are a concept in graph theory (playing a role in the four-color problem) and named by Martin Gardner after Carroll”s poem.

The Red Queen character from Alice Behind the Mirrors is the namesake of the Red Queen hypothesis for evolution. The hypothesis was put forward by Leigh Van Valen in 1973. It states that a species in nature must constantly become more powerful in order to maintain its current position.

In New York, the “Library Way” has led since the late 1990s on East 41st Street between Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue to the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the largest building of the New York Public Library (NYPL). Embedded in the paving of the sidewalk are 96 rectangular bronze plaques dedicated to significant writers and featuring quotes from their works. Lewis Carroll is represented by a plaque and a quote from Through the Looking Glass: And What Alice Found There.

In the fictional biography of Sherlock Holmes by William S. Baring-Gould, it is mentioned that Lewis Carroll was Sherlock Holmes” lecturer and recognized in him his special powers of deduction.

Mathematical works


  1. Lewis Carroll
  2. Lewis Carroll