Lewis Carroll was the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, an English writer and author of two of the best loved children's books in English Literature - 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' and 'Through the Looking Glass'. The characters and phrases from these books have entered and become part of the English lexicon in a way rivaled perhaps only by those from Shakespeare's works. So if someone calls you Mad as a Hatter, you know whom to thank.
Charles Dodgson was one of those versatile people who are very good at many things. Aside from being such a creative writer, he was also a Mathematics Don at Oxford, a highly-acclaimed logician, a very talented photographer, an engaging and popular social personality, and a less than enthusiastic and unordained Anglican Clergyman.
✦ Charles Dodgson was born on 27 January 1832. He spent the first eleven years of his life at Warrington, Cheshire, where his father, also named Charles, was the Parson of Daresbury. Later the family moved to Yorkshire, to a place called Croft-on-tees. It was quite a large family, with seven girls and four boys; Dodgson was the eldest son and the third child.
✦ As a young lad, he had a noticeable stammer, something he shared with his siblings, and he never quite overcame that affliction. He is said to have been extremely self-conscious about it. That apart, he grew up to be tall and good looking, and his stammer never stopped him from speaking or performing in public.
✦ Dodgson was educated first by homeschooling, then at boarding schools in Richmond and at Rugby, and finally at Christ Church College, Oxford. In later life, he remembered his boarding school experience with no fondness. Still, he was an excellent student and did very well academically - albeit in a somewhat erratic way.
✦ For all his brilliance or perhaps because of it, he couldn't be bothered to spend long hours studying and so he didn't. If things came easily, that was fine; if they didn't, well, that doesn't seem to have bothered him much.
✦ At Christ Church, he lost a prestigious scholarship due to his lackadaisical attitude, but he was enough of a Mathematical genius to be given the Christ Church Mathematical Lectureship. The pay was great, but the work wasn't - or so he claimed. Perhaps he just liked to grumble. He certainly remained at Oxford until his death; even wealth and fame from his books didn't induce him to toss over the job.
✦ Dodgson had always shown a remarkable facility for writing and, before he began writing his famous books, he had many articles published in several journals. While his creative books and nonsense poetry were published under his pen name, he wrote books on Mathematics under his own name.
✦ As the legend goes, his book 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' first came into being in 1862 as a story he made up for Alice Liddell, the ten yr-old daughter of his friend Dean Henry Liddell. Later he wrote it down and showed the book, illustrated with his own drawings, to another friend, the fairy tale writer George MacDonald and his children.
✦ They loved it and enthusiastically urged him to get it published. And so it was published in 1865, by Macmillan and with illustrations more professionally done by Sir John Tenniel, and became an immediate best-seller. Its sequel 'Through the Looking Glass' proved equally popular, as did Dodgson's nonsense poetry, notably 'The Hunting of the Snark.' Charles Dodgson's last book 'Sylvie and Bruno,' written shortly before his death, was however not successful; it turned out to be too complicated and chaotic for his readers.
✦ It seems to be the fashion in modern times to analyze and fit people into convenient boxes - take a few incidents from their lives, blow them up, and then force down the lid. Since the 1930s, many writers have more or less accused Dodgson of having had pedophile tendencies.
✦ They have constructed this myth on the basis of Dodgson's taking photographs of little girls, because he counted Alice Liddell and other little girls as his friends, because he was a loner and never married, because he often described himself as a sinner or wrong-doer in his diaries, and because, although he left behind a large and well-cataloged collection of diaries, letters, and other personal papers, four diaries and some diary pages are missing - quite ominous, that.
✦ And, lastly but not the least, he has been accused of being a drug addict - that after all would explain all the weirdness in Alice's Wonderland perfectly.
✦ These writers conveniently overlook the fact that he also photographed a great many other subjects as well, that he enjoyed a good social life in London and had a large friends circle that included adults like Alfred Lord Tennyson, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, William Holman Hunt, Mark Twain, and many others, and that, as he was practically a priest, he may have had religious reasons for not marrying - or he may have simply not wanted the hassle.
✦ They ignore the possibility that his self-castigation may have just been a sign of a never-satisfied perfectionist, and that there can be various explanations for the missing diaries, not just this assumption of illicit matter. As for his drug use, he certainly took medication for arthritis and other ailments, but was no addict. He was an epileptic and many of the things he describes in his books were probably things he experienced during his fits. Or, as a vividly imaginative person, he just made them up. The truth is not always stranger than fiction, you know, sometimes it can be a lot simpler too.
Charles Dodgson had always been somewhat frail health-wise. In 1898, he contracted influenza and had barely recovered from that, when he contracted pneumonia. It proved a fatal strain and he died on 14 January 1898, just short of his sixty-sixth birthday.