Another Biographer

Day 10 — National Blog Posting Month.  I haven’t established  C. L. Dodson kept a diary (13 volumes) from 1855 to his death in 1898. Stuart Dodgson Collingwood based his 1898 biography on these diaries, which the family had kept.  That’s a discussion for another day as it relates back to Day 2 – Karoline Leach’s The Liddell Riddle.

Let me bring in another Carroll biographer. Jenny Woolf, a London journalist, is the author of THE MYSTERY OF LEWIS CARROLL (2010). She wrote a piece titled Lewis Carroll’s Shifting Reputation for Smithsonian Magazine in April 2010. She traces the various biographers and their perceptions over the years. I’m going to pick up two pivotal paragraphs below the 18 year-old Alice Liddell.

Alice Liddell at 18 year old, C.L. Dodgson c. 1870

Alice Liddell at 18 year old, C.L. Dodgson c. 1870

In 1932, the centennial of Dodgson’s birth, Alice Liddell, then an 80-year-old widow, traveled with her son and sister to New York City to receive an honorary doctorate from Columbia University for “awaking with her girlhood’s charm the ingenious fancy of a mathematician familiar with imaginary quantities, stirring him to reveal his complete understanding of the heart of a child.” 

The next year, a writer named A.M.E. Goldschmidt presented at Oxford an essay titled “Alice in Wonderland Psycho-Analysed,” in which he suggested that Dodgson was suppressing a sexual desire for Alice. (Her fall down the well, he wrote, is “the best-known symbol of coitus.”) Goldschmidt was an aspiring writer, not a psychoanalyst, and some scholars say he may have been trying to parody the 1930s vogue for Freudian ideas. Whatever his intent, unambiguously serious writers picked up the thread.


NOTE: Third pivotal paragraph…

In 1999, Karoline Leach published yet another Dodgson biography, In the Shadow of the Dreamchild, in which she quoted the summary of the missing diary information and argued that her predecessors, misunderstanding the society in which Dodgson lived, had created a “Carroll myth” around his sexuality. She concluded that he was attracted to adult women (including Mrs. Liddell) after all.

5 responses to “Another Biographer

  • NeveR

    I read Leach’s book IN THE SHADOW OF THE DREAMCHILD ages ago, and then I read Woolf’s article which you quote analysing the history of his biography It basically reproduces everything in Leach’s first chapters without sourcing it, which is pretty bad form. But then even worse Woolf kind of dismisses Leach’s book as being just about the Mrs Liddell love affair. I sort of get the impression Woolf is trying to take credit for a lot of Leach’s research, which didn’t give me a good vibe.

    • k. a. gardner

      Thank you! I haven’t read Leach’s (or Woolf’s) book, so your comment helps focus my amateurish research. I was starting with the question, “Is Lewis Carroll a pedophile?”

      I did read a condensed version of Leach’s first chapter on another website. I think she takes issue with the misrepresentations of three biographies written in the mid-1990s, especially by Morton Cohen, who was supposed to be a Lewis Carroll scholar.

      • NeveR

        She basically takes issue with the entire image of Lewis Carroll as put over in biographies. The entire first part of her book traces the history of his biography and shows how the various myths developed. It makes you wonder how many other historical personages have suffered the same thing. It def changed the way I read biographies. It was my fave book for a long time.

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