Jim Furlong: Ask Alice

Jim Furlong: Ask Alice

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Well known writer, historian and journalist Will Self once wrote, “It’s a problem, isn’t it, when somebody writes a great book but they’re not a great person.” 

This week we tell the story, or part of it, of the very odd Charles Dodgson. He was a mathematics lecturer at Oxford but was also a giant of literature best known to the world by his pen name; Lewis Carroll. 

Odd Characters

He is, of course, the author of Alice in Wonderland, that remarkable story that has enchanted children and adults alike for generations. As you know it is the journey of a young girl, Alice, into a very strange world filled with odd characters. 

The issue at hand is that the Alice of Alice in Wonderland was a real person. She was Alice Liddell, the young daughter of a minister, and there is a troubling body of evidence that suggests she may have been a victim of ‘Lewis Carroll.’ There has been for a century dark speculation on the relationship between Dodgson (Carroll) and Alice.

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What we do know with certainty is that Charles Dodgson, besides being a writer, was an avid photographer. Among his pictures are odd ones of Alice, her sisters, and other young girls.  Dodgson had Alice pose as a ‘beggar child;’ there is a picture as well of a kiss between Dodgson and Alice Liddell. We also know Dodgson had a disturbing habit of photographing other young girls, often nude. No such picture of Alice Liddell has surfaced, but one of her sister Lorina has. 

It is a full frontal nude shot of the young Lorina. In fact Charles Dodgson was close with all of the Liddell girls. It has led to speculation over many years about his attraction to young females. The father of the Liddell girls was the Dean of Christ Church and Dodgson was a close friend of the family until something happened. 

Dead at a Young Age

In 1863 there was a definite and never explained break in the relationship between Charles Dodgson and the Liddell family. At the time Alice was 11 years old. Adding to the mystery is the fact that Charles Dodgson died at the relatively young age of 65. 

He kept a diary, but it seems whole sections of the diary have been removed or edited either by Dodgson himself or his family. Dodgson had no less than 10 brothers and sisters, but all refused to discuss Charles with the rest of the world after his death. 

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There is no definitive proof that Charles Dodgson was a pedophile, but there are certainly clues that ‘give us pause.’

Alice in Wonderland remains one of the great works of the 19th century, but the photographic record left behind by Charles Dodgson makes us wonder if behind the marvellous tales of Alice in Wonderland there is any innocence at all.

Scholars continue to work on the complex character that was to us Lewis Carroll and to peel away like the skin of an onion some of the layers that may tell us who he was. 

NTV’s Jim Furlong can be reached by emailing: jfurlong@ntv.ca

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