happy birthday. lewis carroll. (1832-1898)

Charles Dodgson

The author most notably remembered for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was born January 27th, 1832, in Daresbury, United Kingdom, as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. He was a mathematics teacher at Oxford, as well as a writer and photographer. He published Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865 under the pen name Lewis Carroll. Despite this pseudonym, Dodgson kept it no secret that he was in fact Carroll. He published a great number of works, both literary and mathematical. His reputation is questioned of late, curiously much long after his death, for having photographed a number of children in various ‘natural states’. What naysayers fail to couple with their allegations of indecency, is the fact that he took thousands of photographs, hundreds of children in various ‘states’ and further, in the Victorian era that would be Dodgson’s, photographs and fine-paintings of completely nude children would regularly appear on postcards or birthday cards, and portraits as such were praised and used for art studies; seen as depictions of purity and innocence. Of over 3,000 known photographic images captured by Carroll, only 30 were in semi-natural or natural states. And, they weren’t hidden in his time, certainly not stuffed down a rabbit hole, if you will, to conceal them for any diabolic purpose. Studies in recent times suggest that just over half of his work depicts young girls. A suspect figure, considering that over 60% of his photographic portfolio was already lost at the time the calculation was made. Dodgson made many studies of men, women, boys and landscapes; his subjects also included skeletons, dolls, dogs, statues and trees. His pictures of children were taken with a parent in attendance and mostly outside to take advantage of natural light.  Included in his collection of photographs are images of a girl named Alice Liddell, clothed, whose namesake is obvious. The following paragraph is from an article in Smithsonian Magazine, written by Jenny Woolf, and includes quotes of Will Brooker: “His image as a man of suspect sexuality “says more about our society and its hang-ups than it does about Dodgson himself,” Will Brooker says. We see him through the prism of contemporary culture—one that sexualizes youth, especially female youth, even as it is repulsed by pedophilia. The nature of his relationships with Alice, with other girls and with women may never be established with certainty. But then, uncertainty is a consistent theme in the Alice books.” From whichever side of the looking glass you view Dodgson’s reputation, Alice and her Adventures in Wonderland continue to be a curiosity today.  To quote Lewis Carroll himself, on this day, his birthday, “There are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents, and only one for birthday presents, you know.”

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