What You Didn’t Know About Lewis Carroll

The stories Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have stood the test of time since their publications in 1865 and 1871, being some of the most recognizable children’s classics in the world.

What’s lesser known about the stories is their author, Lewis Carroll, whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.

Dodgson’s first two names were reversed via a play on Latin to create “Lewis Carroll”.

NPG P7(26),Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson),by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)

Charles Dodgson’s self portrait.

Carroll may be well known for his children’s literature, but during his lifetime he was a mathematician at Christ Church, Oxford who was described as a shy man. For much of his life he suffered from a stammer, and he was also deaf in one ear from a childhood fever. He associated with the Dodo in Alice, ‘Dodo’ being a possible play on ‘Dodgson’.

Accounts refer to Carroll as conservative in all manners (personally, religiously, and politically) despite the outlandish Alice stories.

An illustration for Alice in Wonderland by Arthur Rackham.

An illustration for Alice in Wonderland by Arthur Rackham.

In fact, Carroll reportedly hated the innovative mathematical theories emerging at the time, such as imaginary numbers. Some say that Alice was written to parody these mathematical claims, with multiple numerical absurdities peppered throughout the work, especially when Alice’s height and proportions change drastically.

As well as his interest in mathematics, Carroll invented many things in his time. His poem “Jabberwocky” is comprised of almost all invented words: “’Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe…” (Try putting that into Word and seeing how many red misspelling squiggles you get. Hint: A lot.)

On one fateful day in 1856, Henry Liddell came to Christ Church, Oxford, bringing along his family. Carroll soon became friends with the

1945 editions of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

1945 editions of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

family and started taking their son and three daughters on rowing trips. It was on one such expedition that Carroll told the story of the adventures of a little girl named Alice in a fantastical place. One of the daughters, Alice Liddell, begged him to write the story down.

While Alice Liddell has constantly been associated with literary Alice’s adventures, Carroll has never claimed that story-Alice represented the real-life girl.

One thing led to another and the story was published in 1865 to immediate praise. Fame was a new and intimidating beast for Carroll, and his pen name almost instantly became known around the world. Since then his stories have become the epitome of classic children’s literature.

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