Jenny Woolf points us to a nice letter-to-the-editor in June 2010’s Smithsonian, in response to her April article about “Lewis Carroll’s Shifting Reputation.”
Curiouser and Curiouser
As an attorney, I think “Unusual Suspect,” by Jenny Woolf, did a good job of documenting the modern-day habit of judging or casting spurious allegations based on hearsay and innuendoes. I agree that the photographs taken by Charles Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll, were in vogue in the Victorian society of his day and did not condemn him. All the “suspicions” about his behavior arose several decades after his demise, coming from pseudo-scholars looking to make a name or a quick profit. Dodgson, unfortunately, cannot defend himself, and to smear his reputation in such a manner is unpardonable.
Says Woolf, “I’m pleased an attorney thinks I give a balanced view.” Her Dodgson biography “The Mystery of Lewis Carroll” was released in 2010 and is reviewed in Knight Letter Number 84.
Our post on the controversies and pseudo-controversies surrounding Carroll’s character generated some small discussion (“teach the controversy”, as the Kansas School Board might advocate). The folks at Contrariwise continued with a longer reaction. I quote Ms. Karoline Leach at length:
from Alice in the Shadows by Maria Bodmann
[...] we send our sincere thanks to the LCSNA bloggers for so generously giving us the space. We have also linked to you.
Tangentially though, in conjunction with something a commenter here said the other day, the reference to ‘certain questions’ has got Contrariwise thinking.
Suppose you give a false alibi to a man in order to get him acquitted of a crime you know he probably commited – if it later turns out he didn’t do it after all, does that make what you did right?
I don’t think it does, does it? And that’s the weird problem at the heart of Carrollianism right now, that I think needs to be looked at.
[... continue reading...]
The LCSNA blog that features us is headed “Special Report: Was Lewis Carroll a gay Mormon and were the Alice books written by J.D. Salinger?”, referencing some of the many stupid things that have been said about Carroll over the years. It’s a joke, but in its way it makes exactly the point Contrariwise is trying to make. Because those things aren’t ‘myths’ are they? They’re just loony ideas no one has ever taken seriously. The point about the myths we are concerned with (his child-obsession, his avoidance of adult society, his passion for Alice Liddell), is that they were promulgated by serious Carroll scholars and believed by everyone until very recently. The notion of the man as a pedophile arose out of these myths as an inevitable, and very reasonable conclusion. It couldn’t, and can’t be just laughed off as ridiculous, and taking that line is just Apology again. No one will take you seriously if you sell the image that has been sold for so long and simply ask people to take your word that – honestly – he wasn’t what you are obviously painting him to have been.
There’s some more interesting comments below that post, and feel free to continue the discussion in the comments here. The shadowy illustration above is from Alice in the Shadows, Maria Bodmann’s Balinese-inspired shadow puppet play.
From a 1952 edition of AAIW (Juvenile Productions) with watercolors by Willy Schermele
This blog doesn’t regularly deal with certain questions (italics mine, as was the rest of that sentence.) And the new LewisCarroll.org’s FAQs don’t go there. Contrariwise, Mark Burstein usually starts his question-and-answer sessions with: “The answers to the first two questions are ‘No, he wasn’t’ and ‘No, he didn’t.'”
The LCSNA doesn’t shy away from these bothersome issues even if they’re occasionally bothered by them. However, there are reputable places on the internet specializing in debunking Carroll myths. For instance CarrollMyth.com, which offers various levels of depth depending on how long your myths want to spend being debunked. That user-friendly and aesthetically-pleasing website is run by Karoline Leach, author of In the Shadow of the Dreamchild: The Myth and Reality of Lewis Carroll (Peter Owen Ltd., 1999, $29.95). There’s also a new blog: carrollmyth.wordpress.com. Here she is at work:
The respected journo Robert McCrum reviews Jenny Woolf’s book The Mystery of Lewis Carroll in the Guardian, and concludes…what exactly? That Carroll has been misunderstood and somewhat abused, as Ms Woolf suggests? That a re-assessment is overdue, as Ms Woolf suggests? That, at last, we’re getting a clearer picture of a complex man?
Nope. He concludes Dodgson was either (sigh, not again) in love with little Alice Liddell , or – this is the best bit – with her ‘ten-year old brother’!?
Here it is in his own words:
More than either of these, it is a poignant love story: the repressed yearning of a solitary man for a resolution to his inner frustrations. Was he in love with Alice’s 10-year-old brother or, with Alice Liddell herself? No one will ever know the truth of that mystery .
Well, ’solitary man’, ‘repressed yearnings’, this is all the standard vocab of anyone writing about Carroll for the past sixty years, but not even the most myth-bound commentator has ever suggested Carroll was gay (well, apart from Richard Wallace, but he also thought Carroll was Jack the Ripper, so, you know, enough said), and Jenny Woolf’s book does not (I know for a fact), contain any insane riffs about possible pederasty involving young male Liddells.
So, the truth of that particular ‘mystery’, Mr McC, is that you just made it up.
Jenny Woolf, for her part, has a related article in the April 2010 Smithonian Magazine, which just went online today, called “Lewis Carroll’s Shifting Reputation: Why has popular opinion of the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland undergone such a dramatic reversal?”
And as for the Far-Flung blog, we will devote more time to the farthest flung among us (there are books proving that Mark Twain and Queen Victoria wrote Alice, exegeses outlining his Orthodox Judaism, and we weren’t kidding about his being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: Carroll has been posthumously baptized by the Mormons at least eight times.)