Notable Newly Revealed Lewis Carroll Letter to Be Auctioned

Dodgson Letter on FameHappily, Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Lutwidge Dodgson in real life!) was a prolific letter writer.  Even now, so many years after his death, some of his private correspondence can still surface–even if only long enough to pass from one private collection to another at public auction.  But at least we obtain a new glimpse at the man in his own words.

On March 19th, Bonham’s is auctioning off a letter from November 9, 1891, in which Mr. Dodgson explains his dislike of being recognized as “Lewis Carroll” and even expresses, momentarily, the half-wish that he had never written any books because of all the attention their success brought:

“All that sort of publicity leads to strangers hearing of my real name in connection with the books, and to my being pointed out to, and stared at by, strangers, and treated as a ‘lion’. And I hate all that so intensely that sometimes I almost wish I had never written any books at all….”

Of course, those of us who have studied Mr. Dodgson in any depth know that he was more than willing to use the name Lewis Carroll to secure a social introduction when he wanted to!  While he may have disliked being “lionized” there is no question that he went “lion hunting” himself with his camera and then his books on many occasions.  So his statement here should be taken with more than a grain of salt.  And we must also consider that he was writing to the woman who occasionally housed his child friends on visits to Eastbourne, where he went for summer vacations of peace and quiet. But the fact that he emphasizes the negative impact of the publicity on his private life does at least speak to the intensity with which he guarded his right to make a distinction between his private self and his literary persona–something well-known artists and figures struggle with to this day.

I am hopeful that this letter will pass into the collection of a library that will make it available to those who wish to see it for their own research, or if it passes again into private hands, that the new owner will be liberal in sharing this new letter with libraries for exhibits.  Who knows what other Lewis Carroll correspondence still lies out there in private hands, waiting to be shared with the public?

To see the auction listing, click me.

To read an article about the auction, click me.

Alice Themed Quiz in Honor of Charles Dodgson Birth Anniversary

Lewis Carroll with BookAs you likely know, January 27th was the birth anniversary of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll.  The UK publication The Guardian posted a quiz in honor of his birth.

To take their fun Alice Quiz, click me.

We’re All Mad Here

This just in courtesy of our mad mimsy minions:

“A recent book, Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty, and the Mad-Doctors in England by Sarah Wise (Counterpoint, 2013) discusses twelve cases of contested insanity in Victorian England and the associated alienists, Lunacy Acts, and criminally louche asylums.

In reviewing the book on August 23rd, a reviewer for the Wall Street Journal says that the Lunacy Commission’s first secretary, Robert Skeffington Lutwidge, was accompanied by his nephew, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll), on visits to asylums, which “adds a dimension to the psychotic overtones” of Wonderland and Looking-Glass, and that coded references to “Uncle Skeffington’s” murder by an inmate can be found in the Snark.

There are a few problems with the WSJ review, starting with the fact that, as Edward Wakeling reminds us, CLD never went to visit an asylum in his uncle’s company. As to the interpretations of the Snark, they are legion, though Carroll had the last word: “I’m very much afraid I didn’t mean anything but nonsense!” (letter to the Lowrie children, 18 August, 1884). This particular Skeffingtonian interpretation, posited by E. Fuller Torrey, MD, and Judy Miller, authors of The Invisible Plague: The Rise of Mental Illness from 1750 to the Present (Rutgers University Press, 2002), was duly cited by Ms. Wise in her book, and was printed as “The Capture of the Snark” in Knight Letter 73 p. 21.

“Psychotic overtones”? Humph.”

Our thanks to Ms. Wise for alerting us that the inaccuracies stem from the WSJ review, and not from her book!  Ms. Wise notes that in fact she researched the question of Mr. Dodgson’s accompanying his uncle extensively, but like Wakeling, found no evidence that he ever joined on one of those trips.