“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.