The Mystery of Lewis Carroll, by Jenny Woolf
If you’re a fan of Lewis Carroll, Alice, the Snark, and you’re anywhere near the NYC area, you should check out the Events page of the LCSNA’s web site to see the full agenda for our fall meeting, to be held in Manhattan on Saturday, November 6th. The impressive roster of speakers includes noted author and critic Adam Gopnik, who will be discussing whether recent adaptations do or do not honor Lewis Carroll’s original works, as well as Carroll biographer Jenny Woolf, who is traveling over from England specifically for this event. Many of the speakers will be signing copies of their latest book(s), available in limited quantity at the meeting for a special 20% discount. There will be a three-course dinner at Josephina’s after the meeting, for the Carrollian cost of $42 per person.
In addition to the wonderful agenda posted on our site, we’ve just learned that member Mahendra Singh will also be on hand to sell and sign copies of his new edition of The Hunting of the Snark. This is a don’t miss meeting. It occurs on the weekend of the NY Marathan, however, so if you need accommodations, you should check with hotels (or local friends!) right away.
Please remember to let Secretary Clare Imholtz know if you plan to attend so that we can keep track of the headcount, as we expect a big turnout and seating is limited. You don’t need to be a member to attend our free meetings. We hope to see you there!
The current issue of Smithsonian magazine includes Jenny Woolf’s succinct summary of current critical and popular thought around Mr. Dodgson, focusing on how perceptions are at last changing to a less sensationalized and more fact-based, historically appropriate view: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/Lewis-Carrolls-Shifting-Reputation.html
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.
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.)
You could win a free copy of Jenny Woolf’s excellent new biography, The Mystery of Lewis Carroll, by leaving a comment on this post at alice2010.blogspot.com. This Alice “fan club” blog centers around the Tim Burton movie but also chronicles many other Carroll-related products and things-of-interest.
A musician named Kristian Scheiblecker has written very pretty songs set to some of Lewis Carroll’s ‘non-nonsense’ poetry. I do not know if they are to be released for sale in any format, but you can listen to a thirteen-track playlist of them (some labeled ‘unfinished’), at his website journeys.se
– which, even if it continues to evolve, already plays together nicely as an album. According to Jenny Woolf
, he performed at the (UK) Lewis Carroll Society’s December party at the Art Workers Guild in London. She reports:
This year, a couple of Swedish guys called Kristian Scheiblecker and Pontus Nilsson came specially to perform some songs based on Carroll’s so-called “serious poems”. They have been classically trained but the music was more like early Leonard Cohen to my ear. You could certainly imagine Kristian sitting there in his Victorian cottage in Sweden and composing the music in the dark winter nights.
To my surprise I found that Carroll’s poems made terrific lyrics. Read purely as poetry, they are mostly rather banal. I was particularly impressed with “Only A Woman’s Hair” which makes a most touching ballad.
“…and, as I touch that lock, strange visions throng
Upon my soul with dreamy grace-
Of woman’s hair, the theme of poet’s song
In every time and place. -
A child’s bright tresses, by the breezes kissed
To sweet disorder as she flies,
Veiling, beneath a cloud of golden mist,
Flushed cheek and laughing eyes- -
Or fringing, like a shadow, raven-black,
The glory of a queen-like face-
Or from a gipsy’s sunny brow tossed back
In wild and wanton grace…
…The eyes that loved it once no longer wake:
So lay it by with reverent care-
Touching it tenderly for sorrow’s sake-
It is a woman’s hair.”
Ms. Woolf compares his voice to Leonard Cohen, but it reminds me more of the Scottish Bard Robin Williamson
, with fewer mordents. Scheibecker quotes Carroll scholar Edward Wakeling below the songs for an introduction to Carroll’s non-nonsense poetry:
A handful of new Alice books, in particular, and the revival of Alice in general, was written about by Craig Wilson in today’s USA Today. They even made an online quiz (pop-culture heavy), How well do you know ‘Alice in Wonderland’? – although I disagreed with a couple of the answers. Here’s the books they plug, ending with a quote by Mark Richards:
•Alice I Have Been: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin (Delacorte, $25), out today. “I saw a photo of Alice Liddell (the model for the Alice character) taken by Charles Dodgson, and it made me realize that this was a lot more than just a children’s story,” says Benjamin, who built her novel around Alice’s life after her childhood fame. “She was unflappable, not a typical Victorian. And she survived it all, just like Alice survived it all in the books. She was never beaten down.”
•The Mystery of Lewis Carroll by Jenny Woolf (St. Martin’s Press, $27.99), out Feb. 2. Woolf sheds more light on the mysterious Dodgson in this new biography, examining everything from his relationship with Alice and her older sister to his controversial photographing of nude young girls. “The more closely Lewis Carroll is studied, the more he seems to slide quietly away,” Woolf writes.
•A new single-volume paperback edition of Carroll’s two classic Alice stories ($8.95). Oxford World’s Classics has reissued Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1872) with a new introduction by Peter Hunt, an expert in children’s literature. Oxford Children’s Classics released a new hardcover of Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland in April ($9.95).
•The Disney movie Alice in Wonderland, combining live action and animation. Alice is now 19, fleeing a proposed marriage and, yes, she follows a white rabbit into a hole, entering Wonderland once again. Depp is the Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter plays the Queen of Hearts, and Mia Wasikowska is Alice. Release date: March 5.
Why is it Alice’s time again?
“The timeless appeal of the Alice books lies not only in their wonderfully imaginative qualities but, perhaps more important, in the way they touch our emotions,” says Mark Richards, chairman of the Lewis Carroll Society in London.
That answer seemed to be to a slightly different question. Thank you, Jenny Woolf, for sending us this article.
UK author Jenny Woolf maintains a website which is our close cousin in the blogosphere – Jabberwock.co.uk/blog. Previously, she has transcribed and annotated Lewis Carroll’s bank account – as Lewis Carroll in his Own Account. Her forthcoming book, The Mystery of Lewis Carroll, promises the following:
The book uses new information to unravel the reason why Carroll’s friendship with Alice Liddell’s family came to an end.
* It shows that Alice Liddell was not the “Alice” of the books, although she was the reason that they were written.
* It gives clues to a secret which dominated (and in some ways ruined) Carroll’s personal life.
* It shows how a supposedly minor acquaintance got Carroll into major trouble – trouble which never appeared into his diaries.
* It explains how Carroll’s love of little girls, though unusual, was not paedophiliac.
Her site’s blog, From Somewhere in Time, has interesting insights into the rigmarole of publishing a Lewis Carroll book. Like, the most recent post is a discussion on what color the clouds on the cover will be:
I’d prefer a pink or blue background- grey looks too gloomy.
Still what do authors know about selling books?