Lewis Carroll was the pen-name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson who was a writer, mathematician, logician, Anglican deacon, and photographer during the 19th century in England. He was known for his abilities at word play, logic, and fantasy; he was an influential figure of “Literary Nonsense” through his books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.
Charles’ father was a country parson who lived in Darebury in Cheshire in Northern England with his wife and 11 children. Charles was the third child born to the couple, but the oldest boy. He was born on January 27, 1832. At the age of 11, Charles and his family moved to Croft-on-Tess in North Yorkshire, this would be their home for the next 25 years.
Charles was educated at home from a young age to 12 years old when he was sent to Richmond Grammar School. He was very smart, but his stutter would be something that would haunt him all his life. His great intelligence was something that came naturally, but was not always a hard worker. He had a self-confessed inability to apply himself to his studies which meant that at times his grades were not always the greatest. But, in 1850, he was accepted to Oxford at Christ Church. Shortly after starting their his mother passed away from either meningitis or a stroke at the age of 47.
Charles stayed at Christ College as a teacher for most of his life. He was a tall man, deaf in one ear from a childhood fever, and an awkward walk when he got older from an injury to his leg. It was believed that he only stuttered in adult company, but when around children his speech impediment would disappear. He referred to himself as the Dodo, it’s believed that the character from Wonderland was Charles’ own depiction of himself.
In 1856, a new deacon and his very large young family moved to the area and Charles quickly became friends with them all; in particular the oldest brother, Harry, and three of the daughters: Lorina, Edith, and Alice.
Many believe that Alice Liddell was the basis for Charles’ most famous character, though both Charles’ and the Liddell families have denied this association. Charles would accompany the three sisters and either their father or the oldest brother, Harry, on rowing trips near Christ College and this was where the story of Alice was born. Alice Liddell may have not been the influence of the heroine of the stories, but she was the first child to become enraptured with the characters and stories of Alice and begged Charles to put them into writing for her. It was her 10-year-old persistence that helped Charles put into writing the books that we now know and love.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was first published in 1865 (148 years ago) under Charles’ pen-name Lewis Carroll. A play on words, Lewis was the anglicized form of Ludovicus, which was the Latin for Lutwidge, and Carroll an Irish last name similar to the Latin name Carolus, from which the name Charles comes from. The first print of the book was an overwhelming success and “Lewis Carroll” skyrocketed to fame. Charles began earning much more money, but he continued to teach at Christ Church, even though he hated the position; he loved to teach, but despised the politics of the college system.
Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There would be published in 1871 and have just as much acclaim as the first book, though this story was a bit darker than the original Alice. This was likely due to Charles’ mindset at the time; he had recently lost his father.
Charles was, on top of everything else, an avid photographer, even setting up his own studio and considered quitting teaching and writing for a while to pursue this career path. Only about 40% of his photographs remain, but we can see that he had an amazing talent and eye. Charles was, also, an inventor coming up with ideas on how to help find the day of the week for any date or even inventing the earliest form of the game Scrabble.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson died on January 14, 1898 just two weeks before turning 66 years-old. He passed away at his sisters’ home from pneumonia. He was an intriguing and gifted individual whose writings and nonsense have carried on through the ages!
Celebrate the birth of this great man by reading one of your favorite Alice adventures or having a Mad Tea Party!