xxxxxLewis Carroll, the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, became a lecturer in mathematics at Oxford University when he was only 23. He was a brilliant academic, but by nature he was painfully shy, and he suffered from a pronounced stammer and deafness in one ear. As a result he tended to keep himself to himself, and to find an outlet for his fertile imagination and off-beat sense of humour in the company of young children. They warmed to his kind approach and enjoyed his fantasy stories. Among the children he knew were the daughters of the Dean of Christ Church, Alice, Lorina and Edith Liddell. It was on the insistence of Alice that in 1862 he wrote out a story about her adventures down a rabbit hole. This was well received and in 1865 he was persuaded to publish this and some of his earlier tales under the title Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. A sequel, Through the Looking Glass, followed six years later. Full of witty dialogue and weird characters - like the mad hatter, the dormouse and the March hare - and brilliantly illustrated by the cartoonist John Tenniel, they proved extremely popular worldwide. Dodgson was also an accomplished photographer and, apart from taking pictures of children, produced a number of portraits, including those of the poet Alfred Tennyson and the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

LEWIS CARROLL  1832 - 1898  (W4, Va, Vb, Vc)

pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson


Carroll: portrait by the Swedish-born British photographer Oskar Gustav Rejlander (c1813-1875), 1863. Alice in Wonderland: by the American illustrator Jessie Wilcox Smith (1863-1935), 1923. Rossetti: by her brother, the English Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882).

xxxxxIt was while working as a lecturer in mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford, that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson began telling a series of fantasy stories to the daughters of the college Dean. Eventually made into a book, his Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, produced in 1865, and its sequel Through the Looking Glass, six years later, became children’s classics. Published under the pen name of Lewis Carroll, they proved immensely popular for their fantastic story lines, their amusing dialogue, and their range of strange, unorthodox characters.   

xxxxxDodgson was born in the parsonage at Daresbury, Chesire, the son of a clergyman and the third eldest in a family of eleven children. As a boy he amused himself by making up plays and devising games to entertain his brothers and sisters, and later, following the family’s move to Croft in Yorkshire, he produced poems and articles for what he called his “Rectory Magazines”. After attending school at Richmond, he spent four less than happy years at the famous public school of Rugby before going up to Oxford University in January 1851. There he excelled in his study of mathematics, and, after gaining a first class honours degree in this subject, became a tutor and lecturer at Christ Church College in 1855, a post he held for over 25 years. He was ordained a deacon in 1861, but chose not to become a priest, and he remained a bachelor all his life.

xxxxxA shy, serious-minded man, Dodgson had a pronounced stammer and was deaf in one ear following a childhood illness. As a result he tended to keep himself to himself, despite his academic brilliance, and to find an outlet for his fertile imagination and off-beat sense of humour in the company of young children. They warmed to his kind, easy approach and enjoyed the original tales he told. Among the children he entertained were those of the writer George Macdonald and the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, but he struck up a particularly close friendship with the three daughters of the Dean of Christ Church, Alice, Lorina and Edith Liddell. He would spend hours at their home, in his rooms, or on picnic excursions, recounting a feast of weird and wonderful stories, and illustrating them with ink or pen sketches as he went along. It was during a boat trip up the Thames to Godstow one day in July 1862 that, using Alice as his heroine, he told of her “Adventures Underground” via a rabbit hole. So thrilled was she with her fairy tale that she persuaded him to write it down for her.

xxxxxThe matter might well have ended there had the writer Henry Kingsley (brother of Charles Kingsley) not visited the Deanery one day in 1863 and read the story. He was so impressed with it that he persuaded Dodgson to publish it together with a number of his earlier tales. The result was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its equally successful sequel Through the Looking Glass. Published under his pen name Lewis Carroll, these nonsense books proved extremely popular for their bizarre situations, their simple, witty dialogue, and their host of weird, wonderful and unusual characters, such as the March Hare, the Mad Hatter, the Dormouse and the Red Queen, - the last name modelled on “thorny” Miss Prickett, the children’s governess. And the stories were written in such a matter-of-fact manner that, illogically, their characters seemed plausible and their fantasy settings entirely acceptable! Some critics have seen some hidden meaning in this world of make-believe, but Dodgson himself insisted that his stories were nothing more than nonsensical humour, designed simply to entertain and amuse.

xxxxxHis later works of fiction were far less successful. His nonsense poem The Hunting of the Snark, produced in 1876, proved quite popular, but his Sylvie and Bruno of 1889, and its sequel in 1893 were failures. However, he did produce a series of puzzle books, such as A Tangled Tale of 1885 and The Game of Logic, published the following year, and his poetic works, humorous and otherwise, were collected in 1869 under the title Phantamagoria and Other Poems. Among his treatises on the history of mathematics was Euclid and His Modern Rivals of 1879.

xxxxxApart from his writing, Dodgson was an accomplished photographer. He bought a camera in 1856 and over the years became a pioneer in portrait photography. Among his portraits were those of the poet Alfred Tennyson, the actress Ellen Terry, and his friend among the Pre-Raphaelite painters, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He also produced many fine photographs of children. His nude studies of them caused concern in some quarters, but there was never any suggestion of impropriety.

xxxxxIncidentally, the first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, appearing in August 1865, was so badly printed that it had to be withdrawn. It is estimated that only 20 or so copies have survived, each one valuable for its rarity. Since then there have been over 100 editions and the story and its sequel have been translated into 50 languages. ……

xxxxx……  Dodgson devised the pen name “Lewis Carroll” by translating his Christian names Charles Lutwidge into Latin as Carolus Ludovicus, putting them back into English, and then reversing the order! He used the name for all but his academic works. ……

xxxxx……  It is said that after reading the stories about Alice, Queen Victoria asked Dodgson to send her his next book. This he dutifully did. It was entitled Euclid and His Modern Rivals! ……

xxxxx…… After Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll is reputed to be the most quoted writer in the English language. ……

xxxxx…… In Daresbury church, where his father was the vicar, is a window in memory of Carroll, depicting some of the characters from Alice in Wonderland (one panel illustrated here). ……

xxxxx……  Thexnovelist Henry Kingsley (1830-1876) was the younger brother of the more famous writer Charles Kingsley. His masterpiece Ravenshoe, set against the Crimean War, was published in 1862, and a number of his novels, noted for their descriptive and narrative powers, were based on the five years he spent digging for gold in Australia. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 he was war correspondent for the Edinburgh Daily Review.

xxxxx……  Axman who played an important part in the success of both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass was the English illustrator and cartoonist John Tenniel (1820-1914). He was born in London and, after studying at the Royal Academy schools, became a famous cartoonist for Punch. He worked for this humorous periodical for more than fifty years and produced over 2,000 drawings and cartoons. Commissioned by Lewis Carroll to illustrate his nonsense stories, his brilliant interpretation of the characters of Wonderland earned him an international reputation. Shown here is the mad hatter’s tea party  (a coloured version). He was knighted in 1893.

xxxxxChristina Rossetti (1830-1894), the sister of the poet-painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, also wrote for children. She published some delightful nursery rhymes and fantasy stories, and her Sing-Song of 1872, illustrated by Arthur Hughes, proved remarkably successful. Collections of her finest verse are contained in Goblin Market, produced in 1862, and The Prince’s Progress, published four years later. She sympathised with the aims of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and in 1850 contributed seven poems to the movement’s periodical The Germ, writing under the pen name of Ellen Alleyne. She also served as a model for several paintings by her brother Dante and other members of the Brotherhood.


xxxxxA devout High Church Anglican, she wrote a number of religious works and spent the last fifteen years of her life as a recluse, motivated by self-denial. Much of her serious verse is religious in nature and tinged with sadness, due in part to a frustrated love affair in 1850, and the ill health she suffered from 1871 onwards.


Christina Rossetti