LEWIS CARROLL (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) was born on 27 January 1832 at Daresbury, Cheshire. He died at Guildford on 14th January 1898.
The story of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) is one of the most curious in Victorian literature. It is paralleled in certain respects by that of his younger contemporary Gerard Manley Hopkins. The poems of Hopkins and the fantasies of Carroll were written in the heart of the Victorian era by bachelor clergy-men who led academic, ascetic, restricted, intensely religious lives. Both were fascinated by the study of words. Both were painstaking amateur draughtsmen of minor merit whose artistic preoccupations influenced their writings. For different reasons, neither was anxious publicly to acknowledge his creative work during his lifetime: Dodgson took refuge in a pseudonym; Hopkins died unknown to fame, his startlingly original poems remaining unpublished until thirty years after his death. With divergent religious views and many differences in personal character and taste, these quiet withdrawn men had in common the creation of unique and lasting masterpieces which transcended their contemporary world, and indeed ran strangely counter to Victorian conventions.
The comparison cannot be pressed further. Hopkins wrote for an adult audience (incidentally, neither he nor Mr Gladstone enjoyed Alice in Wonderland). Dodgson, like Thackeray with The Rose and the Ring, wrote his most famous books primarily for children though in language that only adults can fully appreciate.
It has taken time to establish the status of both writers. Although, in contrast with Hopkins, Lewis Carroll's Alice books were well known and thoroughly enjoyed while he lived, there was a period after his death during which public interest in him slackened, and his permanent standing was in doubt. The war of 1914-18 turned many readers back to Alice; henceforth the sale values of Lewis Carroll's manuscripts and first editions increased steadily until they reached a climax in 1928, when Dr Rosenbach paid 15,400 pounds at Sotheby's for the manuscript of the original version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. A year later he resold it to an American, Mr Eldridge R. Johnson, for nearly double that sum. The generosity of Mr Johnson and of other American sympathizers brought the manuscript to the British Museum in 1948, as a gesture of appreciation of Great Britain's part in the war of 1939-45.
The respect shown to the Alice manuscript, coupled with the remarkable tributes paid to Lewis Carroll's memory at the centenary of his birth in 1932, settled him unequivocally among the immortals. Quotations from his books have long been commonplaces of journalism and conversation. His characters are a part of national folk-lore and mythology. The Mad Hatter and the Ugly Duchess are as well known and indispensable to Englishmen as Falstaff or Sherlock Holmes.
Two Victorians, Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, carried the art of nonsense to the highest point that it has so far touched, or is likely to touch. It is no accident that both were Englishmen. I would say that, after Shakespeare, there is no English author more deserving of study by a foreigner intent on exploring English character and English humour than Lewis Carroll. Although his work has long been available in translation in most of the languages of the world, and although increasing attention has been paid to it in Europe (especially in France) within the last twenty five years, foreign readers may still find him hard to appreciate. Nonsense was not a Victorian invention, but there is no tradition of nonsense in European literature comparable to the strong nonsensical element in Shakespeare, sustained even in the rational eighteenth century by Samuel Foote's well-known lines 'So she went into the garden to cut a cabbage-leaf', and continued into the nineteenth century by the superb fooleries of Sydney Smith. 'To say that a bishop deserved to be preached to death by wild curates,' remarked Chesterton, 'is not merely satire; it is a satisfaction of the fancy.' Nonsense has proved a refreshing by-path of literature, a kind of detached comedy, an unengaged view of life. It reached its full flower in England, as Emile Cammaerts pointed out, in the wake of the Romantic Movement, as a reaction to Byron and Shelley.
'The association of the names of Lear and Carroll with those of Ruskin and Tennyson seems at first almost paradoxical',
'but there is nevertheless a certain connection between the attitude of mind of the old and modern Romanticists and that of Nonsense writers.... Nonsense stands, with regard to Romanticism, very much in the same position as Satire and Epigram, with regard to Classicism.'
It is equally important to realise that Lewis Carroll exemplified what G. M. Young has called a 'new, unpietistic handling of childhood'. There is throughout the Alice books a strongly marked reaction to the edifying, moralizing nursery literature typical of the early nineteenth century. Alice herself, in the fantastic adventures of her dream world, is witness to the virtues of innocence, of level-headed common sense, of patrician courage and dignity; but there is nothing goody-goody in the treatment of her adventures, which, it is essential to remember, were primarily intended to be told to and to give pleasure to children.