The Man Who Loved Little Girls
By Ada Calhoun
We live in paranoid times. Maybe it's the millennium, maybe it's political correctness, maybe it's the bleak techno-industrial landscape, but motives are forever suspect, conspiracies forever assumed. Lewis Carroll, an unmarried and eccentric man from the Victorian era whose life revolved around the entertainment and portrayal of little girls tends, therefore, to make people nervous. At the same time, Alice in Wonderland is one of the most quoted books in the western world, and Carroll has been called one of the best photographers of children in his century. Now, 100 years after Carroll's death, UT's Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (HRHRC) is exhibiting its stellar collection of Carrolliana in "Reflections in a Looking Glass: A Lewis Carroll Centenary Exhibition."
OCTOBER 12, 1998:
Arranged chronologically and thematically on the fourth floor of the Flawn Academic Center (on the West Mall), this exhibition contains a treasure trove of letters, photographs, books, and various miscellany, including puzzles Carroll invented and an explanation and sample materials of the photographic process in which Carroll worked during what has been referred to as the "Golden Era" of 19th-century photography. The gallery hall is dimly lighted to protect the hundred-year-old pictures; disconcertingly large wooden cut-outs of Alice in Wonderland characters point around every corner and at each turn the displays reveal Carroll in all his magical contrariness. The out-of-the-way location of the gallery, above UT's undergraduate library, makes the encounter all the more surreal. If you go at the right time of day, it's just you and the five-foot-tall cartoon characters looking at photographs in the dark. It's probably best to learn about Carroll this way, because he was a strange man, so antithetical to our modern era and so very complicated. Lewis Carroll was his pen name, but in other contexts he remained the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a highly respectable, profoundly reserved Oxford Don. Though Carroll is best known as the author of the Alice books, the vast stores of material that UT has put out in this exhibit give some indication of just how versatile the man was. At once a bastion of propriety and a paragon of humor, of logic and absurdity, of art and science, Carroll was both an eccentric and very much a product of Victorian times. On the one hand, he charmed the little girls he met on trains with puzzles and games; on the other, he taught universitylevel logic. He adored absurd puns -- "'Why did you call him Tortoise if he wasn't one?' 'We called him Tortoise because he taught us.'" -- and was at the same time so proper as to put other Victorians to shame. One of the curators, Richard W. Oram, marvels over Carroll's dazzling ability to go from the left to the right brain. Rational almost to a fault (numbering every letter he ever received), Carroll could be equally silly, writing ditties with lyrics such as: "The further off from England, the nearer is to France/Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance."
Flukinger says. treacle-wells. Kirkpatrick.
. she has been forced to inflict lessons on others.Roy Flukinger. head librarian. The Ransom Center. the curatorial team -. manuscript cataloger and archivist -. second to none in photography save Oxford itself and perhaps Princeton. beautiful soup?" With that caveat about over-scholasticizing this figure of childish whimsy." Chesterton writes. gimble.Perhaps because of his intellectual versatility. but they are quick to say that having four other sources of information enriched everyone's work. John O. the HRHRC collection is one of the major ones in the world. senior curator of photography and film.e. Richard Oram. many of Carroll's staunchest fans are academics in various fields. unpretentious books as Carroll's. but the novels "should not be allowed to circulate indiscriminately among adults who are undergoing analysis. beginning with "(1) What do you know of the following: mimsy. credited with rediscovering Carroll as a photographer in the 1950s.. it is safe to say that the five curators of the Leeds Gallery exhibit have done an excellent job of showing the man without an abundance of footnotes on such matters as why the Cheshire cat's grin is a good analogy for pure mathematics (it is. 10) hands in the pie. This was a source of woe for G. to its good fortune in having purchased the collection of Helmut Gernsheim." In any case. Sally Leach.have stayed away from that side of things and focused on Carroll's life story and polymathic brilliance. Texas has this rich stock of Carroll material thanks. and Richard Taylor. as through e-mail exchanges they often solved each other's problems. associate director of the Ransom Center. haddocks' eyes. poor little Alice!." Chesterton goes on to give examples of some of the questions which scholars have to face. Flukinger says. curator of modern British and American manuscripts. Five curators makes for a great many (i. is great that way. who bemoaned in "A Defense of Nonsense" the academic's analysis of such delightful. When it comes to Carroll. The dearth of overtones in Carroll's work prompted the brilliant mathematician Martin Gardner (who wrote The Annotated Alice) to say that the violence and double-talk in the Alice books probably does no harm to children. Chesterton. with scholars from a variety of different disciplines separated by only a floor or two.K. "Poor. "She has not only been caught and made to do lessons. you know).
you can make out the relationships of everyone in the picture to one another and Carroll's relationship to them. it was rare to see subjects looking anything but dazed and frozen. specifically little girls. He had a bad stutter around most adults and surrounded himself with armies of little girls. in which he placed portraits of acquaintances. As a result. a real artist."
. the perverse British movie about the centenary of Carroll's birth written by Dennis Potter and starring Ian Holm. Perhaps because he insisted on photography being merely his hobby or because of his retiring nature. after which he decided that albums (of which UT has several) were the better way to display his pictures -. Dreamchild. Flukinger says. leading to pop-culture references of a nasty nature. Lewis Carroll has a vaguely icky aura about him in some people's minds. He is famously quoted as saying. Alice in Wonderland was translated into Russian by none other than the ultimate novelist on pedophilia. paints the Reverend Dodgson as painfully. often going in for close-ups from which other amateurs would shy away." and photographed many pretty little girls -. A brilliant and talented man. While photography at that time was still a difficult process mastered by few. He also had an album in which he collected the work of other photographers he admired. but Carroll's images are rich and decidedly alive. The international kiddie porn ring recently in the news was named (what else?) "The Wonderland Club. it was not unlike him to scrape off the emulsion and start again. a self-proclaimed amateur. Vladimir Nabokov. which raises the oft-asked question of Carroll's relationship with his beloved childfriends. as he alternated between displaying vast sophistication and marked sentimentality. Carroll. At the same time. in fact.some languidly stretched out on a bed. Carroll nevertheless had difficulty interacting with anyone who had hit puberty. where they could be properly discussed and inspire new models to volunteer for him. Certainly Carroll idolized girls. photographed them frequently. If you look long enough. Flukinger admires the naturalism of Carroll's images and the way in which he grouped sitters in meaningful relation to one another (see especially the picture of Alexander Munro and his wife staring at each other). but speculation about it has intensified with the passing of time. some nude. Carroll's multiplicity extended to his photography. Though Flukinger stresses the talent apparent in Carroll's groupings. If he got a bad image. his most famous images are those of children." it is clear from looking at the high-quality photographs on display that he was devoted to the medium and in his meticulousness excelled at getting pictures well-lighted and clear. This aspect of Carroll's life raised a few eyebrows in his day. Carroll exhibited only once at the Royal Photographic Society. over tea. all-consumingly in love and lust with the real-life Alice. favored dense images. Flukinger says that although Carroll called photography a "pastime.Gernsheim was among the first but far from the last to point out that Carroll was. With long exposures. wrote his stories down because they told him to. "I am fond of children (except boys). later along with their signatures.in an intimate setting. Much of Carroll's photographic work took the form of these albums.
Of course. Children. With his sensitive aesthetic sense. fully capable of sin and factory work. particularly of the female variety." There was at the same time a reluctance to use boys in the same context.. Two such cards in the exhibit portray nude girls on the cusp of womanhood. Twain began to "collect" girls as "pets. It's important to remember that Carroll entered the scene on the heels of Blake. By all accounts. The nude form Carroll found especially inspiring. and Tennyson.. as the ultimate in purity is found even in the greeting cards of the era. Annie Wood Gray Henderson between the years 1879 and 1881 about using her daughters Annie and Francis as nude models. innocence. Carroll writes: "Their innocent unconsciousness is very beautiful.. etc. it has a lot to do with the suspicious era in which we live.." Though Cohen holds the view that Carroll is very likely referring to a certain passion for his young friends. In one. Though Cohen believes that Carroll may indeed have wanted to marry one or more of the girls at various times. and gives one a feeling of reverence. and purity. If mankind was pure before the Fall. In interviews that Cohen conducted in the 1960s with some six or eight of the little old ladies who were once Carroll's child-friends. The girls' younger brother posed early on but in another of the letters Carroll said that the boy was not invited back to sit the next year because "a boy's head soon imbibes precocious ideas ." This sense of the child. in America. playing with. says Morton Cohen. delightful. even Mark Twain had his own "child-friends. girls were pure before they were "besmirched" by sex and marriage. had them to his house (which he renamed "Innocence at
. were suddenly revered as angels. Romanticism idealized children. It's simply assumed these days that if an old man likes spending time reading to. charming. fantasy on the part of a modern psyche obsessed with dark inner thoughts.most of the few that survive reside at Princeton -there are in the exhibit seven letters which Carroll wrote to Mrs. especially girls. they came of age and it never happened. Carroll nevertheless remained beyond reproach in his behavior and the girls without exception seem to have adored him. Carroll died celibate. So why does this sense of Carroll as pedophile persist? According to Morton Cohen. however. once thought of as merely little adults. It is hard to say how soon the danger might not arise. and photographing little girls that he must be a sick human being. none of them ever said anything (even when pressed for the gory details) but that he was the nicest. But Britain in the mid-19th century is a far cry from contemporary America. etc.The rumors of Carroll's illness are." He took the girls on trips. and there and then such things were not seen in the same light. showing that naked girls were stock images of ideals with no sexual overtones. all of whom in one way or another helped replace the 18thcentury idea of the sinful child with a 19th-century glorification of the child as a symbol of purity and innocence. Coleridge. a lonely widower estranged from his daughters. as at the presence of something sacred." At the end of his life. and while the HRHRC exhibit contains none of the nude photos themselves -. as symbols of virtue. this worship of young girls as symbols of innocence was not purely a British prerogative. Carroll the artist was drawn to the radiantly non-sexual beauty he saw in children. The only indication of any untowardness from Carroll himself is the occasional diary entry referring to "unholy thoughts" or "unwanted thoughts. Dickens. a preeminent Carroll scholar who will be lecturing on this and other matters at UT on the evening of October 8. man they had ever known. the most gentle.
http://weeklywire. turn into geysers of affection and admiration when addressing themselves to these schoolgirls. whom he called his "angelfish. when a naked 10-year-old girl inspired gasps of admiration -. Both men. pretty child!" -. preoccupied. particularly with respect to this "little girl matter. though distinguished and highly intelligent. summer-day. utterly unself-conscious afternoons on rivers and little girls in billowing dresses." comes from the cultural chasm between British Victorian society and modern-day America.as in "Oh. slaving away at Christ Church. Carroll lived at a time when he could be both the dutiful Victorian. as Carroll's child-friends adored him. still there are lessons to be learned here about the nature of children and the suspicious times in which we live.html
http://www. obsessed with subconscious motive.youtube. Maybe. what a pure." his "chief occupation and delight." "The Aquarium Club" correspondence is full of a smart kind of silliness highly reminiscent of Carroll's letters.com/watch?v=6qAEykkNoKM&feature=PlayList&p=25EB78AA1DA87E75&pla ynext=1&index=53 <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< http://www.org/archive/1979/05/0024099 <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
. and wrote them some 300 letters." If nothing else. Cohen says. The Angelfish adored Twain for his devoted attention. so too there is some sense in which we can learn from this pre-Freudian era of innocent.Home" in their honor)./To be once more a little child/For one bright. Twain considered the girls. in this sense Carroll lets us think ourselves back to a time more content with the outward appearance of things.rather than an immediate assumption of impropriety.just as they appear. Neither Carroll nor Twain.harpers. Much of Carroll's mysterious aura. separating myth from reality with respect to Carroll reveals at least as much about modern sensibilities as it does about Victorian mores and Carroll's own behavior. writing poems such as "I'd give all the wealth that years have piled on/The slow result of life's decay. often begging them to write back and to visit. Just as Carroll the adult believed there was much to be learned from his innocent child-friends. this exhibit shows that the motives of this complicated.com/ww/10-12-98/austin_arts_feature1. and the irrepressible romantic. as Cohen suggests. would be permitted the same access to children today because since Freud we are too aware. By all accounts. In the end. multi-talented man might in fact be the strangest thing imaginable to our modern mind -. While Victorianism is not to be emulated in all its repressive grandeur.
" Lewis Carroll
. and said. and said. and surprised. and he said. Oxford. "No. Tell me if they come safe or if any are lost on the way." "No. Perhaps it's the hair." I said. "Give me some medicine. I sent for the doctor. October 28. "You may send them to her in a box." Then he looked rather grave. and said. to hear what a queer illness I have had ever since you went. "Oh. I owe her a hundred and eightytwo more. it's your nose that's tired: a person often talks too much when he thinks he knows a great deal." "Well!" he said. "I think you must have been giving too many kisses." Then he looked a good deal graver. "Have you been walking much on your chin lately?" I said. "You must not give her any more till your lips are quite rested again.htm Christ Church." He looked a little grave. "are you sure it was only one?" I thought again. "That's exactly what it is!" Then he looked very grave indeed. "No. "Nonsense and stuff! You don't want medicine: go to bed!" I said. and said. 1876 My Dearest Gertrude: You will be sorry." "Think again. I'm tired in the face." Then he looked so grave that tears ran down his cheeks. So I have packed them all in it very carefully. "and it isn't exactly the hair: it's more about the nose and chin. for I'm tired." "Well.http://www. indeed I haven't!" I said.com/LoveLetters/lewiscarroll. "No. and said." He said." he said. "Now I understand: you've been playing too many hairs on the pianoforte. and puzzled." "But what am I to do?" I said. and said.theromantic. and thought I would someday give it to some little girl or other. it isn't the nose. "I did give one kiss to a baby child." Then the doctor said. "Perhaps it was eleven times." Then I remembered a little box that I once bought at Dover. Do you think it's in the lips?" "Of course!" I said. "it puzzles me very much. it isn't the sort of tiredness that wants bed. "because you see. a little friend of mine." I said.