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Lewis Carroll | Biography

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Early Life and Interests

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who used the pen name Lewis Carroll, was born on January 27, 1832, in Cheshire, England. His father was an Anglo-Catholic clergyman with conservative views on religion. At home, Dodgson made up stories and games for his ten siblings. Dodgson was taught at home until age 12, when he was sent to Richmond School and then Rugby School (named for the town in England, not the sport) at age 14. He was deaf in one ear and troubled with a stammer, and older classmates made life miserable for him. Nevertheless, he did very well academically and was admitted to Christ Church College at Oxford University.

Dodgson excelled in school and won the highest mathematics honors of anyone in his class. He graduated in 1854, was assigned a mathematical lectureship in 1855, and wrote several books on mathematics between 1879 and 1888. In order to accept a position as a permanent lecturer at the college at Christ Church, Dodgson had to take religious orders in the Anglican Church. Although his religious views were not nearly as fixed as those of his father, Dodgson became a deacon in the Anglican Church. This secured his academic position and his financial future.

Like many Victorians, he was interested in "psychical research" (paranormal research) and mind reading. While not considered a pre-Raphaelite author, he was friends with many people in this artistic movement who sought to model their works after simple Italian works from before the time of Italian painter Raphael, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais. He was also a skilled amateur photographer and loved designing games and puzzles. Many of his photographs were of female children, and although photographing children was common, scholars have questioned the nature of his interest in them because of his speculated attraction to Alice Liddell.

Alice's Influence

In 1856 a new Christ Church dean, Henry Liddell, arrived in Oxford with his family. Dodgson became friendly with the Liddell household. He was especially close to three of the Liddell daughters—Lorina, Edith, and Alice. In 1862, when Alice was 10, Dodgson made up a story about a little girl who fell down a rabbit hole. Reportedly, Alice asked him to produce a written version of the story for her. That tale became Alice in Wonderland, which was illustrated by the English artist John Tenniel (1820–1914).

Although Dodgson decided to publish Alice in Wonderland, he was a private person who did not want to attract public attention. He opted to publish under the pen name Lewis Carroll, which he derived from the Latin for his first and middle names: Carolus (the Latin form of the name Charles) and Ludovicus (the Latin form of the name Lutwidge).

The Alice Books and Later Works

Alice in Wonderland was published in 1865 and immediately became popular with readers of all ages. To follow up on that success, Carroll began work on a sequel in 1869. The book, originally called Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, was published in December 1871.

Carroll 's fiction stands out from most Victorian writing for children, which provided readers with instruction in ethical and social behavior. Instead of imparting moral lessons, the Alice stories entertain readers with a young girl's adventures in a nonsense-filled world. The Alice novels launched Dodgson's alter ego, Lewis Carroll, into literary stardom and, as Carroll, he went on to publish The Hunting of the Snark (1876), Sylvie and Bruno (1889), and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893).

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (who wrote as Lewis Carroll) died on January 14, 1898, in Guildford. His gift to children's literature remains his legacy. Together Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are two of the best loved and most often quoted books in the world.

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