About Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll was the literary pseudonym of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, born in 1832, the third in a family of eleven children; he had seven younger sisters. In childhood, he produced magazines for his sisters which display his love of parody, word games, puzzles and nonsense. He developed a stammer which troubled him throughout his life; a self portrait he drew as an adult revealingly shows his face with his hand tightly covering his mouth. His clergyman father sent him to Rugby school, where he was unhappy. In 1851 he joined Christchurch College, Oxford, to study Mathematics. Two days after he began there his mother died of ‘inflammation of the brain’. 

He was a brilliant scholar and in 1854 gained first class honours in mathematics, winning a lectureship only a year later. He also began to publish poems and short stories. The new art of photography fascinated him; he produced 3,000 images during his lifetime, many of female children. In 1856 he met the dean of Christchurch, Henry Liddell and his young family, Lorina, Alice and Edith Liddell.

In 1861 Dodgson was ordained a deacon, as was a requirement for Oxford Fellows at that time, but did not become a priest, perhaps because of his acute fear of speaking in public. Then, on 4 July 1862, he rowed with his friend and colleague Robinson Duckworth and the three Liddell girls on one of many trips on the river Isis. He told the story of 'Alice’s Adventures Underground', almost certainly made up as he went along, and later wrote it out for Alice with his own illustrations.

The story, with considerable additions, was published in 1865 under the now familiar title, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It received poor reviews, but sold well and has never been out of print since.

The poems recorded here are all taken from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, apart from 'Jabberwocky', which appeared in the sequel Through the Looking-glass, and 'The Hunting of the Snark' which was published on its own in 1876. The Alice poems parody the improving literature familiar to children of the time, but now almost forgotten. 'You are Old, Father William', for example, mocks the verse of Robert Southey, the tone of which can be judged from its ending:

“I am cheerful, young man”, Father William replied
“Let the cause thy attention engage
In the days of my youth I remembered my God
And he hath not forgotten my age”

Early in the story, Alice, in her confusion at growing small and then tall, begins to lose her sense of self; in an effort to grasp something familiar and reassuring she tries to recite the poem by Isaac Watts, 'Against Idleness and Mischief':

How doth the little bumble bee
Improve the shining hour...

Which delightfully of course comes out all wrong, echoing the rhythm and form of the original, but turning it to nonsense. 

For reasons which are not known, Dodgson’s friendship with the Liddell family ended abruptly after another boat trip in 1863. He died of pneumonia in Guildford in 1898.

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Jabberwocky and Other Nonsense: Collected Poems (Penguin...