SELECTED SOJOURNS ON THE ISLE OF WIGHT

Posted by Admin on Monday, 25th July 2011, 12:34

Conspicuous among the books in my study is the three and three-quarter inches thick Greek-English Lexicon compiled by Henry George Liddell, D.D., and the Master of Balliol College, Robert Scott, D.D., the former once the Headmaster of Winchester College and, since 1855, the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford; at which time (i.e. when Dodgson first met them) the ages of his children were: Harry, about eight or nine; Lorina (often called Ina) six or seven; Alice, four; and Edith, about two. Knowing as we do that Charles Dodgson wished to maintain a friendly relationship with the family, it would be reasonable to expect that he would try to keep on good terms with the parents. It is astonishing to learn, therefore, that disagreeing with some of the Dean’s innovations, he condemned them in at least two satires – pamphlets that worsened a relationship which for some time had not been congenial. But that was circa 1872-4, long after Alice had been immortalised in Alice In Wonderland.

Although too modest a man to become a social climber, Dodgson had friends in high places. He was, we are told, a guest of Lord Salisbury at Hatfield where a children’s party included Princess Alice, and where he told them his story Sylvia and Bruno – a fairy story in which Dodgson the moralist was at his most unreadable. Invited to lunch when the Duchess of Albany visited the Liddells, Dodgson was unable to attend – a disappointment for which a visit from Princess Alice and the young Duke compensated. A gift of The Nursery Alice to the princess brought a letter of appreciation from her mother. In 1859 Edward, Prince of Wales, entered Christ Church, and although he would not allow Dodgson to take his photograph, he accepted some of his other photographs and gave him his autograph. The popular rumour that Dodgson sent Alice In Wonderland and his Condensation of Determinants to Queen Victoria was categorically denied by him.

Apart from royalty and members of the peerage, Dodgson’s circle of acquaintances comprised many famous men. Arthur Hughes painted The Lady of the Lilacs for him, and he knew Rossetti, Millais, Holman Hunt, John Ruskin, Thackeray, and Tennyson. When he showed the last a photograph of Alice Liddell as a beggar child, Tennyson thought it the most beautiful one he had ever seen – a statement I find incredible, for the picture depicts a somewhat sulky girl with a bare shoulder. It was in 1857 that the poet and writer had their initial meeting. A second took place when Dodgson, while visiting a friend in Freshwater, called at Farringford. Friction over an unpublished poem led in 1870 to a series of acrimonious letters and to Dodgson’s disillusionment with the Poet Laureate.

In spite of the hazards of 19th century travel, Charles Dodgson, accompanied by Dr H. P. Liddon, went in 1867, by way of Berlin and Koenigsberg, to St Petersburg and Nijni Novgorod. It was his first trip abroad, but his companion was a seasoned traveller.

Since 1865, the publication date of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, millions of people, both here and abroad, have read it, for it has been translated into at least twenty-four languages including Chinese, Hebrew, and Esperanto. Some translators, among them the German Antonie Zimmermann and the Frenchman Henri Bue, had difficulty with the puns – ‘tortoise’ and ‘taught us’, for example. For the erudite there is a Latin version of the Jabberwocky poem from the pen of A. A. Vansittart of Trinity College, Cambridge. Dodgson’s published works (between 1860 and 1898), including pamphlets, totalled 128. One wonders how many people read his Notes on the First Two Books of Euclid and his Symbolic Logic, Part One ?

Incidentally, a subject of controversy has been the weather on July 4th, the day when Charles Dodgson, sporting a white straw hat, white flannel trousers, and black boots, entranced his audience of three girls (Ina aged thirteen, Alice ten, and Edith eight) and one adult male, by inventing for them Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, for it was remembered by Alice in 1898 as a very hot afternoon; by Robinson Duckworth as a ‘beautiful summer afternoon’; and by the storyteller as a ‘golden afternoon’: but a record at the Meteorological Office said the day was cool and rather wet. A dry interval would appear to be indicated, for the river trip from Ferry Bridge to Godstow was not spoilt by rain.

Before dealing with Dodgson’s relationship with young girls, I must state that I am prepared to accept the general opinion held at the time, i.e. that he was a man of integrity who would have been horrified at the suggestion that his behaviour was in the slightest way reprehensible. But, even allowing for ‘other times, other manners’, it must be admitted there were occasions when he appeared to tread on dangerous ground. Some of his letters, for instance, read like love letters: one to Gertrude Chataway ends ‘I send you 10,000 kisses, and remain your loving friend’. And more than once he confessed that he preferred girls to boys. Regarding his wish to photograph little girls in the nude (a thing which Mrs Liddell would not permit) it must be remembered that much decorative art of the period included either drawings or photographs of unclothed girls discreetly modified to be acceptable. Was the distinction between his avuncular affection and the desire that culminates in child abuse only a matter of degree? Not being a psychologist, I do not know.

The idea that Alice Liddell was his first young friend was not correct. At Tynemouth in 1855 he was introduced to Mrs Crawshay’s three children, and met at Whitburn Fredrika Liddell, a niece of the Dean. Other girls with whom he became friendly were Gertrude Chataway (met at Sandown in 1857); Alexandra (Xie) Kitchen, daughter of the Dean of Durham; a girl named Magdalen (also met at Sandown), to whom he gave The Hunting of the Snark; F. Brewer and Adelaide Paine (both met at Margate); Gaynor Simpson of Guildford; Vera Beringer who played Little Lord Fauntleroy; Kathleen Eschwege whom he encountered on the G.W.R.; Agnes Hughes, the daughter of the artist; Isabel Standen whom he placed on his knee when they met in Forbury Gardens, Reading; Maggie Cunnigham; and the daughter of E. A. Litten, the Rector of Naunton.

Many of his friendships were maintained (on a different level) when the children were women, and letters from them testify to their happy memories of the hours spent with him, and to the seemliness of his conduct.

It has been hinted that an early disappointment in love was the cause of his remaining a bachelor and his predilection for young girls. In which case his statement to Miss E. Manners that he had never met a young lady whom he could endure for a fortnight might well have been a cover-up for a wounded heart.

T. C. Hudson

© T. C. Hudson.
This article may not be reproduced without prior permission of the author.

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