Children’s Independence Day: July 4, 1862, Part 2.

And, as the man began to speak, a strange thing happened.  Shock waves were felt in libraries across the world.  Strong winds blew books off the shelves.  And the moralizing, degrading, pompous tomes were cast into a literary black hole.  The Mary Martha Sherwoods, Sandford and Mertons, Anna Laetitia Barbaulds, faded into oblivion.  New books of beauty took their places.  The garden of childhood was opened to reveal an abundance of green carefree space, filled with toys, games and a treasure trove of waiting memories.  The man took the oars, and continued his tale, inspired by the gazing eyes of three young girls.  He was truly in his element.  And through a series of gestures, the twinkle in his eye, the wry smile that crossed his lips, he drew his listeners ever closer into his tale.  As he spun his story, the adult world, which had tyrannized children for centuries, was mocked, and turned on its head.  The hypocrisy, the insipid moralizing of adults, was transformed into utter nonsense, much to his young audience’s delight, who clapped their small hands and laughed for joy.  He even included the girls in his story and gave them parts like a dramatist.  He also borrowed from the outings they had shared:  tea parties, new rules for croquet, a pack of cards, magic tricks, picnics on the lawn.  The sound of the river strokes blended with the speaker’s soft voice…  The rain that delayed their journey the previous day had disappeared completely, although it reappeared in the continuing tale.  The narrator was also included in the story, but yielded to the presence of one Victorian girl.  It was she with dark cropped hair that had captivated Charles the most.  The far reaching eyes, the pensive mind, the girlish laughter.  He courted her in the only way he knew; through whimsy, playfulness and ineffable charm.  Like a conjurer, he opened the garden of childhood to Alice.  She was just the right age to enjoy the assault on the adult world and her own place in it.   Charles was brimming with ideas that spilled into the wonderland of his story.  The ideas came from mathematics, philosophy, politics, discussions he had with colleagues at Christ Church.  He had told stories before, but entranced by his eager audience, and enamored of Alice, he wove such a compelling tale that it ignited a revolution in literature and changed the concept of childhood forever.  Its iridescent glow peaked through the catacombs, and lit up the literary canvases of George MacDonald, Kenneth Grahame, L. Frank Baum and countless others extending the realm of the child still further…  Charles was unsuccessful in his courtship of Alice, and was ultimately banished from her home.  But, he gave her a special gift; that of literary immortality…

Charles with his two Alices

Charles with his two Alices

About Robert M. Weiss
From an early age, I've taken great pleasure in reading. Also, I learned to play my 78 player when I was quite young, and enjoyed listening to musicals and classical music. I remember sitting on the floor, and following the text and pictures of record readers, which were popular in the 1940s and 50s. My favorites were the Bozo and Disney albums. I also enjoyed watching the slow spinning of 16s as they spun out tales of adventure. I have always been attracted by rivers, and I love to sit on a boulder with my feet in the water, gazing into the mysteries of swirling currents. I especially like inner tubing on the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. Since my early youth, I've been interested in collecting minerals, which have taught me about the wonderful possibilities in colors and forms. Sometimes I try to imagine what the ancient Greeks must have felt when they began to discover physical laws in nature. I also remember that I had a special passion for numbers, and used to construct them out of stones. After teaching Russian for several years, I became a writer, interviewer, editor, and translator. I continue to delight in form, and am a problem solver at heart.

12 Responses to Children’s Independence Day: July 4, 1862, Part 2.

  1. auntyuta says:

    Literary immortality – a special gift indeed.
    What are your sources for what you write about his private life?


  2. Primarily, Morton Cohen’s Biography of Lewis Carroll. It is a fascinating read, and gives great insight into one of the most brilliant and enigmatic individuals that ever lived. I cannot recommend this biography too highly.


  3. auntyuta says:

    Lewis Carroll: A Biography

    Morton N. Cohen, Author Alfred A. Knopf $35 (0p) ISBN 978-0-679-42298-3

    Eccentric, fastidious, class-conscious, deeply religious Oxford don Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), better known as Lewis Carroll, spent his adult life pursuing friendships with little girls, many of whom he drew or photographed in the nude. These friendships, particularly with Alice Liddell and her two sisters, daughters of his college dean, sparked his energy and imagination, yielding Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Rejecting the thesis that Carroll’s overwhelming fascination with children was an obsession or a sign of arrested development, Cohen, professor emeritus at City University of New York, nevertheless opines that Carroll’s fixation resulted from fear-inducing, punitive childhood experiences with his rigid, imperious father, an archdeacon. Drawing on Carroll’s published and unpublished diaries and letters, full of self-castigation and torment, Cohen reveals that Oxford mathematician Dodgson saw himself as a repeated sinner. His troubled conscience, Cohen suggests, stemmed from his suppressed erotic feelings for children. Delightfully illustrated with photographs and Carroll’s drawings woven throughout, this extraordinary, meticulous biography gives us a sharper and deeper picture of Carroll than any before, presenting a many-sided man–gadgeteer, amateur inventor, poet, logician, pamphleteer, antivivisectionist animal rights advocate and paranormal researcher who believed in ghosts, telepathy and fairies. (Nov.)

    What I gather from this write-up this man was certainly multi talented and achieved extraordinary things, but also must have been very troubled. His upbringing must have made him suffer a lot.


  4. auntyuta says:

    Sorry, Robert, I inserted this in a hurry. I should have pointed out that the last two lines is what I added as a comment. The long paragraph is taken from the Wikipedia.

    I would be interested to find out what sort of lives the Liddell sisters would have been leading as grown women.


  5. auntyuta says:

    Not Wikipedia but iGoogle I should say.


  6. Uta, thanks for the quote. However, I must make some comments regarding the quote. Cohen certainly mentions Charles’s relationship with his father as a possible source of his guilt. But in no way does Cohen imply that that was the primary reason for Charles’s need for young girls. Cohen suggests that Charles realized he could not live up to his father’s expectations; he was the oldest son, but did not marry, he never became more than a deacon, and differed from his father on several religious issues. We do not have Charles’s earliest diary, exploring his first year at Christ Church, Oxford, so we do not know whether Charles was ever thwarted in a more adult form of love. But Cohen points out that many of Charles’s poems do deal with unhappy love situations. Charles’s troubled conscience came not only from his father’s unattainable demands, but what Charles perceived as his “laziness” as well as his attachment to many young girl friends…. What is often neglected, is Charles’s interest and expertise in photography. He is now considered to be the finest children’s photographer of the 19th cent…. Edward Wakeling has recently published the nine diaries we possess along with insightful commentary. Unfortunately, Cohen did not have access to such diaries when he wrote his seminal biography of Carroll; he relied on Roger Green’s two volume collection. These diaries are available through the Lewis Carroll Society in England. The Princeton University collection of Charles’s photographs is well worth owning. It has a splendid essay by Roger Taylor on the history of photography in Victorian England, contrasting techniques, and Charles’s contribution to the field. In short, there are exciting new discoveries and publications pertaining to the “magical” life of Lewis Carroll.
    The best book I know of that deals with Alice and her siblings is the late Anne Clark’s The Real Alice published in 1981 by Stein and Day. Unfortunately, Alice displayed some of her mother’s more unpleasant features: condescension towards those of a lower class, arrogance, bossiness, obsession with position and wealth. But the book is an enlightening experience. She also wrote a biography of Lewis Carroll, that Cohen sites on several occasions. Could Mrs. Liddell’s personality have influenced the tyrannical character of the Queen of Hearts? I wonder…


  7. auntyuta says:

    Thanks for this information, Robert. It’s all very interesting. I can imagine a qualified novelist writing a great novel about all these characters. It seems to me there are enough clues available as to be able to make a substantial novel out of the material. And a novel doesn’t have to be strictly biographical, right? If several novelists came up with a novel about these people, everyone would perhaps come to slightly different conclusions. I’d be interested to read different versions. And then I would perhaps try to make up my own mind about it which novelist depicts the characters most truthfully.

    As concerns the behaviour of these characters, one has of course to take into account what social expectations these people would have been loaded with during the Victorian area. The same people might perhaps act quite differently in today’s society!

    I imagine Charles would have been intellectually of an immensely high standing. Am I right in thinking that intellectually he remained quite unperturbed? And emotionally he seemed to have remained somewhat childlike. Some people say that in every man there is a child. But maybe some men suppress more or less what’s still childlike in them? So do some very special men perhaps find an artistic outlet for what remains childlike in them? I find all this very interesting!


  8. Novelists have written about the lives of Charles and his circle. I don’t own any such novels, but if I come across some in the Knight Letter, I’ll let you know.
    Yes, intellectually he continued to perform at the highest level. He did have an active social life, which included many adults…. The Victorians collected autographs of famous people, and Charles was no different. He sought to photograph and get autographs of the celebrities of his day. Unfortunately, the Prince of Wales turned him down, and he never saw Queen Victoria!
    Charles had an uncanny ability to relate to children. He loved to play games with them, to listen to their varied opinions, to teach them about logical puzzles, word games, parodistic verse. He was a great storyteller, a creative artist, a magician, who was fond of demonstrating his tricks, and he let children see his dark room to watch pictures unfold.
    Although Charles continued to have child friends to the end of his life, the teacher in him began to dominate his latest novels, which were largely incomprehensible to children. Such was the case with Sylvie and Bruno, and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, which were both artistic failures.


  9. auntyuta says:

    I am curious again, Robert. The latest novels, about Sylvie and Bruno, were these meant to be read by children? Is that why these novels were “artistic failures” because they were incomprehensible to children? Wouldn’t researchers be interested in these novels and find out what message Charles, the author, wanted to relate by writing these novels? I cannot imagine for him to have written such novels without wanting to communicate something with them.

    I remember as a child I found men (my father, uncles, cousins) and teenage boys always mentally more challenging than women.


  10. Originally, Charles intended the Sylvie and Bruno novels for children. However, he soon realized the books were more suitable to their parents. The novels are failures by any standards, because they are too complex and convoluted, and sometimes downright boring. His lectures on electricity, the relationship between Darwin and religion are often ponderous. The most successful parts are the humorous episodes and verses, but the books lack the spontaneous flow of the Alice books. As Cohen says, they make for a difficult read.

    It’s interesting what you say about the men in your life being more intellectually challenging. Grandma Lillian saw men as weak; she dominated her husband intellectually, her father was catered to by his wife, and later, Grandma. Her brother needed her help with his educational projects(I always found it strange that Grandma called her brother by his first name, Ralph, but he always called her sister!). She sought out female companionship for intelligent conversations, such as Evelyn Freed, the temple librarian, and Sarah Seff Rolfe, a poet and intellectual. Grandma Lillian hated the women’s liberation movement in the 70s, and said that she felt sorry for men. They have nothing! That was an area where Grandma and I disagreed, because I’ve always liked the company of intelligent women!


  11. auntyuta says:

    Maybe your Grandma was right in a way. To hate the women’s liberation movement does’t necessarily mean that you want women to be less intelligent than men. She said she felt sorry for men. Did she perhaps feel sorry for a lot of women too?
    Gee, Robert, this discussion gets more and more interesting! By the way, do you still feel you disagree with Grandma in this area?


  12. Grandma would have liked this discussion… She may have felt sorry for women, but she never expressed it… It is interesting that she always took my Mom’s side when Mom wanted to go out to dinner, and Dad didn’t. She said it was shame that Mom worked hard all day, and put the guilt on Dad’s lap. You may have a point, Uta… I realize now that Grandma played a role of seeming to be inferior, when she knew she wasn’t. While I was going through our family archives, I found a 1905 photo of Grandma when she was just three. Her finger is on her chin, and her eyes sparkle with a lively intelligence. I wanted to post this photo, since it shows her before she was taught that men were superior, and her place was in the home, but Mom didn’t think it was a good idea… I think Grandma couldn’t understand the changing roles of men and women, and thought men were getting a rotten deal… Feminism is difficult to define, because it has many facets, and different women see it differently. I support that aspect of feminism that ensures equal opportunities for women in all areas, especially in sports, and equal respect for women’s achievements. Grandma would never have understood such support. The famous Australian show for young girls, The Saddle Club, would have been incomprehensible to her.


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