Lewis & Alice; A 21st Century Love Affair
It’s seldom that I begin an article giving you where I stand on a subject, though, given the squeamishness about Lewis Carroll and his relationship with Alice Liddell, it’s important, that I say now, I’m not going to attempt to justify Carroll’s relationship. It simply isn’t my place, nor is it my place to call one of the greatest literary minds to ever live a paedophile or to insinuate such without ever having met the man. What follows is an observation on their relationship and perhaps a more important question, can we let be what was or does the black and white 21st century notion of love and romance need to spoil a man so great?
More than a century after Carroll’s death his name is still suffering under the accusations that he was a paedophile. While one of his early biographers argued he wasn’t to the point of the saying “there is no evidence that he felt or inspired any pangs of tender passion”, feminists have also torn Carroll’s work apart and have read, “all sorts of rapacious nonsense” as the one writer from The Guardian put it. Now simply isn’t the time to delve into whether these accusations and defences are true, it seems as though the feminists have seen what they wanted to see, and that his defender, has also done the same.
After Carroll’s death in 1898, his diaries were heavily censored, some of the pages were torn out all together. These pages included the ones that dealt with his falling out with Alice’s family when she was eleven. This then led to a greater a mystery (which, was merely a continuation of Carroll’s efforts to subvert the prying public eye when he was alive), none of his ten siblings ever spoke publicly about their brother or his relationship with Alice.
The discovery of a letter, written when Carroll was 43 and Alice 25 (twelve years after publication of Alice In Wonderland and three years before Alice married) reads from the Daily Mail as follows;
“Thank you for the sight of the pretty photographs, but don’t keep the child in for me – I am fearfully busy- and what could Miss Lloyd have been thinking to say such things of me?
She must have taken some remark of mine about liking children and have said to herself for “some” read “all”, for “girls” read “boys” and for “ten” read “two” – such a method of exaggeration is wholly unfounded, and yet she professes to be an admirer of Dr Liddon. Believe me.”
While there is certainly evidence and writings that suggest that Carroll was indeed fond of little girls (perhaps a pesudo-paedophilic statement in itself), what is clear is that he certainly wasn’t the rabid, horrifying, relentless and immoral paedophile that the 21st century has taken to fancy. The missing and censored pages from his diary hold the answers to many questions, then again, so does the lost mind of Carroll himself. One can only speculate that sinister relations took place, if indeed they did so at all.
Is there a point here, then, where we let art be art, and accept that past as the past? There is nothing that can be done for Carroll or Alice, outside of unnecessary and unneeded slander. Alice was Carroll’s muse for Alice In Wonderland, if it weren’t for her, the anthropomorphic genius and wondrous products of Carroll’s imagination may never have made it to the page. But to suggest he’s the only writer that has ever had a muse that can be deemed inappropriate is nothing short of absurd. In the 19th century Carroll wasn’t alone in this, and I doubt that he is now.
We know also that Carroll was tormented by his affection for the young girl and there is suggestion that it was infatuation and imagination that led to the story. Through some of his writings, namely his references to praying to god for a heart that wasn’t sinful, or binding himself in an emotional prison. Carroll’s battle with himself and his refusal to act on his feelings and emotions is almost honourable. To think a crime is one thing, but to commit the crime is another thing entirely.
In many ways, Lewis Carroll’s relationship with Alice (and the thoughts he recorded in his diary) is still something doesn’t sit easily in our society. Given that, in those days, it was common to ask for a girl’s hand in marriage before she came of age, even now, we seem to struggle with a relative age gap. And perhaps this struggle, this fear of love and romance that doesn’t fit inside a black and white vision is one of the reasons Carroll won’t be left alone.
After all, the man was loving and caring but, he was also (according to Tea Time Mag) a man that was particular, fussy, not with many friends, and while he kept the company of the greats, such as Lord Tennyson, he was known to drive his colleagues at Christ Church Colleges crazy with the menial. His complaints ranged mail being damp, to too much milk at breakfast.
And while I conceded, in that last point, I haven’t painted the most appealing picture of Carroll, he was, after all a writer. A breed of people, known for their solitude and at times their peculiarity. Along with his adoration of Alice and her friends, Carroll is unfortunate in that he exhibits signs we now associate with bad people. Which include his awkward relationships with other adults, his love of children, and being a relative loner.
So it seems, that the 21st century social obsession with love and morality are destined to not leave this man or his works to be as they are. Perhaps, there will come a time when we can look on Carroll’s work and appreciate it for the master piece that it is. But, I fear this time, will only come when we can let bygones be bygones and see that while Carroll’s relationship with children wasn’t what we would have liked, for now, we must settle with the thoughts, that it is done. And whether or not he was indeed a paedophile is likely a fact that will be left in the gentle hands of time. To dissemble such a work in search of preconceived ideas and to fulfill notions is not only abhorrent but will lead only to a much a greater slander of a man who cannot defend himself or his legacy.