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Following his acclaimed life of Dickens, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst illuminates the tangled history of two lives and two books. Drawing on numerous unpublished sources, he examines in detail the peculiar friendship between the Oxford mathematician Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and Alice Liddell, the child for whom he invented the Alice stories, and analyzes how this relati Following his acclaimed life of Dickens, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst illuminates the tangled history of two lives and two books. Drawing on numerous unpublished sources, he examines in detail the peculiar friendship between the Oxford mathematician Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and Alice Liddell, the child for whom he invented the Alice stories, and analyzes how this relationship stirred Carroll s imagination and influenced the creation of Wonderland. It also explains why "Alice in Wonderland" (1865) and its sequel, "Through the Looking-Glass" (1871), took on an unstoppable cultural momentum in the Victorian era and why, a century and a half later, they continue to enthrall and delight readers of all ages. "The Story of Alice" reveals Carroll as both an innovator and a stodgy traditionalist, entrenched in habits and routines. He had a keen double interest in keeping things moving and keeping them just as they are. (In Looking-Glass Land, Alice must run faster and faster just to stay in one place.) Tracing the development of the Alice books from their inception in 1862 to Liddell s death in 1934, Douglas-Fairhurst also provides a keyhole through which to observe a larger, shifting cultural landscape: the birth of photography, changing definitions of childhood, murky questions about sex and sexuality, and the relationship between Carroll s books and other works of Victorian literature. In the stormy transition from the Victorian to the modern era, Douglas-Fairhurst shows, Wonderland became a sheltered world apart, where the line between the actual and the possible was continually blurred."


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Following his acclaimed life of Dickens, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst illuminates the tangled history of two lives and two books. Drawing on numerous unpublished sources, he examines in detail the peculiar friendship between the Oxford mathematician Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and Alice Liddell, the child for whom he invented the Alice stories, and analyzes how this relati Following his acclaimed life of Dickens, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst illuminates the tangled history of two lives and two books. Drawing on numerous unpublished sources, he examines in detail the peculiar friendship between the Oxford mathematician Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and Alice Liddell, the child for whom he invented the Alice stories, and analyzes how this relationship stirred Carroll s imagination and influenced the creation of Wonderland. It also explains why "Alice in Wonderland" (1865) and its sequel, "Through the Looking-Glass" (1871), took on an unstoppable cultural momentum in the Victorian era and why, a century and a half later, they continue to enthrall and delight readers of all ages. "The Story of Alice" reveals Carroll as both an innovator and a stodgy traditionalist, entrenched in habits and routines. He had a keen double interest in keeping things moving and keeping them just as they are. (In Looking-Glass Land, Alice must run faster and faster just to stay in one place.) Tracing the development of the Alice books from their inception in 1862 to Liddell s death in 1934, Douglas-Fairhurst also provides a keyhole through which to observe a larger, shifting cultural landscape: the birth of photography, changing definitions of childhood, murky questions about sex and sexuality, and the relationship between Carroll s books and other works of Victorian literature. In the stormy transition from the Victorian to the modern era, Douglas-Fairhurst shows, Wonderland became a sheltered world apart, where the line between the actual and the possible was continually blurred."

30 review for The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05qfj15 Description: Where did Alice stop and 'Alice' begin? Wonderland is part of our cultural heritage - a shortcut for all that is beautiful and confusing; a metaphor used by artists, writers and politicians for 150 years. But beneath the fairy tale lies the complex history of the author and his subject. The story of Charles Dodgson the quiet academic, and his second self Lewis Carroll - storyteller, innovator and avid collector of child-friends. And also o BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05qfj15 Description: Where did Alice stop and 'Alice' begin? Wonderland is part of our cultural heritage - a shortcut for all that is beautiful and confusing; a metaphor used by artists, writers and politicians for 150 years. But beneath the fairy tale lies the complex history of the author and his subject. The story of Charles Dodgson the quiet academic, and his second self Lewis Carroll - storyteller, innovator and avid collector of child-friends. And also of his dream-child Alice Liddell, and the fictional alter ego that would never let her grow up. This is their secret history - one of love and loss, of innocence and ambiguity, and of one man's need to make Wonderland his refuge in a rapidly changing world. Drawing on previously unpublished material, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst traces the creation and influence of the Alice books against a shifting cultural landscape - the birth of photography, changing definitions of childhood and sexuality, and the tensions inherent in the transition between the Victorian and modern worlds. 1: On a river trip with the Liddells, Carroll makes up a story about a girl called Alice. 2: Lewis finds a publisher for his Alice story, now all he needs is a title. 3: Following publication of his two Alice stories, Carroll continues to collect 'child-friends' 4: Oxford gossip is catching up with Carroll, and the real Alice begins married life. 5: Illness begins to take its toll on the author. Read by Simon Russell Beale Produced by Joanna Green A Pier production for BBC Radio 4.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Anne Rioux

    Fascinating biography of a book, a genre I am intensely interested in right now, as I am writing one myself (on Little Women). This is a great example, thoroughly absorbing and full of fascinating detail. Mine is going to be quite a bit different, but it did inspire me.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Robin Stevens

    A fantastic biography which helpfully reminded me that Lewis Carroll was, like many other Victorian men, Just The Worst. (14+) *Please note: this review is meant as a recommendation only. If you use it in any marketing material, online or anywhere on a published book without asking permission from me first, I will ask you to remove that use immediately. Thank you!*

  4. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week: Where did Alice stop and 'Alice' begin? Wonderland is part of our cultural heritage - a shortcut for all that is beautiful and confusing; a metaphor used by artists, writers and politicians for 150 years. But beneath the fairy tale lies the complex history of the author and his subject. The story of Charles Dodgson the quiet academic, and his second self Lewis Carroll - storyteller, innovator and avid collector of child-friends. And also of his dream-child Alice From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week: Where did Alice stop and 'Alice' begin? Wonderland is part of our cultural heritage - a shortcut for all that is beautiful and confusing; a metaphor used by artists, writers and politicians for 150 years. But beneath the fairy tale lies the complex history of the author and his subject. The story of Charles Dodgson the quiet academic, and his second self Lewis Carroll - storyteller, innovator and avid collector of child-friends. And also of his dream-child Alice Liddell, and the fictional alter ego that would never let her grow up. This is their secret history - one of love and loss, of innocence and ambiguity, and of one man's need to make Wonderland his refuge in a rapidly changing world. Drawing on previously unpublished material, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst traces the creation and influence of the Alice books against a shifting cultural landscape - the birth of photography, changing definitions of childhood and sexuality, and the tensions inherent in the transition between the Victorian and modern worlds. Read by Simon Russell Beale Produced by Joanna Green A Pier production for BBC Radio 4.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    As someone who is Alice-obsessed, I'm amazed that I had not ventured into the backstory until now. Robert Douglas-Fairhurst does a wonderful job of balancing the biographies of both Carroll and Alice Liddell/Hargreaves, as well as presenting all of the information he has within the context of the period; I appreciated that he does not definitely try to fill in the gaps of his narrative and, instead, merely presents theories and likelihoods with each detail he presents. I now have a much broader As someone who is Alice-obsessed, I'm amazed that I had not ventured into the backstory until now. Robert Douglas-Fairhurst does a wonderful job of balancing the biographies of both Carroll and Alice Liddell/Hargreaves, as well as presenting all of the information he has within the context of the period; I appreciated that he does not definitely try to fill in the gaps of his narrative and, instead, merely presents theories and likelihoods with each detail he presents. I now have a much broader appreciation for 'Alice' and the many joys that it creates for both myself and the world.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Like many children, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass,” were books I loved as I was growing up and I have since read Alice’s adventures to my own children. As I got older, I gradually became aware of their author – Lewis Carroll, pseudonym of Oxford academic, Charles Dodgson. This book tells the story of Dodgson’s life and interweaves it with that of Alice Liddell; who inspired that story so many years ago. I was fascinated to read of Charles Dodgson’s life and of Like many children, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass,” were books I loved as I was growing up and I have since read Alice’s adventures to my own children. As I got older, I gradually became aware of their author – Lewis Carroll, pseudonym of Oxford academic, Charles Dodgson. This book tells the story of Dodgson’s life and interweaves it with that of Alice Liddell; who inspired that story so many years ago. I was fascinated to read of Charles Dodgson’s life and of the ‘hinge’ moment (as the author puts it) in almost the middle of his lifespan, when he wrote Alice. The story of that sunny afternoon when he went punting with Alice and her sisters and began telling them of the little girl who tumbled down a rabbit hole gradually became re-told and enshrined in myth. Interestingly, not only by the author, but in later years by Alice herself. It was interesting to read how Alice (later, Mrs Hargreaves) was taken by her younger son, Caryl, on a trip to the United States; where she was uncomplaining, and you feel slightly mystified, at being feted by complete strangers. Even her harmless questions about what the Statue of Liberty was made newspaper headlines and she certainly profited from the sale of items given to her by the author – including the original manuscript of, “Alice in Wonderland.” Indeed, a signed and beautifully bound of every Alice incarnation was dutifully sent to her and, even if the relations between Charles Dodgson and the Liddell’s changed over the years, he obviously felt the need to acknowledge her. She certainly dealt with being “Alice” better than the man she once met at an opening, who had been the “Peter” that “Peter Pan” was based upon and who suffered endless bullying at Eton and ended up committing suicide. It cannot be easy to have your life blurred by a fictional character… At the heart of this biography though, is the obviously contentious issue of Charles Dodgson’s procession of ‘child friends.’ The author puts his behaviour in context of the time and is generally sympathetic to his, now extremely uncomfortable, desire to photograph young girls – often unclothed – and take them on jaunts to the theatre or out to tea. Interestingly, even while at Oxford, his behaviour was looked upon askance by others – with undergraduates often poking fun at him and a pattern of him retreating if his behaviour was questioned. What is obvious is that Dodgson was a very complicated character, while, after his death, his family were keen to protect his image and control how he was written about. I really did enjoy this book. It is not a quick, or easy, read. Indeed, it has taken me a few weeks to finish – and I usually do read quickly. However, I found myself responding to the quieter, Victorian pace of life and needing to concentrate and think about what I was reading. Dodgson was a man who loved wordplay, who delighted in the companionship of children (however questionable his motives) and who suffered self doubt and a desire to always make fresh starts. I enjoyed reading of his constant wish to improve the world he lived in with, often considering people more like mathematical formula than the unpredictable beings they actually are – such as his letters suggesting ways people could exit crowded theatres, or ways in which you could make notes in the dark. He constantly amended his writing, involved himself in any Alice adaptations, such as theatre productions, with an endless stream of improvements and suggestions and, you feel, would have been proud that Alice still has such an important place in so many readers hearts.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kbrooke

    As Carroll would have likely appreciated, this is more accurately the story of three Alices--the books, their eponymous inspiration, and the fictional character, who went on to have quite a life of her own. The books' origin story is well known--as is Dodgson's admittedly icky fascination with little girls--and Douglas-Fairhurst trots out enough sad evidence that in another time and place would have landed Dodgson in court if not jail. It's painful to read his woefully misguided correspondence t As Carroll would have likely appreciated, this is more accurately the story of three Alices--the books, their eponymous inspiration, and the fictional character, who went on to have quite a life of her own. The books' origin story is well known--as is Dodgson's admittedly icky fascination with little girls--and Douglas-Fairhurst trots out enough sad evidence that in another time and place would have landed Dodgson in court if not jail. It's painful to read his woefully misguided correspondence to his "child-friends" and, in some cases, their parents (asking permission to photograph them without clothes, for example. Even more odd was the number of mothers who didn't mind.). His self-deluding protestations of purely innocent thoughts are not helped by the "mysterious disappearance" of a number of his journals following his death. So we have Dodgson/Carroll, so brilliant, so clever, and yet so disappointing. Then we have Alice Liddell (later Hargreaves), who for all her childhood winsomeness grew up to be a wholly conventional and pretty dull upper-middle-class Englishwoman with ironically little tolerance for adventure or worlds other than her own: her travel journals and correspondence attest to boredom, colonial imperiousness, and an utterly parochial mindset. She also had a decidedly ambivalent relationship with Carroll, although (through her son's indefatigable encouragement) she cashed in magnificently on their association when she found herself widowed and in need of money. Funnily enough, the fact that said son was named Caryl is the one potentially provocative through-line this book lets pass unremarked. And that's my third disappointment/peeve: Douglas-Fairhurst's narrative is marred by too many (sometimes overdrawn) analogies between the Alice texts and their real-life progenitor(s), while the later chapters on the books' enduring influence into the 20th century grow tiresome, arbitrary, and at times suspect--I mean, if you're going to trace every permutation of the term [Blank]land back to Carroll's ur-text, where would it stop? In his determination to create a serious study of the Alice books, their context, and their cultural impact, Douglas-Fairhurst falls prey to a kitchen-sink approach that winds up suffocating his worthy project and his often sprightly prose. That said, his throwaway observation of possible parallels between Alice in Wonderland and Dante's Inferno is a breadcrumb I would have snapped up in a heartbeat for an undergraduate paper topic.

  8. 5 out of 5

    T.E. Shepherd

    I don't read nearly as much non-fiction as I should, and hardly any biographies. Usually when I do read biographies I start off with enthusiasm only to flail and fall flat about 70-100 pages in (aka. get bored). Not so with this all to readable new biography of Lewis Carroll, which I chanced upon when I heard it serialised on the BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week strand. It's actually more, the story of the real Alice (or Alices) behind the Wonderland book, and through her the life of the man who wro I don't read nearly as much non-fiction as I should, and hardly any biographies. Usually when I do read biographies I start off with enthusiasm only to flail and fall flat about 70-100 pages in (aka. get bored). Not so with this all to readable new biography of Lewis Carroll, which I chanced upon when I heard it serialised on the BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week strand. It's actually more, the story of the real Alice (or Alices) behind the Wonderland book, and through her the life of the man who wrote, photographed, and adored her. Lewis Carroll was clearly an odd kind of character, and there has been much that has been speculated about what his motives and actions were, particularly when it comes to the blanked out and removed sections to his journals. That he loved children, it is without doubt, but through reading this account of his life, I think it is clear that he loved children only so far as either in relation to the time in which he lived (girls married much younger often to older men), or to that he was still very much a child himself in the world. To read anything further or untoward, is I think wrong. Particularly in the first two parts of this book which deal with Before, and During Alice, it is packed with the most quoteable lines and insights, to feed your own Oxford/Alice/Wonderland stories. It's a biography to make you want to read or re-read the two Alice books, time, and time again.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sistermagpie

    Of the biographies of Lewis Carroll I've been reading, this one is definitely one of the best. It's very clearly written, with good explanations of things like Oxford studentships and interesting discussions of things going on at the time. For instance, I appreciated the discussion of what children's books were like when Dodgson was writing Alice, and it really gives you an idea of how revolutionary and refreshing it must have been. Even today there's a real modern quality to Alice--the books no Of the biographies of Lewis Carroll I've been reading, this one is definitely one of the best. It's very clearly written, with good explanations of things like Oxford studentships and interesting discussions of things going on at the time. For instance, I appreciated the discussion of what children's books were like when Dodgson was writing Alice, and it really gives you an idea of how revolutionary and refreshing it must have been. Even today there's a real modern quality to Alice--the books not only aren't didactic but Alice herself is flawed and independent and wonderfully concerned with her own self. That is, even in Through the Looking Glass where she wants to be queen, she's not trying to do it by marrying a king. She just wants to get to that square. Of course there's the inevitable discussion about exactly how disturbed we should be by the books since even though they're not creepy at all, LC himself seems a bit creepy. No evidence that he ever did anything inappropriate with children, but the conviction that he on some level wanted to (even if he himself wasn't aware of it) has come to overshadow everything about the guy.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    This took a long time to read mostly because I didn't make it a priority, but also because it's not the easiest book to read. My one, serious complaint is that the chapters are given only numbers, not headings. I really would have loved some guideposts for the chapters, which all ended up being themed or coming to a central point. I had to blindly trust the author to show - eventually - the importance of the numerous details presented to me. Though this book's main title is The Story of Alice, t This took a long time to read mostly because I didn't make it a priority, but also because it's not the easiest book to read. My one, serious complaint is that the chapters are given only numbers, not headings. I really would have loved some guideposts for the chapters, which all ended up being themed or coming to a central point. I had to blindly trust the author to show - eventually - the importance of the numerous details presented to me. Though this book's main title is The Story of Alice, this is a book about Lewis Carroll. His famous Alice books and Alice Hargreaves herself do come up quite a bit within this, but it's a book primarily about Carroll. It follows him from his birth to his death and slightly beyond and is VERY thorough. I cannot say this was an enjoyable read as most of the time it had a bit too much detail for my tastes, but it was a well written, researched and put together book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ralph Britton

    A thoughtful and sympathetic treatment of Carroll - his life and work. I had not realised that he had written other works for children besides the 'Alice' books. The author has done a lot of research, though better informed judges than I say he has sometimes accepted dubious hearsay - I thought it thorough and well balanced. Carroll's attitude to children has seemed more questionable to later generations than it was to him, although he was aware of possible disapproval of his nude photographs, w A thoughtful and sympathetic treatment of Carroll - his life and work. I had not realised that he had written other works for children besides the 'Alice' books. The author has done a lot of research, though better informed judges than I say he has sometimes accepted dubious hearsay - I thought it thorough and well balanced. Carroll's attitude to children has seemed more questionable to later generations than it was to him, although he was aware of possible disapproval of his nude photographs, which he kept in an envelope labelled 'Evil comes to him who evil thinks'. Most interesting is why the 'Alice' books are so successful and Douglas-Fairhurst is good on this, following the varied reactions to them from Carroll's time to our own.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Resalo

    I am really glad that I read this book, but it was a tedious read at times. The life of Lewis Carroll is indeed a fascinating one and his unusual infatuation with young girls has long been a debate of appropriate behavior. Douglas-Fairhurst does an excellent job describing the setting and circumstances of how the lives of Alice Liddell and Lewis Carroll intersect at Oxford. The book also does a good job of describing Carroll's odd personality and how his eccentricities clearly result in the wond I am really glad that I read this book, but it was a tedious read at times. The life of Lewis Carroll is indeed a fascinating one and his unusual infatuation with young girls has long been a debate of appropriate behavior. Douglas-Fairhurst does an excellent job describing the setting and circumstances of how the lives of Alice Liddell and Lewis Carroll intersect at Oxford. The book also does a good job of describing Carroll's odd personality and how his eccentricities clearly result in the wonderful tale of Alice. The author tends to digress a bit too much for my taste into how other books evolved from the original "Alice in Wonderland". It is this digression that made some chapters tedious and repetitive to read. Overall an interesting book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rosario

    I read (or attempted to read) this for my book club. We wanted to choose a biography and the shortlists for the Costa Book Awards had just come out, so we picked one from there. This one sounded interesting to most people, so we went with it. As the title indicates, this is the story of Alice in Wonderland. It's the story of the book, but also of its author and of the girl that inspired it. I did not get on with it at all and neither did my fellow book clubers... so much so that we had to cancel I read (or attempted to read) this for my book club. We wanted to choose a biography and the shortlists for the Costa Book Awards had just come out, so we picked one from there. This one sounded interesting to most people, so we went with it. As the title indicates, this is the story of Alice in Wonderland. It's the story of the book, but also of its author and of the girl that inspired it. I did not get on with it at all and neither did my fellow book clubers... so much so that we had to cancel the meeting because there really wasn't a quorum. My main problem was that I found the author's style incredibly annoying. I felt he read much too much into the most minor details. He would draw really fanciful conclusions that weren't reasonable or plausible. Even worse: he would present them in an overly assured way. It's hard to convey just how preposterous it all was, so probably best to let Douglas-Fairhurst himself do the work for me. I'll give you just a couple of random examples, but I can assure you, there are bits like this in practically every page. Speculating about why Carroll zeroed in so much on Alice Lidell (the young girl, daughter of the college's Dean, to whom Carroll told the proto version of the story): "...in any case there were plenty of other things about Alice that Carroll would have found attractive. She was born on 4 May 1852, a year which happened to fall exactly halfway between the first recorded uses of ‘nonsense poetry’ (1851) and the adjective ‘no-nonsense’ (1853), and if the close conjunction of those phrases neatly sums up a much larger struggle in the Victorian imagination, between a sensible but rather straitened approach to life and a much zanier alternative, it also hints at the mixture of qualities in Carroll’s potential new friend." I'm sorry, but WTF? He goes on later in that section: "Clearly Alice Liddell’s personality was a significant attraction, as was her proximity in Christ Church, which made her friendship convenient as well as genuinely enticing. [OK, that kind of makes sense...] But another and much simpler reason may have been her name. Some years later Carroll invented the word game Doublets, in which players were supposed to turn one word into another, making the dead live (DEAD, lead, lend, lent, lint, line, LIVE) or mice rats (MICE, mite, mate, mats, RATS). Transforming ALICE LIDDELL into LEWIS CARROLL, or performing the same trick the other way round, is impossible without falling into gobbledygook, although meeting someone whose name had the same shape may still have appealed to a writer who only a few weeks earlier had published ‘Solitude’." Huh? Do you see why I found myself so annoyed by this crap? I was also uncomfortable with how the author dealt with the controversial issue here, which is the nature of Carroll's relationship with Alice Lidell. He was clearly drawn to children, especially young, pre-pubescent girls, to an extent which is very disturbing and creepy to the modern reader. People seem to take all sorts of positions on the issue, from thinking it was all innocent and simply a product of a man who was a bit socially awkward, to assuming full-blown paedophilia (interpretations closer to the latter end of the spectrum seem supported by the fact that Carroll's family members cut out and destroyed several pages of his diary which seem clearly to be about the relationship in question). I have no idea where on this spectrum I am, mainly due to ignorance of the subject, and this book didn't particularly help dispel that. Douglas-Fairhurst seems to mostly be on the "innocent" part of the spectrum, but rather than convince me, the way he would twist himself into knots trying to argue this made me suspicious. In this section, he speculates on something Alice's sister Ina says about a time when Carroll distanced himself from the Lidells: "Looking back on events in 1930, Ina told Alice that the biographer Florence Becker Lennon had asked her why Carroll stopped coming to the Deanery. ‘I think she tried to see if Mr. Dodgson ever wanted to marry you!!’ Ina wrote, with a double exclamation mark that perhaps indicated how ridiculous the idea was, or alternatively how close Lennon had come to stumbling upon the truth. Her next letter to her sister was equally ambiguous. ‘I said his manner became too affectionate to you as you grew older and that mother spoke to him about it,’ she explained, ‘and that offended him so he ceased coming to visit us again, as one had to find some reason for all intercourse ceasing.’ But this could indicate either that ‘his manner became too affectionate towards you’ (i.e. he behaved inappropriately), or ‘his manner became too affectionate towards you’ (i.e. I was jealous of the attention you were getting, or glad that you were attracting it rather than me). Even her final comment that ‘Mr. Dodgson used to take you on his knee. I know I did not say that!’ is not straightforward. Was she reminding Alice of a childhood secret they had shared, or complaining that Lennon had tried to put words into her mouth?" Sorry, but what about "as you grew older" bit on the accusation that Carroll's manner towards Alice became too affectionate? That seems obvious that it wasn't the second interpretation. And then there's this: "Mrs Liddell might have been even more nervous if she had read Carroll’s diary entry after his final boat trip with her daughters: ‘A pleasant expedition,’ he wrote, ‘with a very pleasant conclusion.’ Was this a kiss? And if so, was it a ceremony conducted with the chaste solemnity of the Dodo giving Alice a thimble, or was it just a spontaneous muddle of mouths?" This bit combines all I disliked about this book. How the hell do you go from Carroll saying the expedition had a "pleasant conclusion" to interpreting this means that the conclusion involved a kiss? And "spontaneous muddle of mouths"? Euwwww!! This is a little girl we're talking about! I pushed through almost to the halfway point, but when it became clear there wasn't going to be much of a discussion at book club, I gave up. MY GRADE: A DNF.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Amalie

    Here's what the book offers: A study and a combined biographies of Lewis Carroll and Alice Lidell with the background to the Alice books and its afterlife. Insight to Lewis Carroll: He was an oddity, a scholar of mathematics, lecturer of Christ Church, Oxford, had a curious habit of always wearing cotton gloves, extremely shy, terrified of being photographed, collected musical-boxes, liked little girls in a sentimental way, obessessed with number forty-two, made a lot of fuss about tea, bread & bu Here's what the book offers: A study and a combined biographies of Lewis Carroll and Alice Lidell with the background to the Alice books and its afterlife. Insight to Lewis Carroll: He was an oddity, a scholar of mathematics, lecturer of Christ Church, Oxford, had a curious habit of always wearing cotton gloves, extremely shy, terrified of being photographed, collected musical-boxes, liked little girls in a sentimental way, obessessed with number forty-two, made a lot of fuss about tea, bread & butter etc. etc. A literary criticism (the author doesn't automatically jump on the paedophile bandwagon but instead present the information in an unbiased manner). An exploration of Victorian values in relation to childhood and child eroticism and how they differ from ours, observing without judging, looking deeply into both text and lives. Here's the controversial photo of Alice (dressed as a beggermaid) taken by Carroll: Here's what happens to children now: (The world gets weirder and weirder...) -------------------------------------------

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    As well as being a biography of Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson, this is also the story of his most famous book and a biography of his muse Alice Liddell. This was really well-written and very interesting. I liked how the author didn't automatically jump on the paedophile bandwagon but instead presented the information in an unbiased manner. The evidence does suggest though that Carroll had paedophilic tendencies, even if he didn't go any further with his little girl-friends than kisses and words As well as being a biography of Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson, this is also the story of his most famous book and a biography of his muse Alice Liddell. This was really well-written and very interesting. I liked how the author didn't automatically jump on the paedophile bandwagon but instead presented the information in an unbiased manner. The evidence does suggest though that Carroll had paedophilic tendencies, even if he didn't go any further with his little girl-friends than kisses and words of adoration.

  16. 4 out of 5

    JoJo

    Enjoyable and informative, but slightly worrying in a voyeuristic way mainly because of Mr Carroll's slightly unnerving activities. However, the activities of the subject should not be a cause to not praise the author and I found this knowledgeable without being sensational. Enjoyable and informative, but slightly worrying in a voyeuristic way mainly because of Mr Carroll's slightly unnerving activities. However, the activities of the subject should not be a cause to not praise the author and I found this knowledgeable without being sensational.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Annie Cole

    As a little girl, my parents read me Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and it instantly became my favourite book. I was enthralled by the absurdity and madness of wonderland. I literally dreamed of talking animals and of finding the garden of live flowers. I regularly puzzled over the impossibility of crying enough tears to swim in; a baby morphing into a pig; a cat disappearing all but its smile. Undoubtably, though, the most significant thing in the book was Alice herself. I grew my hair long a As a little girl, my parents read me Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and it instantly became my favourite book. I was enthralled by the absurdity and madness of wonderland. I literally dreamed of talking animals and of finding the garden of live flowers. I regularly puzzled over the impossibility of crying enough tears to swim in; a baby morphing into a pig; a cat disappearing all but its smile. Undoubtably, though, the most significant thing in the book was Alice herself. I grew my hair long and put a bow in it. I repeated her phrases as I played. I related to her, and saw her as a role model. Thirty years on, I have revisited my childhood favourite countless times and have become a collector of sorts. I have read modern reworkings, purchased souvenirs, played the computer game. And I am far from the only one. Alice remains one of the most iconic and enduring literary characters, still adored the world over. Douglas-Fairhurst's The Story of Alice goes a long way to providing a context for all this, and some way to explaining it, too. This meticulously-researched true story works like one of Carroll's puzzles. As Douglas-Fairhurst provides the intricate pieces, we are left to make sense of them. The 'pieces' consist of Carroll's movements, art and private records before, during and after his time spent with Alice Liddell. Or, as Carroll puts it, "Memory's odd corners and shelves." The chapters are well-written, comprehensive and fascinating. Although, like the "raven and writing desk" conundrum, the 'pieces' don't conveniently slot together, and there are innumerable missing links. Facing Carroll himself, I found myself starstruck by his fame, intimidated by his intelligence, disgusted by his snobbery yet intrigued by his psyche. Obviously a very conflicted man, some of his private thoughts and correspondences were downright uncomfortable, but necessary, to read. From a literary perspective, I was particularly interested in Carroll's magpied influences and the way he manipulated systems of language. As Douglas-Fairhurst recognises, he was a master of "The strange being made to look familiar and the familiar becoming strange," which was, and is, of universal appeal. On a personal level, I began delving into understanding the possible reasons for my passion and devotion to Alice. Reading The Story of Alice was like an elongated psychotherapy session, and rather cathartic. As Alice continues to prove herself as "Victorian and modern, old and young", The Story of Alice is essential reading for anyone with a library of Carroll's works, a "We're All Mad Here" sign or a white rabbit tattoo.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Flora

    A frustrating book to review. On one hand, the writing style is clear and engaging. The author has a lively interest in his subject and his enthusiasm comes through. On the other, the book is so full of guess-work, supposition, occasional inaccuracy and stretching a point beyond reason that it was impossible to read without yelling every few pages. (Although, to be honest, I quite enjoyed the yelling.) However, this book would have been much better had the writer said "it might have been," rather A frustrating book to review. On one hand, the writing style is clear and engaging. The author has a lively interest in his subject and his enthusiasm comes through. On the other, the book is so full of guess-work, supposition, occasional inaccuracy and stretching a point beyond reason that it was impossible to read without yelling every few pages. (Although, to be honest, I quite enjoyed the yelling.) However, this book would have been much better had the writer said "it might have been," rather than "it was".

  19. 4 out of 5

    Elen-Hâf

    Had a long think about this book and have decided that it is time I put my thoughts down. I enjoy Alice in Wonderland and Through the looking-glass. They both are some of my favourite books while I was growing up. One the one hand it was interesting learning about how the story came to be. I knew she was based on a real girl, but it was nice learning bits and pieces that I didn't know. My copy is full of post-it-notes annotating some quotes or things I found interesting about his life and experi Had a long think about this book and have decided that it is time I put my thoughts down. I enjoy Alice in Wonderland and Through the looking-glass. They both are some of my favourite books while I was growing up. One the one hand it was interesting learning about how the story came to be. I knew she was based on a real girl, but it was nice learning bits and pieces that I didn't know. My copy is full of post-it-notes annotating some quotes or things I found interesting about his life and experiences. On the other hand, I was already aware of the fact that there was a lot of speculation about C.L.D and his attentions toward small children (especially girls) so this being spoken about wasn't surprising. What I did find surprising was that the author had kept his own personal thoughts and opinions about this out of this topic neutral. I have read many news paper pieces and things from books saying that there is evidence of this to support these ideas. However, like this author said they've been fake. Not one of the children had said that he did anything during and after his life-time even when questioned about it. What people need to remember is that in those times the legal age for consent was 12/13, and that parents would marry off their children, (as young as 12) to men twice that age, to gain either social or political standing in society. Also in those days many artists pictured children nude. There was nothing wrong with it and if you go into art galleries or museums now you'll still find these painting or photos. What we see now as morally wrong what the norm in Victorian times. There are two sides to Victorian society.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jason Bergman

    How much you enjoy this book will be directly in proportion to your interest in the subject matter. If, like me, you are slightly obsessed with Alice and all things Carroll, then you will find much to love here. If not...well, you've been warned. But if you are interested, there's so much great stuff in here. It does an admirable job at trying to parse out the life and times of Charles Dodgson, Oxford professor, author, and unusual person. Douglas-Fairhurst doesn't shy away from any potential con How much you enjoy this book will be directly in proportion to your interest in the subject matter. If, like me, you are slightly obsessed with Alice and all things Carroll, then you will find much to love here. If not...well, you've been warned. But if you are interested, there's so much great stuff in here. It does an admirable job at trying to parse out the life and times of Charles Dodgson, Oxford professor, author, and unusual person. Douglas-Fairhurst doesn't shy away from any potential controversies, and puts everything into the proper historical context. But this is the story of Alice, not just Carroll, and so even after Dodgson's death, the book continues, completing first the life of Alice Hargraves, and then the continuing life of her fictional counterpart. As I said, if any of this interests you, expect to enjoy the book a great deal. I can't say that I would recommend it to anyone otherwise.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Zee

    I should propbably start my review by stating that I have never read a biography before. I think it may have been the case that I was put off by their inevitable endings. However, when this book turned up at work, I just had to get it. I have always had a fascination with Alice in Wonderland. The stories have been with me since I was very young and still hold great interest for me in my 20's as I imagine they always will. Naturally curiosity pulled me in. I have a love of victorian literature bu I should propbably start my review by stating that I have never read a biography before. I think it may have been the case that I was put off by their inevitable endings. However, when this book turned up at work, I just had to get it. I have always had a fascination with Alice in Wonderland. The stories have been with me since I was very young and still hold great interest for me in my 20's as I imagine they always will. Naturally curiosity pulled me in. I have a love of victorian literature but Lewis Carroll holds a special interest for me. Unfortunately, most of what I know of his life has been based off hearsay or gossip until this point. Robert Douglas-Fairhurst has compiled a wonderfully written account of the lives of both author and muse. It was a fascinating read and, although it took me a while to get through, I'm so glad I did. I look forward to exploring more of his work in the future.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Laura Ruetz

    I have long had a love affair with all things Alice in Wonderland and while I had a passing knowledge of Lewis Carroll, most of the history of the books was unknown to me. I'm not a huge biography fan, or non fiction reader but this book was enthralling. It is do much more than a simple biography. It is a history of the book, the author's life that led to it, and how the books built their place in the world. It was fascinating to discover all of the links to the books that exist. This book was v I have long had a love affair with all things Alice in Wonderland and while I had a passing knowledge of Lewis Carroll, most of the history of the books was unknown to me. I'm not a huge biography fan, or non fiction reader but this book was enthralling. It is do much more than a simple biography. It is a history of the book, the author's life that led to it, and how the books built their place in the world. It was fascinating to discover all of the links to the books that exist. This book was very obviously well researched and it was a fascinating insight into a very interesting author, and his creations. I can highly recommend this book of you have any interest in Alice in Wonderland.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michael Brown

    A very slow read. Lots of detail but also lots of speculation as the early like of the author we know as Lewis Carroll which was not very well documented. This lets the author guess as to some of the motivations and rationalizations of why / how Carroll developed his style. We learn of his quirks and habits and how these formulated his tales for Alice and her family and friends. We learn a good deal about Alice and her influence upon and reaction to the Carroll stories she plays a role in. Dry a A very slow read. Lots of detail but also lots of speculation as the early like of the author we know as Lewis Carroll which was not very well documented. This lets the author guess as to some of the motivations and rationalizations of why / how Carroll developed his style. We learn of his quirks and habits and how these formulated his tales for Alice and her family and friends. We learn a good deal about Alice and her influence upon and reaction to the Carroll stories she plays a role in. Dry at time and then very humorous as we get a picture of this man and Victorian times that he was sometimes the best example of and at other times at odds with.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    If I had been an English lit major I would have enjoyed parts of this more but the detail on Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass was more than I wanted to know. However, the personal lives of Carroll and the real Alice were very interesting and worth the time to read the book. I had no idea the influence Carroll's works had on literature both Victorian and modern as well as the careers of Roy and Walt Disney. If I had been an English lit major I would have enjoyed parts of this more but the detail on Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass was more than I wanted to know. However, the personal lives of Carroll and the real Alice were very interesting and worth the time to read the book. I had no idea the influence Carroll's works had on literature both Victorian and modern as well as the careers of Roy and Walt Disney.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Susan Gemperline

    I cannot understand how someone can take the story of the writing of Alice in Wonderland and make it so tedious and uninteresting, with an overload of unnecessary information. After describing historical events coinciding with the life of Lewis Carroll in a flat journalistic style, the author then makes fanciful remarks like, "It must have seemed like a WONDERLAND," and other speculative theories about inspirations for different aspects of the Alice Adventures. I cannot understand how someone can take the story of the writing of Alice in Wonderland and make it so tedious and uninteresting, with an overload of unnecessary information. After describing historical events coinciding with the life of Lewis Carroll in a flat journalistic style, the author then makes fanciful remarks like, "It must have seemed like a WONDERLAND," and other speculative theories about inspirations for different aspects of the Alice Adventures.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Toby

    A very in depth and unbiased exploration of Rev. C Dodgson. Not a casual biography, but for people with a genuine interest. Occasionally waxes lyrical when it could be more succinct, and lacking in detail in some surprising areas (although this may be as much dur to lack of existing information as anything else)

  27. 4 out of 5

    BobNotBob

    Excellent book - very thought provoking. Paints a(n incomplete) picture of an elusive man & asks more questions of the reader than it answers! That given, it really is a fascinating insight into his life & also to the era in which he lived.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    www.telegraph.co.uk review www.telegraph.co.uk review

  29. 5 out of 5

    John

    The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst isn't the most comprehensive biography of Lewis Carroll out there. That's not the author's intention. Rather, he seeks to explore the available material on Carroll and Alice Liddell—much of which has never been published—as well as their historical context, to trace these elements to the genesis, content, and legacy of Carroll's most famous works. This is the biography of a literary creation more th The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst isn't the most comprehensive biography of Lewis Carroll out there. That's not the author's intention. Rather, he seeks to explore the available material on Carroll and Alice Liddell—much of which has never been published—as well as their historical context, to trace these elements to the genesis, content, and legacy of Carroll's most famous works. This is the biography of a literary creation more than a biography of its author or his Muse. The book is structured in three main chronological sections, beginning with Carroll's childhood and ending with Alice Liddell's death, along with a prologue and epilogue: 1) "Prologue: Snap" sets the stage, looking back from Alice Hargreaves' (née Liddell's) old age and her last period of fame, and establishes Dr. Douglas-Fairhurst's reasons for writing this book. 2) "Before Alice" begins with a brief examination of Carroll's childhood and continues through his relationship with the Liddell girls at Christ Church, up to the writing of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There. 3) "Alice" explores the various ways Carroll's most famous works reflect the society and times in which they were written. 4) "After Alice" explores the legacy of these works and the impact they had on the lives of Carroll and Alice Liddell. 5) "Epilogue: Unknown" acknowledges many of the limitations and challenges faced by anyone seeking to research the history of Carroll and the Alice books. While it contains extensive biographical material on both Carroll and Alice Liddell, the primary purpose of this work is to embed our understanding of the Alice books in the time and place which produced them, to discern connections between Carroll's world and the words he put to paper. It's worth noting that The Story of Alice isn't a detailed textual analysis of Carroll's creations. Naturally, the book is replete with references and quotations, but it's clearly written for an audience already familiar with this material. We tend to envision the Victorian Era as a stodgy, stuffy, conservative time. In reality, however, it was a period of rapid and significant change. I particularly appreciate how Dr. Douglas-Fairhurst contextualizes Lewis Carroll's work in this environment. Technological and scientific revolutions. Darwin's Theory of Evolution. The first dinosaur bones discovered—monsters and myth beneath the Earth. The birth of modern psychology. The birth of science fiction. The development of modern urban infrastructure. The rise of the working class. All these converged in a very short span of time to completely overturn the Victorian understanding of the world. Our relationship with our environment—both natural and man-made—was upended. Whereas the world had traditionally been seen as enduring and stable, suddenly our surroundings became changeable. Nature turned out not to be a pastoral paradise and instead became a place of danger and violent struggle, a place where things were not as they had always been and wouldn't remain as they were. The basic social structure of society came deeply into question. Even our sense of self became mysterious, rife with hidden significance and potential subconscious meaning. Nothing could be relied on the way people had traditionally assumed. Everything, it seemed, was in flux. What better way to come to terms with a topsy-turvy world than through the eyes and mind of a child, for whom the whole world is new and still to be learned? Carroll recognized that children are almost infinitely adaptable and he saw in this a mechanism to come to terms with the tectonic cultural and intellectual shifts occurring in the world around him. In his Alice books, he presents a world turned strange, the familiar made unrecognizable, normalcy rearranged into bizarre new configurations. Carroll referenced well-known poems, songs, and other works of contemporary art throughout his Alice books, spoofing and satirizing the popular culture of his time. Sir John Tenniel modelled several figures in his illustrations on famous and notorious figures of the era. This historical understanding poses a challenge for readers in the present-day. The majority of these pop-culture references are completely lost on us. There are levels of specificity and meaning in these works that most of us simply don't see anymore. That they continue to offer so many timeless treasures—of language, of logic, of humor—is testament to the extent of Carroll's unique genius. Beyond this examination, Dr. Douglas-Fairhurst explores the legacy of Carroll's Alice—how these works influenced subsequent generations of writers and other artistic media such as theatre and film, and even the strange power they held as metaphors for the confusion and violence of the World Wars. Alice was merchandised in various ways and, unlike most other famous authors of his time, Carroll was actively involved in this process, attempting (not always successfully) to control the paths by which his creation made its way into people's homes. I suspect that most readers will primarily be interested in the details Dr. Douglas-Fairhurst reveals about the personal lives of Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell. The Story of Alice doesn't disappoint. The author's main interest in Alice Liddell is the contrast between her, the real-life Alice, and the literary creation. She wasn't widely recognized as the inspiration for the Alice in Carroll's books for much of her adult life. It wasn't until the first part of the 20th century, and in her old age, that she had to deal with fame and issues of public perception. Far more fascinating is the evolution of Carroll's relationship to her, as she outgrew his idealized vision of her childhood. Indeed, Carroll always struggled with the fact that his child friends grew up and outgrew him. The bulk of The Story of Alice is devoted to an examination of Lewis Carroll himself. He was a man rife with contrasts. He was also intensely private and difficult to pin down. Dr. Douglas-Fairhurst's examination of Carroll's childhood is one of my favorite sections of the book. He was a precociously creative child and developed his sly, subversive sense of humor at a surprisingly early age. Knowing more about what Carroll was like as a child makes me like him better. It gives me a greater appreciation for the work he produced as an adult. For most readers, Lewis Carroll is recognized primarily for his love of language and puns, his love of riddles and logical games, and his playful sense of humor. However, he was shaped as a man and as an author by the competing pull of two contradictory impulses: his need for novelty and his need for tradition. His love of improvisational, almost chaotic, storytelling and his need for formal structure in his writing. His love of language and his fear of its ambiguity. This duality constituted the deepest core of his creative process and how he apprehended the world. We see this in everything he wrote. His poetry is highly structured but also delights in playing with language and subverting meaning. Both Wonderland and Looking-Glass Land are built out of bits and pieces of the real world, but assembled in ways that are illogical and nigh unrecognizable. Events unfold in strict sequence but result in surprising and unexpected outcomes. Characters speak with highly formal grammar but conversations become nonsensical. Carroll found his greatest creative freedom within formal constraints. His love of theatre comes from the same essential core. According to his diaries, Carroll attended over 400 theatrical performances in his life, many more than once, and he occasionally volunteered his time to help out with productions. He was actively involved in adapting his own work for the stage. The process of theatre parallels his own creative process—performances look spontaneous but are, in fact, tightly structured and rehearsed. Theatre also plays with time in ways that resonate with Carroll's work—days and years can pass in moments, moments can stretch out to fill swaths of stage-time, and characters don't ever need to age. Dr. Douglas-Fairhurst emphasizes other aspects of Carroll's personality, as well: –– His belief that his writing made him a friend to his readers. He truly saw his work as a way to make personal connections with children. His attempts to control the legacy of Alice were, for him, a matter of maintaining these relationships. It was personal. –– His abhorrence of fame and his continual attempts to maintain anonymity, to keep his private life separate from his identity as the author of the Alice books. These attempts were frequently inept and rarely successful. These are just some highlights. Dr. Douglas-Fairhurst delves deeply. The weakest part of the book is the prologue. Dr. Douglas-Fairhurst opens with an examination of Alice Hargreaves' (née Liddell) visit to New York City in 1932. In this section, he offers several quotes attributed to her, both to illustrate how she herself enabled the myth surrounding her role as "Alice in Wonderland," and also to represent her personal views on the man and the books that made her famous. Some of them come from her own diaries, letters, and published interviews. However, some of these statements come from sources written by her son, Caryl Liddell Hargreaves, credited to her with the caveat that these were things she "told to her son." We're left to take his word for it that these are things his mother actually said. Dr. Douglas-Fairhurst is too credulous of this source. There's a possibility that her son took advantage of his mother's fame for his own gain. He may have put words in her mouth. While the author acknowledges this possibility toward the end of the book, he evinces no compunction about using these quotes as an accurate and reliable record of Mrs. Hargreaves' opinions and beliefs at the beginning. I would be more comfortable with this section of the work if the author was more critical of this information. And now to address the elephant in the room... A large part of our fascination with Lewis Carroll is prurient—a grown man who liked to spend time hanging out with little girls, taking them on picnics, photographing them... There must have been something creepy going on, right? [I should state that the amount of time I spend analyzing this issue here is disproportionate to the amount of time Dr. Douglas-Fairhurst dedicates to it in his book.] Dr. Douglas-Fairhurst is circumspect on this issue—almost annoyingly so. He briefly addresses the topic early in the book and concludes that Carroll's motives for socializing with little girls were probably innocent, although available evidence can't definitively conclude things either way. This seems like the end of the matter. But then he brings it up again a few chapters later—maybe Carroll's motives weren't so innocent after all. He examines more of the scant evidence we have and concludes, again, that indeed, his motives seem more-or-less pure. And then Dr. Douglas-Fairhurst does it again, a couple of chapters later. And then again. Every few chapters throughout the book, he brings up the issue of Carroll's motives, always to tease the possibility of something salacious, only to come back around to inconclusive-but-probable innocence. Handling this issue in this manner quickly begins to feel manipulative. It comes across as self-consciously sensationalistic. Given the tone of reasoned scholarly inquiry that characterizes the rest of the work, it feels strangely out of place. I would far prefer if he had devoted one whole section to tackling this issue and been done with it. What we know is this: There were those who believed even at the time that Carroll was courting Alice Liddell (there was also a rumor that he spent time with the Liddell children in order to court their governess). There were those at the time who wondered if there was a romantic relationship between them. There were similar rumors regarding his relationships with other girls. Some people even believed that he was actually seducing them. His entire life was plagued by persistent rumors of impropriety and impure motives. The problem is that there exists no definitive evidence of this. There's no reliable source to suggest that Carroll ever desired a romantic connection with any child. Some of his "child-friends" wrote memoirs as adults and they all affirm that Carroll never did anything improper with them. He was known to be very prickly about insisting on proper deference to him as an adult. He wouldn't tolerate insolence or children treating him as if he was, himself, a child. Dr. Douglas-Fairhurst also makes the point that Carroll's one constant throughout all of his relationships with children was a love of teaching. He took great joy in using games and puzzles to educate the children with whom he spent his time. Even if he had a romantic interest in Alice Liddell, or in any of the girls with whom he socialized, it wouldn't have been entirely out of the ordinary. It wasn't unheard of in Victorian times for men in their 20s and 30s to betroth girls in their pre- and early teens, and marry them when they reached their mid-to-late teens. The problem that Carroll's contemporaries had with the thought of him courting Alice had nothing to do with their relative ages—it was a matter of wealth and class disparity. Carroll wasn't an appropriate match for her. But this is assuming that he was romantically interested. Dr. Douglas-Fairhurst emphasizes that the available evidence can't definitively support such a conclusion. It can't be ruled out but it appears more likely that Carroll's motives were, in fact, innocent. The larger problem in all this—as the author points out—are the nude photographs Carroll took of little girls. Without these, there would be far less question about his true motives. Once again, Dr. Douglas-Fairhurst works to set these images within the context of their time, and argues that such art had a place in Victorian society that wasn't sexualized or romanticized. Besides which, these photographs constitute a very small percentage of Carroll's total photographic output. The author also points out that Carroll was always extremely careful to make certain that parents were assured of the innocence of these images. Indeed, Carroll stopped taking photographs entirely after a controversy when the parents of one child misunderstood what he believed was an innocent kiss. It's as though the very thought of sexuality associated with his photographs besmirched the purity of his artistic pursuit beyond repair. More than anything, available evidence makes it clear that Carroll was concerned with the purity of morals. In that case, it's tempting to assume that Carroll must have been an emotionally stunted adult, underdeveloped in some fundamental way. Why else would he spend so much of his social time with children? Indeed, this psychological interpretation arose in the early 20th century and has persisted ever since. Through Dr. Douglas-Fairhurst's research, we learn that Carroll maintained an active social life with a large circle of adult friends. He didn't shun the company of adults in favor of spending time with children. Our obsessive focus on his relationships with little girls doesn't offer a complete picture of his life. Moreover, there's no evidence of the sort of childhood trauma or neglect that frequently accompanies such a lack of healthy emotional development. Dr. Douglas-Fairhurst places Carroll's behavior within another context of Victorian culture—specifically, the so-called "Cult of the Child." It was widely believed in Carroll's day that children were innocent and uncorrupted. Little girls, especially, were thought to be vessels of purity. Many adults felt that spending time in the presence of children offered redemptive benefits, a path to regain some degree of lost innocence. Being around children was good for the adult soul. Carroll was by no means alone in this. This is not to say that some adults didn't cross the line into an unhealthy obsession with little girls, as Dr. Douglas-Fairhurst acknowledges. But available evidence suggests that Lewis Carroll wasn't one of them. The book even considers that possibility that Carroll may have been homosexual. He was certainly known to be effeminate. Personally, I would think that asexual is a more likely diagnosis. The problem remains—available evidence supports no conclusion definitively. By the last couple decades of the 19th century, the "Cult of the Child" began coming under attack. Psychology recognized that children were people—not pure, not innocent, not exemplars of some higher state of being. Growing awareness of class disparity made it clear that the experience of many children was nothing like the idyll of innocence that Carroll cleaved to. Investigative journalists even exposed the world of child prostitution to the public at large. Through all this, Carroll clung all the more tightly to his idealized vision of childhood as a time of innocence. He continued to assert the purity of children. For him, this ideal of childhood was far more important than the reality of it. His own diary and letters show how proficient he was at ignoring or rationalizing whenever one of his child friends behaved in a manner that didn't jibe with his vision how children were supposed to be. His own diary and letters show his distaste for children who didn't meet his standards. His own diary and letters testify to his tendency to see adults as entirely separate people from the children they used to be, as he watched his child friends grow up. As the world around him began to turn away from this treasured belief of childhood purity, the Alice of his books came more and more to represent an archetype to him, and less any one specific little girl. I also find it very telling that Carroll always, consistently and throughout his life, spoke of children using sacred language. He spoke of them as though they were angelic beings and not necessarily human at all. This, combined with his almost fanatical faith in innocence and purity, suggest that his deepest motives weren't sexual or romantic. For Carroll, it was a matter of principle. It was a matter of faith. But we can't know that for certain. The evidence simply doesn't tell anything definitively. In the end, Lewis Carroll remains mysterious and undefined in certain essential ways. Perhaps his greatest usefulness to us is as an inkblot test for those who seek to understand him—what we read into his mystery tells us more about ourselves than it does about him. Alice, likewise, remains relevant as a work which can reflect our own society and times back at us—changed and distorted, a fun-house mirror revealing our own ridiculousness. Virginia Woolf said that Carroll's are the only children's books "in which we [adults] become children." Not merely childish, not merely reminiscing, and certainly not adults explaining things to a child. Carroll makes us children again, and we get to experience the world as we did in our own bygone days. This, more than anything, lay at the heart of Carroll's enduring popularity.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Karen Mace

    This was a fascinating and thorough look at the worlds of both Lewis Carroll and the real life Alice and was just an eye opener for me! Having loved the Alice books for so long, I was always intrigued as to who wrote them, and this looks in depth at the author in his life pre-Alice and to afterwards and how the world he lived in impacted on his writing and the people who appeared in his life who shaped the characters. None more so than Alice Liddell, worthy of a book in her own right I think, wi This was a fascinating and thorough look at the worlds of both Lewis Carroll and the real life Alice and was just an eye opener for me! Having loved the Alice books for so long, I was always intrigued as to who wrote them, and this looks in depth at the author in his life pre-Alice and to afterwards and how the world he lived in impacted on his writing and the people who appeared in his life who shaped the characters. None more so than Alice Liddell, worthy of a book in her own right I think, with an amazing insight into her life and how the Alice books impacted on her too over the years. There are brilliant glimpses of the man behind the books - his love of photography is shown through the photos he took, the postcards he wrote and the letters and this really helped to give a different perspective of him . The book covers his family life from childhood, through to his time at Oxford and I was amazed to learn so much about him and also see how the stories came to be! It gives an insight into the books he read at the time that shaped his outlook on the world and inspired him to create the Wonderland world, as well as explored the odd relationships he made over the years which would probably be frowned upon now, but were seen as innocent at the time. A fascinating read!

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