Carroll is chiefly remembered as the author of the famous children's books Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass (1872), both published under his pseudonym and both illustrated by Sir John Tenniel. He developed these stories from tales he told to the children of H. G. Liddell, the dean of Christ Church College, one of whom was named Alice. Many of his characters—the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the White Rabbit, the Red Queen, and the White Queen—have become familiar figures in literature and conversation. Although numerous satiric and symbolic meanings have been read into Alice's adventures, the works can be read and valued as simple exercises in fantasy. Carroll himself said that in the books he meant only nonsense. He also wrote humorous verses, the most popular of them being The Hunting of the Snark (1876). His later stories for children, Sylvie and Bruno (1889) and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893), though containing interesting experiments in construction, are widely regarded as failures.
Carroll remained a bachelor all his life. Partly because of his stammer he found association with adults difficult and was most at ease in the company of children, especially little girls, with whom he was clearly obsessed. Early in 1856 he took up photography as a hobby; his photographs of children are still considered remarkable.
See his complete works (ed. by A. Woolcott, 1939) and many recent editions; M. Gardner, ed., The Annotated Alice (1960, repr. 1970); S. Collingwood, Life and Letters (1898, repr. 1968); E. Wakeling, Lewis Carroll, Photographer (2002); biography by M. N. Cohen (1995), mathematical biography by R. Wilson (2008); studies by B. Clark (1988), R. Kelly (1990), and J. Wullschläger (1995); critical essays ed. by H. Bloom (1987).
His most famous writings are Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass as well as the poems "The Hunting of the Snark" and "Jabberwocky", all considered to be within the genre of literary nonsense.
His facility at word play, logic, and fantasy has delighted audiences ranging from children to the literary elite, and beyond this his work has become embedded deeply in modern culture, directly influencing many artists.
There are societies dedicated to the enjoyment and promotion of his works and the investigation of his life in many parts of the world including North America, Japan, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand.
The elder of these sons — yet another Charles — was Carroll's father. He reverted to the other family business and took holy orders. He went to Rugby School, and thence to Christ Church, Oxford. He was mathematically gifted and won a double first degree, which could have been the prelude to a brilliant academic career. Instead he married his first cousin in 1827 and retired into obscurity as a country parson.
Young Charles' father was an active and highly conservative clergyman of the Anglican church who involved himself, sometimes influentially, in the intense religious disputes that were dividing the Anglican church. He was High Church, inclining to Anglo-Catholicism, an admirer of Newman and the Tractarian movement, and he did his best to instill such views in his children. Young Charles, however, was to develop an ambiguous relationship with his father's values and with the Anglican church as a whole.
During the earlier times in his life, young Dodgson was educated at home. His "reading lists" preserved in the family testify to a precocious intellect: at the age of seven the child was reading The Pilgrim's Progress. He also suffered from a stammer — a condition shared by his siblings — that often influenced his social life throughout his years. At twelve he was sent away to a small private school at nearby Richmond, where he appears to have been happy and settled. But in 1846, young Dodgson moved on to Rugby School, where he was evidently less happy, for as he wrote some years after leaving the place:
I cannot say ... that any earthly considerations would induce me to go through my three years again ... I can honestly say that if I could have been ... secure from annoyance at night, the hardships of the daily life would have been comparative trifles to bear.
Scholastically, though, he excelled with apparent ease. "I have not had a more promising boy his age since I came to Rugby" observed R.B. Mayor, the Mathematics master.
His early academic career veered between high-octane promise and irresistible distraction. He may not always have worked hard, but he was exceptionally gifted and achievement came easily to him. In 1852 he received a first in Honour Moderations, and shortly after he was nominated to a Studentship, by his father's old friend Canon Edward Pusey. However, a little later he failed an important scholarship through his self-confessed inability to apply himself to study. Even so, his talent as a mathematician won him the Christ Church Mathematical Lectureship, which he continued to hold for the next twenty-six years. The income was good, but the work bored him. Many of his pupils were older and richer than he was, and almost all of them were uninterested. However, despite early unhappiness, Dodgson was to remain at Christ Church, in various capacities, until his death.
Dodgson was also quite socially ambitious and anxious to make his mark on the world as a writer or an artist. In the interim between his early published writing and the success of the Alice books, he began to move in the Pre-Raphaelite social circle. His scholastic career may well have been intended as something of a stop-gap on the way to other more exciting achievements. He first met John Ruskin in 1857 and became friendly with him. He developed a close relationship with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his family, and also knew William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Arthur Hughes among other artists. He also knew the fairy-tale author George MacDonald well — it was the enthusiastic reception of Alice by the young MacDonald children that convinced him to submit the work for publication.
In 1856 he published his first piece of work under the name that would make him famous. A romantic poem called "Solitude" appeared in The Train under the authorship of "Lewis Carroll". This pseudonym was a play on his real name; Lewis was the anglicised form of Ludovicus, which was the Latin for Lutwidge, and Carroll being an anglicised version of Carolus, the Latin for Charles.
In the same year, 1856, a new Dean, Henry Liddell, arrived at Christ Church, bringing with him his young family, all of whom would figure largely in Dodgson's life and, over the following years, greatly influence his writing career. Dodgson became close friends with Liddell's wife, Lorina, and their children, particularly the three sisters: Lorina, Edith and Alice Liddell. He was for many years widely assumed to have derived his own "Alice" from Alice Liddell. This was given some apparent substance by the fact the acrostic poem at the end of Through the Looking Glass spells out her name, and that there are many superficial references to her hidden in the text of both books. Dodgson himself, however, repeatedly denied in later life that his "little heroine" was based on any real child, and frequently dedicated his works to girls of his acquaintance, adding their names in acrostic poems at the beginning of the text. Gertrude Chataway's name appears in this form at the beginning of The Hunting of the Snark, and no one has ever suggested this means any of the characters in the narrative are based on her. Romantic letters from Dodgson to young girls including Chataway are included in the anthology Love Letters of Great Men, Vol. 1.
Though information is scarce (Dodgson's diaries for the years 1858–1862 are missing), it does seem clear that his friendship with the Liddell family was an important part of his life in the late 1850s, and he grew into the habit of taking the children (first the boy, Harry, and later the three girls) on rowing trips to nearby Nuneham Courtenay or Godstow.
It was on one such expedition, on 4 July 1862, that Dodgson invented the outline of the story that eventually became his first and largest commercial success. Having told the story and been begged by Alice Liddell to write it down, Dodgson eventually (after much delay) presented her with a handwritten, illustrated manuscript entitled Alice's Adventures Under Ground in November 1864.
Before this, the family of friend and mentor George MacDonald read Dodgson's incomplete manuscript, and the enthusiasm of the MacDonald children encouraged Dodgson to seek publication. In 1863, he had taken the unfinished manuscript to Macmillan the publisher, who liked it immediately. After the possible alternative titles Alice Among the Fairies and Alice's Golden Hour were rejected, the work was finally published as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in 1865 under the Lewis Carroll pen name, which Dodgson had first used some nine years earlier. The illustrations this time were by Sir John Tenniel; Dodgson evidently thought that a published book would need the skills of a professional artist.
The overwhelming commercial success of the first Alice book changed Dodgson's life in many ways. The fame of his alter ego "Lewis Carroll" soon spread around the world. He was inundated with fan mail and with sometimes unwanted attention. He also began earning quite substantial sums of money. However, he didn't use this income as a means of abandoning his seemingly disliked post at Christ Church.
In 1872, a sequel — Through the Looking-Glass And What Alice Found There — was published. Its somewhat darker mood possibly reflects the changes in Dodgson's life. His father had recently died (1868), plunging him into a depression that would last some years.
He soon excelled at the art and became a well-known gentleman-photographer, and he seems even to have toyed with the idea of making a living out of it in his very early years.
A recent study by Roger Taylor and Edward Wakeling exhaustively lists every surviving print, and Taylor calculates that just over fifty percent of his surviving work depicts young girls. He would later use many of his photographs of children in conjunction with his writings to add illustration to his work. Alexandra Kitchin, known as "Xie" (pronounced "Ecksy"), was his favourite photographic subject. From 1869 until he gave up photography in 1880, Dodgson photographed her at least fifty times, ending just before her sixteenth birthday. Less than a third of his original portfolio has survived, however; Dodgson also made many studies of men, women, male children and landscapes; his subjects also include skeletons, dolls, dogs, statues and paintings, trees, scholars, scientists, old men and little girls. His studies of nude children were long presumed lost, but six have since surfaced, five of which have been published.
He also found photography to be a useful entrée into higher social circles. During the most productive part of his career, he made portraits of notable sitters such as John Everett Millais, Ellen Terry, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Julia Margaret Cameron, Michael Faraday and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Dodgson abruptly ceased photography in 1880. Over 24 years, he had completely mastered the medium, set up his own studio on the roof of Tom Quad, and created around 3,000 images. Fewer than 1,000 have survived time and deliberate destruction. His reasons for abandoning photography remain uncertain.
With the advent of Modernism tastes changed, and his photography was forgotten from around 1920 until the 1960s. He is now considered by many to be one of the very best Victorian photographers, and is certainly the one who has had the most influence on modern art photographers.
Another invention is a writing tablet called the Nyctograph for use at night that allowed for note-taking in the dark; thus eliminating the trouble of getting out of bed and striking a light when one wakes with an idea. The device consisted of a gridded card with sixteen squares and system of symbols representing an alphabet of Dodgson's design.
Among the games he devised outside of logic, croquet, billiards and those played on a chess board, there are a number of word games, including an early version of what today is known as Scrabble. He also appears to have invented, or at least certainly popularised, the Word Ladder (or "doublet" as it was known at first); a form of brain-teaser that is still popular today: the game of changing one word into another by altering one letter at a time, each successive change always resulting in a genuine word. For instance, CAT is transformed into DOG by the following steps: CAT, COT, DOT, DOG.
Other items include a rule for finding the day of the week for any date; a means for justifying right margins on a typewriter; a steering device for a velociam (a type of tricycle); new systems of parliamentary representation; more nearly fair elimination rules for tennis tournaments; a new sort of postal money order; rules for reckoning postage; rules for a win in betting; rules for dividing a number by various divisors; a cardboard scale for the college common room he worked in later in life, which, held next to a glass, insured the right amount of liqueur for the price paid; a double sided adhesive strip for things like the fastening of envelopes or mounting things in books; a device for helping a bedridden invalid to read from a book placed sideways; and at least two ciphers.
Richard Grey's Memoria Technica and John Jaques In Statu Quo traveling chess set have at times been mistakenly credited to Dodgson.
The only occasion on which (as far as is known) he travelled abroad was a trip to Russia in 1867, which he recounts in his "Russian Journal" which was first commercially published in 1935.
He died on 14 January 1898 at his sisters' home, "The Chestnuts" in Guildford, of pneumonia following influenza. He was 2 weeks away from turning 66 years old. He is buried in Guildford at the Mount Cemetery.
There is currently no conclusive evidence about why Dodgson rejected the priesthood. Some have suggested his stammer made him reluctant to take the step, because he was afraid of having to preach. Wilson quotes letters by Dodgson describing difficulty in reading lessons and prayers rather than preaching in his own words and he did indeed preach in later life, even though not in priests orders.. Wilson also points out that the then Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, who ordained Dodgson, had strong views against members of the clergy going to the theatre, one of Dodgson's great interests. Others have suggested that he was having serious doubts about the Anglican church. It is known that he was interested in minority forms of Christianity (he was an admirer of FD Maurice) and "alternative" religions (theosophy). Dodgson became deeply troubled by an unexplained sense of sin and guilt at this time (the early 1860s), and frequently expressed the view in his diaries that he was a "vile and worthless" sinner, unworthy of the priesthood.
There is currently no certain explanation of why he rejected the priesthood, or why he was assailed by a sense of guilt and sin.
Many theories have been put forward to explain the missing material. A popular explanation for one particular missing page (27 June 1863) is that it might have been torn out to conceal the belief that Dodgson had proposed marriage on that day to the 11-year old Alice Liddell. However, there has never been any evidence to suggest this was so, and a paper that came to light in the Dodgson family archive in 1996 provides some evidence to the contrary.
This paper, known as the "cut pages in diary document", was compiled by various members of Carroll's family after his death. Part of it at least was presumably written at the time that some of the pages were being mutilated, as it offers a brief summary of two diary pages that are now missing, including the one for 27 June 1863. The summary for this page states that Mrs. Liddell told Dodgson there was gossip circulating about him and the Liddell family's governess, as well as about his relationship with "Ina", presumably Alice's older sister, Lorina Liddell. The "break" with the Liddell family that occurred soon after was presumably in response to this gossip. An alternate interpretation has been made regarding Carroll's rumored involvement with "Ina": Lorina was also the name of Alice Liddell's mother. What is deemed most crucial and surprising is that the entry seems to make it clear Dodgson's break with the family was not connected with Alice at all.
Dodgson also suffered two attacks in which he lost consciousness. He was diagnosed by three different doctors; a Dr. Morshead, Dr. Brooks, and Dr. Stedman, believed the attack and a consequent attack to be an "epileptiform" seizure (initially thought to be fainting, but Brooks changed his mind). Some have concluded from this he was a lifetime sufferer from this condition, yet his diaries do record what Carroll himself referred to as "epilepsy" in his later years. Some authors, in particular Sadi Ranson, have suggested Carroll may have suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy in which consciousness is not always completely lost, but altered, and in which the symptoms mimic many of the same experiences as Alice in Wonderland. Note that Carroll had at least one incidence in which he suffered full loss of consciousness and awoke with a bloody nose, which he recorded in his diary and noted that the episode left him not feeling himself for "quite sometime afterward". This attack was diagnosed as possibly "epileptiform" and Carroll himself later wrote of his "seizures" in the same diary. It's worth noting that epilepsy runs in families, and Carroll had at least one other family member with epilepsy (also recorded in his diaries), and that speech hesitations, facial asymmetry, as well as some deafness are not uncommon in certain epilepsies. It is also recorded that several of Dodgson's siblings suffered from a speech hesitation, suggesting again that any existing neurological condition was within the family as reported in Interviews & Recollections, editor Morton N. Cohen.
Cohen claims Dodgson's "sexual energies sought unconventional outlets", and further writes:
Cohen notes that Dodgson "apparently convinced many of his friends that his attachment to the nude female child form was free of any eroticism", but adds that "later generations look beneath the surface" (p. 229).
Cohen and other biographers argue that Dodgson may have wanted to marry the 11-year old Alice Liddell and that this was the cause of the unexplained "break" with the family in June 1863. But there has never been significant evidence to support the idea, and the 1996 discovery of the "cut pages in diary document" (see above) might imply that the 1863 "break" had less to do with Alice, but was perhaps connected with rumors involving her older sister Lorina, or possibly their governess.
Some writers, e.g., Derek Hudson and Roger Lancelyn Green, who have fallen short of accepting Dodgson as a pedophile, have tended to concur that he had a passion for small female children and next to no interest in the adult world.
Lebailly has endeavoured to set Dodgson's child-photography within the "Victorian Child Cult", which perceived child-nudity as essentially an expression of innocence. Lebailly claims that studies of child nudes were mainstream and fashionable in Dodgson's time and that most photographers, including Oscar Rejlander and Julia Margaret Cameron, made them as a matter of course. Lebailly continues that child nudes even appeared on Victorian Christmas cards — implying a very different social and aesthetic assessment of such material. Lebailly concludes that it has been an error of Dodgson's biographers to view his child-photography with 20th or 21st century eyes, and to have presented it as some form of personal idiosyncrasy, when it was in fact a response to a prevalent aesthetic and philosophical movement of the time.
Leach posed a new analysis of Dodgson's sexuality. She argues that the allegations of paedophilia rose initially from a misunderstanding of Victorian morals, as well as the mistaken idea, fostered by Dodgson's various biographers, that he had no interest in adult women. She termed the traditional image of Dodgson "the Carroll Myth". She asserts his diaries show he was also keenly interested in adult women, married and single, and enjoyed several scandalous (by the social standards of his time) relationships with them. In later life many of those he described as "child-friends" were girls in their late teens and even twenties.. She argues that suggestions of paedophilia evolved only many years after his death, when his well-meaning family had suppressed all evidence of his relationships with women in an effort to preserve his reputation, thus giving a false impression of a man interested only in little girls. Similarly, Leach traces the claim that many of Carroll's female friendships ended when the girls reached the age of 14 to a 1932 biography by Langford Reed, who Leach claims intended to suggest from this that Dodgson was a "pure man" untainted by sexual desire.
Sherry L. Ackerman argues that the Carroll Myth also extends to traditional, mainstream views of Carroll's spirituality. Ackerman proposes that Carroll, rather than being a conservative Victorian Anglican, was actually a mystic. She links Carroll to the nineteenth century Neoplatonic Revival in Great Britain, as well as to accompanying trends of theosophy and spiritualism.