Gertrude Chataway

Gertrude Chataway (1866-1951) was the most important child-friend in the life of the author Lewis Carroll, after Alice Liddell. It was Gertrude who inspired his great nonsense mock-epic The Hunting of the Snark (1876), and the book is dedicated to her.

Carroll first became friends with Gertrude in 1875, when she was aged nine, while on holiday at the English seaside resort of Sandown. He made a number of pen and ink sketches of Gertrude as a young girl. He continued to correspond with her, and to spend numerous seaside holidays with her, including several when she was in her late twenties.

Gertrude remembered Carroll thus...

"I first met Mr. Lewis Carroll on the sea-shore at Sandown in the Isle of Wight, in the summer of 1875, when I was quite a little child.

We had all been taken there for change of air, and next door there was an old gentlemen -- to me at any rate he seemed old -- who interested me immensely. He would come on to his balcony, which joined ours, sniffing the sea-air with his head thrown back, and would walk right down the steps on to the beach with his chin in air, drinking in the fresh breezes as if he could never have enough. I do not know why this excited such keen curiosity on my part, but I remember well that whenever I heard his footstep I flew out to see him coming, and when one day he spoke to me my joy was complete.

Thus we made friends, and in a very little while I was as familiar with the interior of his lodgings as with our own.

I had the usual child's love for fairy-tales and marvels, and his power of telling stories naturally fascinated me. We used to sit for hours on the wooden steps which led from our garden on to the beach, whilst he told the most lovely tales that could possibly be imagined, often illustrating the exciting situations with a pencil as he went along.

One thing that made his stories particularly charming to a child was that he often took his cue from her remarks -- a question would set him off on quite a new trail of ideas, so that one felt that one had somehow helped to make the story, and it seemed a personal possession. It was the most lovely nonsense conceivable, and I naturally revelled in it. His vivid imagination would fly from one subject to another, and was never tied down in any way by the probabilities of life.

To me it was of course all perfect, but it is astonishing that he never seemed either tired or to want other society. I spoke to him once of this since I have been grown up, and he told me it was the greatest pleasure he could have to converse freely with a child, and feel the depths of her mind.

He used to write to me and I to him after that summer, and the friendship, thus begun, lasted. His letters were one of the greatest joys of my childhood.

I don't think that he ever really understood that we, whom he had known as children, could not always remain such. I stayed with him only a few years ago, at Eastbourne, and felt for the time that I was once more a child. He never appeared to realise that I had grown up, except when I reminded him of the fact, and then he only said, "Never mind: you will always be a child to me, even when your hair is grey."

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