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Lewis Carroll

Written by Jim Godfrey, posted on Friday, May 10, 2019


Illustration of Lewis Carroll by Jim GodfreyLewis Carroll was the pen name of Rev Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. He was Tutor in Mathematics at Christ Church, a gifted pioneering photographer, and the author of two of the most famous books in the history of children’s literature


'If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.'

Charles Dodgson was born 27 January 1832, in the old parsonage at Daresbury, an isolated country village in Cheshire. He was the third child (and eldest son) of eleven children born to Rev Charles and Frances Jane Dodgson (née Lutwidge). In 1843, his father became rector of Croft-on-Tees in North Yorkshire, and later archdeacon of Richmond and a canon of Ripon Cathedral.

At Croft, Dodgson began writing nonsense verse and inventing games to entertain his siblings. He attended Richmond School, North Yorkshire (1844–45), and then Rugby School (1846–50) where he excelled academically, but was badly bullied. He also endured several illnesses, one of which left him deaf in one ear, and he stuttered, (as did many of his brothers and sisters), a condition he referred to as his ‘hesitation’. In May 1850 he matriculated at Christ Church, his father’s old college, where he was to remain for 47 years.

Dodgson gained a first in mathematics in 1854. He was made a Student (a fellow in other colleges) the following year, and was appointed lecturer in mathematics in 1856. The Studentship was dependent upon his remaining unmarried, and proceeding to holy orders. He was thus ordained Deacon on 22 December 1861, though he was never to become a Priest.


'What is the use of a book...without pictures or conversations?'

Dodgson never married, but befriended many children, inventing games and stories to amuse them. His most cherished child friend, Alice Liddell, was the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, Henry Liddell, and on 4 July 1862 he took Alice and her two sisters for a boat trip on the Thames to picnic at Port Meadow. Accompanied by Robinson Duckworth of Trinity College, Dodgson entertained them with a story. He later recalled how, ‘in a desperate attempt to strike out on some new line of fairy-lore, I had sent my heroine straight down a rabbit-hole … without the least idea what was to happen afterwards’.

Alice loved the story so much that she insisted Dodgson write it down for her, which he eventually did, giving her a hand-written manuscript called ‘Alice’s Adventures under Ground’ in November 1864. Dodgson was urged to publish the story by those who read it, including his friend and children’s author, George Macdonald. He had read it to his son Greville, aged six, who declared that he “wished there were 60,000 volumes of it.”

For the finished version of the book, with the new title ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, Dodgson engaged John Tenniel, the well-known Punch cartoonist, to draw the illustrations to his specifications. He also made use of a pen name that he had first used in 1856 when publishing a poem called “Solitude” under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. He made this up by taking his own first names Charles Lutwidge, translating them into Latin as Carolus Ludovicus, then reversing and retranslating them back into English.

Alice was a great success, and in 1871 he published a sequel; Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, which sold out on publication. Anxious to preserve his anonymity Dodgson never publicly acknowledged being Lewis Carroll, though the income from Alice allowed him to move into a large set of college rooms (he built a glass house for his photography on its roof). It also enabled him to retire early from teaching, which he had never enjoyed. Instead he became Curator of the Senior Common Room, which involved the management of groceries, wine-cellars and college servants.

Dodgson died of pneumonia on 14 January 1898. He had been visiting his sisters at their home, ‘The Chestnuts’, in Guildford, and his funeral was held there, at St Mary's Church. He was buried in Guildford’s Mount Cemetery.


At Christ Church, a portrait of Dodgson hangs in the Great Hall, where he also appears in a stained glass window. His rooms, now the Graduate Common Room, are on the first floor in the north-west corner of Tom Quad, and the College Library has a large collection of his notes and photographs.