[lit-ideas] Dodgsoniana

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 15 Oct 2013 23:47:36 -0400 (EDT)

In a message dated 10/15/2013 5:34:14 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,  
lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx writes some very interesting things in his post on  
L. Dodgson. I will try to comment in what follows.

Helm writes: 
"Actually, the title of Edmund Wilson’s article was “C. L. Dodgson: The  
Poet-Logician,” but Wilson has very little to say about Dodgson’s poetry, a 
bit  more about his achievements as a logician and quite a lot about his 
fondness for  little girls."
Poet-logician is of course ambiguous. Compare: "Logician-poet". As I  
recall, Dodgson's official post was 'tutor in logic' at Christ Church. Oddly, 
Christ Church, 'fellows' are called 'students', and students, I guess, are 
not  called!
---- (Yet, it is my firm belief that Christ Church is the best of the  
Oxford colleges -- much better than Grice's colleges: St. John's, Merton, and  
Corpus Christi).
"Tutor in mathematics" may well have been his official post. I should  
re-check this. I expect he was a 'university lecturer', i.e. that his lessons  
would be open to any 'student' at Oxford, and not just Christ Church  
I mention this because I don't think that 'poetry' entered into Dodgson's  
professional life. He was of course a reverend, but that's a different  
Helm goes on:
"Had I heard that before?  I can’t be sure but it didn’t sound utterly  
A good source for that is Dennis Potter's, "Dreamchild", originally for TV  
-- not available on DVD, alas, I think. "Alice at eighty", a novel, covers 
much  the same ground. But I prefer Potter's view.
"What was new to me was the idea that Dodgson was an accomplished  
photographer.  Helmet Gernsheim wrote Lewis Carroll Photographer in  1950.  I 
stopped reading, looked the book up on Amazon, found a paperback  copy in “like 
” condition for $3.95 and ordered it.  Turning back to  Wilson I read that “
Mr. Gernsheim considers Dodgson ‘the most outstanding  photographer of 
children of the nineteenth century’ and after Julia Margaret  Cameron, ‘
probably the most distinguished amateur portraitist of the  mid-Victorian 
I wonder what was the interest behind Dodgson. There is a sequence in  the 
dark room in Potter's "Dreamchild". 
Grice considers photography briefly in his "Meaning". He wants to say that  
if I draw a drawing of the cow jumping over the moon, I mean that the  cow 
jumped over the moon. This is the good use of 'mean'. 
If I take a PHOTO of the cow jumping over the moon, the photograph, or my  
displaying of the photograph, still MEANS that the cow jumped over the moon. 
But  this is a metaphorical use of 'mean', as in "Dark clouds mean rain". 
It's a  'natural' (and thus derived) use of the proper use of 'mean' which 
applies to a  different realm.
----- Keywords: photography as art. -- artist's intentions, photographer's  
intentions, photography & meaning.
Helm goes on:
"Reading some reviews of Gernsheim’s book it seems that many in the 20th  
century were convinced that Lewis Carroll was a pedophile.  Wilson  
considered that and thought not, at least not one that acted upon his  
thoughts.  But 
wasn’t he acting upon his thoughts by taking photos of these  little girls, 
some of them nude.  Wilson observed that no one would be able  to get away 
with such behavior in the 20th century – nor in the 21st century I  would 
I think his adage was: "I like children but not boys" -- but should double  
check this.

"Wilson admired Through the Looking-Glass: The Life of Lewis  Carroll by 
Florence Becker Lennon.  He notes its faults then writes, “But  this study is, 
nevertheless, the best thing that has yet been written about  Lewis 
Carroll.  The literary criticism is excellent; the psychological  insight 
brilliant; and Mrs. Lennon has brought together, from the most  scattered 
and various sources, a good deal of information.  The impression  that she 
actually conveys was what Dodgson’s existence was like is more  convincing 
than some of her theories.  Mrs. Lennon believes that Charles  Dodgson was 
intimidated by his clergyman father, so that he felt himself obliged  to take 
orders and never dared question the creed of the Church.  She seems  to 
believe that he might otherwise have developed as an important original  
She also worries about what she regards as his frustrated sexual  life: if 
he had only, she sighs, been capable of a mature attachment for a woman  
which would have freed him from his passion for little girls!”"
----- Oxford tended to be homosocial, as we now say. I think  Victoria -- 
the queen -- was well aware of Dodgson's geniality. There  is a nice anecdote 
about it. She was so fascinated by the Alice books  that she asked Dodgson 
to dedicate the next book to her. It was a  treatise on trigonometry (I 

"In regard to Dodgson’s novel Sylvie and Bruno, Wilson  writes, “Mrs. 
Lennon has, I believe, been the first to point out the exact and  complicate 
parallels between the dreams and actualities that make this book  
psychologically interesting . . . but the novel for grown-ups is otherwise  
childish; and 
in mathematics and logic, according to the expert opinions cited  by Mrs. 
Lennon, he either ignored or had never discovered the more advanced work  in 
these fields, and did not perhaps get even so far as in his exploration of  
Borges loved Dodgson and prefaced the Alice books. Sylvie and Bruno has a  
beautiful passage where a map is described. It is a map of Germany, as I  
recall, made on a scale of 1:1. "The farmers objected, since it covered all 
the  sun from the fields". And the inventor suggested that they use Germany as 
its  own map (I should doublecheck the wording!).
I wouldn't know who Dodgson's intended audience (or addressee) were. I  
guess he basically wrote for himself or hisself. He did that from an  early 
age, when he published "Mischmasch" for the entertainment of his  family back 
in Cheshire.
I say that because it's childish to say a novel is childish if the author  
(or 'utterer') never meant it as other.
Helm continues:

"Wilson wrote his initial article in 1932;  later, collecting it in the 
volume The Shores of Light, published in 1952 he  added to it, primarily 
perhaps because of the publication of Gernsheim’s Lewis  Carroll Photographer 
1950 and of Lennon’s Victoria through the Looking Glass:  The Life of Lewis 
Carroll in 1945. The originality of Dodgson might qualify  him as “great” in 
the mind of F. R. Leavis as well although I don’t recall  mention of 
Dodgson in anything I’ve read by Leavis.  Both Leavis and Wilson  would I’m 
consider William Blake “great” and their opinions would be shared  by 
Harold Bloom, Northrop Frye and many others, but what if Blake’s originality  
were fueled by madness?  And what if Dodgson’s were fueled by arrested  
We know that any writer’s work is influenced by his  presuppositions.  
Perhaps these presuppositions are based on childhood  lessons, teachings and 
things a person hears or reads, but perhaps sometimes  they are developed out 
of madness or other influences deviating from the  “norm.”  On a scale of 
greatness where the greatest gets 100, shouldn’t we  penalize such writers as 
Blake and Dodgson if their “originality” was to some  extent due to their 
arrested or perverted development?   I’m inclined  to penalize them, but I’m 
not sure I’m right in doing so . . . or, madness in  any case would have to 
be so qualified that any penalizing would have to be  severely questioned.  
I’m thinking now of bipolar disorder which used to be  called 
manic-depressive.  We all have ups and downs and writers can be  expected to 
write when 
they are up and feeling good or perhaps down and feeling  so depressed that 
only writing out of their depression can bring them  relief.  If we concede 
that it is okay to write when we are feeling like it  and that it is equally 
okay to not write when we don’t feel like it then that  puts into question 
any penalty applied to a manic-depressive.  And if we  don’t penalize a 
manic-depressive, how do we justify penalizing a paranoiac or a  schizophrenic?"
I would think that Dodgson would not regret the label 'minor'. He  
influenced so many generations that he was pretty big in ways. 

I expect  his intended audience were _girls_ -- as opposed to Edward Lear 
who wrote for  _boys_. 
Their work is different from 'juvenile' literature ('boys' literature,  
It's certainly not meant for adults. But the child is the father of the man 
 (and woman) so no wonder so many -- and not just the members of the Lewis  
Carroll Society -- who edit the delightful "Jabberwocky" -- are fascinated 
by  this SO OXONIAN personality!
In Dennis Potter's film, "Dreamchild", Dodgson is played by Ian Holm  
(genially), and Alice (at eighty) played by Corale Browne (genial). The main  
event is the awarding of an honorary degree to Alice at Columbia University. 
But  most of the film includes flashbacks. Alice ends up re-constructing the 
real  'love' Dodgson felt for her. The soundtrack is particularly charming, 
as it  includes settings to some of Dodgson's best poetry:
would you walk a little faster
said the whiting to the snail
there's a porpoise right behind me
and he's treading on my tail
---- this bit is sung magnificently by an all-male chorus at  Columbia.
It also includes another passion of Potter: dance-band music, and there is  
a nice rendition of "Confessin'" as Alice ventures into a radio studio to  
promote some product.

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