Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Dodgson) was an industrious man who made a living from being a mathematician, logician, Anglican deacon and photographer but this is mostly swept aside and replaced by two small books he wrote - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. They’re still in print and have sold millions of copies in over 70 countries. By the time of his death in 1898 Alice's Adventures in Wonderland had become the most popular children's book in the UK and by 1932 it was one of the most popular in the world.
Here I am in lushly green Cheshire countryside at the site of the Daresbury parsonage where he was born. As it burnt down years ago it’s quite difficult to find and I drove passed it twice (engrossed in an audio book.) Thankfully a wooden board has been erected for the half-blind like me. After stroking some cows I followed the arrow on the board and walked up a narrow path through an avenue of trees. Suddenly it opens up to a fenced-off field about the size of three tennis courts. This is all thanks to the National Trust. The surrounding fields are full cow-populated fields so this site could easily have been lost under foliage forever.
I had a stroll around the field wondering what the household has been like - noisy and busy I guess as Lewis’s parents had eleven children. The parsonage was made from hand-made bricks and comprised a schoolroom, parlour, cellars and seven upstairs rooms. Nine of Lewis’s other siblings were also born here. His dad took in paying pupils who stayed to learn Latin and Ancient Greek. In 1841 census 22 people were listed as living in the house.
I tramped around the field feeling the sun burning my neck. There’s an arch showing the exact spot where the front door once stood. I walked around the ‘rooms’ wondering if I’d walked over the exact spot where Lewis popped out into the world. He lived here until 1843 when he was 11 years old when his dad (who would become the Archdeacon of Richmond) moved them to North Yorkshire. Sadly the personage burnt down in around 1884.
In summary Lewis excelled in mathematics (winning many academic prizes) and aged 20 went to Christ College and would eventually serve as a lecturer in mathematics. He wrote 11 books on mathematics and 12 works of literary fiction. Though he suffered from chronic migraines, epilepsy, and partial deafness he was productive and could write 20 words a minute, a page of 150 words in seven and a half minutes, and 12 pages in two and a half hours. The stammer never went except when speaking with children and his relationship with children had created much disturbed speculation over the years that he was a paedophile.
The real Alice from Alice In Wonderland was Alice Liddell. Her dad was appointed to the deanery of Christ Church, Oxford and Lewis became a family friend. He told Alice tales of dream worlds (and took lots of photos of her.) On 4th July 1862 during a picnic with Alice and her two sisters the 30-year-old Lewis told the first tales of what would later become Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. When Alice got home she exclaimed that he must write the story down for her. It was released in 1865 and became so popular he wrote the sequel Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.
In line with his male heirs he had been groomed for the ordained ministry in the Church of England and the -29-year-old was eventually ordained as a deacon in December 1861. He never become a priest though and wrote in his diaries that he was a "vile and worthless sinner, unworthy of the priesthood.” Others thought his stammer prevented from going all the way. The young adult Charles Dodgson was about 6 feet (1.83 m) tall and slender, and he had curly brown hair and blue or grey eyes (depending on the account). He was described in later life as somewhat asymmetrical, and as carrying himself rather stiffly and awkwardly, although this might be on account of a knee injury sustained in middle age. As a very young child, he suffered a fever that left him deaf in one ear. At the age of 17, he suffered a severe attack of whooping cough, which was probably responsible for his chronically weak chest in later life. Though he was a gifted mathematician and successful author he wasn’t interested in money and was often overdrawn at the bank (aboutŁ7,500 in today’s money.)
Nowadays Lewis’s name is tainted due to the countless photos he took of children (sometimes in the nude) but despite heaps of conjecture there’s no evidence that anything disturbing happened beyond his. As a photographer he took photos of 3000 people and many were solely of children. I don’t suppose we’ll ever know unless the lost diaries are found. If he had sexual thoughts he didn’t acted upon them.
Life remained the same for the last twenty years as he continued to teach at Christ Church until 1881 despite the roaring success of the Alice novels. He died of pneumonia at his sister’s home in Surrey in January 1898 aged 65.