Lewis Carroll Report: The Author's Biography and an Analysis of His Works

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Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pseudonym, “Lewis Carroll,” was an English author, poet, logician, photographer, and Oxford mathematics professor. Unarguably, his most famous works include “Alice in Wonderland” (formerly titled “Alice’s Adventures Underground”) and “Through the Looking Glass: and What Alice Found There.” Carroll was born in January of 1832 in Cheshire and died in January of 1898-having never married. In his youth, Carroll lost his hearing in one ear, and was also schooled at home, which lead to his possession of a stammer that most of his eleven siblings also suffered from.

He then moved on to Rugby school, and later to his father’s alma mater, Christ Church. (At which, after many years, he became a mathematics professor.) In these years, he was afflicted with a horrible case of procrastination which cost him grades, scholarships, and many other important opportunities. He was scholastically gifted in ways beyond most, but gave little to no effort in what he was instructed to do.

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In the same year Carroll arrived at Christ Church, Oxford, a new dean named Henry Liddell was placed into office. The placement of this new dean would bring Carroll into a whirlwind of inspiration and trouble that would change his life and the way philosophers and the general public looked at his life forever.

Carroll’s neighbor, Henry Liddell had ten children in his lifetime with his wife Lorina. As soon as Carroll met these children, he became very fond of them- especially the three daughters and eldest son in existence at the time: Harry, Lorina, Edith, and Alice.

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Through the meeting and doting upon these children, Carroll found his inspiration to write one of the most pivotal sets of novels in history. On a boating trip in Oxford one day, young Alice (who was nine years-old at the time) asked her neighbor to tell her a fantastic story in which she was the central character. After his storytelling, she asked him to write it down for her, thus beginning the earliest stages of “Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland.” Carroll’s relationship with Alice has been looked down upon by many scholars. Some say he was simply fascinated by her innocence, which was shown later in his life, as he befriended quite a few children throughout his career. But some scholars believe his relations with Alice were something far from innocent. Carroll photographed many children, as it was the fashion of the time, but without question, his favorite model was this nine year-old whom he used for years in dozens of shoots. He wrote two novels centered around this young heroin, wrote profusely detailed journals about day-to-day activities with her, and even wrote her letters long after the books were published and she was grown. Some of the things he said to her support both views on the relationship and can be taken in many ways. “Some children have the most disagreeable way of getting grown up. I hope you won’t do anything of the sort before we meet again,” (Dodgson) was written by Carroll in one of his earlier letters when she was about eleven. This endearing yet haunting proposal sheds light on the idea that Carroll and Alice shared relations that were completely inappropriate for any respectable man of his age.

In his later years of life, Carroll denied the claims that either novel was about the real Alice Liddell, and asked the press to stop hounding him on this topic or any. He hated the media as it twisted his life and surfaced ugly truths that no respected author would want to be surfaced. The denial that the real Alice Liddell was his muse and claim that he used no child to inspire his creative works was a noble effort, but at the end of the second novel, he uses her full name in a poem, which disproves his claims.

Another idea of inspiration for this influential writer that has not been completely proven was his use of narcotic drugs while writing his novels. Scholars predict that he used Opium or Lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly referred to as “LSD” while writing “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” and they also claim that it can be proved through his sporadic writing patterns and imaginative characters. Other scholars claim that his random writing style was only proof that he was writing for a young audience, but there are clues that suggest this set of novels was not written completely for innocent eyes. He makes his characters clear symbols for stages in a child’s growing up and decisions that go along with that process. For instance, perhaps the most important character Alice meets, the Caterpillar in the first novel, brings up the most important question in a child’s life: “Who ARE you?” This search for identity is possibly the entire underlying meaning of the novel, and this character represents that search and the self-denial that will eventually come with it. Additionally, another hugely crucial character that young Alice meets is the Cheshire Cat. He brings up the idea that if you do not know where you are going, then it does not matter where you end up. This statement is true in a backwards way, although it is the last thing a curious and fast growing child wants to hear when they are lost amongst things that are unknown. He is also the only character in the book who can come to terms with the fact that he, as well as everyone else in Wonderland, is mad. These two characters both represent the strong intellectual and emotional detachment of people who believe they are more important that others... chiefly, adults. Not that this dark tone proves his use of narcotics, but it definitely proves that Carroll was not writing a simple story for only children to understand.

In this time, not many people used Hallucinogens in daily life. They were used specifically by less civilized societies and people and were used mostly hand-in-hand with religious rituals. Carroll, being a mid to high class gentleman would have been completely out of place using these hallucinogenic substances, but that is not hard to imagine, being as strange as he was.

The end of his life was filled with seizures and violent attacks of his epilepsy, as recorded in the parts of his journals that still exist. His hatred of the attention the Alice books had brought him caused him much stress when people started to realize that the master Lewis Carroll and the stiff and stuttering math professor Charles Dodgson were the same man. This quiet professor found the fame too much, and even said that he regretted publishing the novels that brought him such recognition to people of all ages, around the world. Carroll, on an extended trip of Europe, bought a house in Guildford, and stayed there until his sudden and unexpected death from pneumonia in 1898.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson leaves behind an enormous amount of mystery with his death. This pivotal, enigma of a man still entertains children and adults alike, with his fantastic adventures about a young girl who fell down a rabbit hole and walked through a looking-glass and just wanted to find her way back home.

Critical Analysis

“In ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking-Glass: and What Alice Found There,’ Lewis Carroll crafted literary work of amazing staying power. They have proven relevant to audiences of all ages, have been translated into over one hundred languages, and are referenced and cited in academic works and popular culture to this day. They are enigmatic pieces of literature, a source of constant debate over meanings and the context of their creation. For over a century, readers have been puzzled and delighted by the language and logic of Wonderland, and the frequent references to Carroll’s works attest to a lasting interest in his subject matter, comical and philosophical content, and novel use of language throughout the Alice books,” (Beckman) says Jason Beckman, literary expert and professor at Brown University. I could not have said this better myself- partly because I am not a professor at Brown University, and very few people these days can say anything as well as someone of such highly respected standings, but also because he hit every key point about the novels written by one of the great English authors, Lewis Carroll. Without delving into his controversial personal life, Carroll remains well respected as a writer and photographer. Being translated to over one hundred languages sets a standard that not many authors have accomplished.

In Beckman’s essays, he also brings up, “This manifestation of Wonderland in the natural world continues as papers reference occurrences in the Alice books to explain real-world phenomena. Looking to medical and physics research, we find additional references to Carroll’s work, to the extent of medical terminology and physics theory named after phenomena in the Alice books. English Psychiatrist John Todd identified a family of symptoms characterized by ‘illusory changes in the size, distance, or position of stationary objects in the subject’s visual field’ which he deemed ‘the syndrome of Alice in Wonderland’ on the basis of their similarity to Alice’s changing size and the added fact that ‘Carol himself suffered from migraines’ (701-2). He details cases of patients who have experienced sensations similar to Alice’s many size transformations in Alice in Wonderland,” (Beckman). Plainly, Carroll’s novels show a vast understanding for not only personal matters dealing with maturation and fear of the unknown, but also of medicinal issues far before their discoveries. I believe this shows how much of a revolutionary Carroll was, maybe even without a conscious realization. It is said that Carroll had intense issues with focus and doing what he was told, but when left to his own devices, he came up with literary works far beyond their time, which have influenced people in over one hundred different languages.

Glen Downey, of the University of British Columbia comments, “Carroll's ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ is often seen by scholars as a less successful novel than its more celebrated companion piece, ‘Alice's Adventures in Wonderland’ (1865). Critics have interpreted Looking-Glass as the more controlled and less spontaneous of the two works, more the product of Dodgson the mathematical logician and Oxford lecturer than Carroll the story-teller. Thus, although it has been assigned a higher place than either of the critically disparaged ‘Sylvie and Bruno’ books (1889 and 1893), it has been unfavorably compared with its companion novel since its publication,” (Downey). Although I have not yet read Carroll’s later “Sylvie and Bruno” books to comment on that statement, in reading both the Alice novels, I can agree in the widespread opinion that “Looking-Glass” falls short of the imagination Carroll set down in the first Alice novel. Although very creative in the idea that the whole book is a chess game that Alice must play to become a queen, it felt almost like a less mad reproduction of the first novel, which touched me quite a bit. Downey also comments, “Fortunately, Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass has also been recognized for its surprising radicalism despite being very much a literary product of its time. Although it is by no means considered a feminist work in the way that other Victorian novels have been re-appraised by contemporary critics, Through the Looking-Glass is nevertheless recognized for its keen understanding of Alice's predicament, most notably in her discovery that being a Queen...offers neither the security of attachment nor the sovereignty of freedom to which she refers in her opening words to the White Knight: `I don't want to be anybody's prisoner. I want to be a Queen.’ (Carroll 238)” (Downey). This is a very important interpretation to me, as I noticed this when I read both novels. There is a strong sense of feminism in the fact that, in the end, Alice knows she does not need the help of anyone to get home or become a Queen. She knows that she can do it completely alone. Whether or not this is her own childish nature that we are all familiar with, telling us that if something is to be done right, it is to be done alone, or if Alice is just a confident and smart girl of nine is up for debate, and probably only known by Carroll himself. I agree with these professionals and their findings on almost all levels. While the second Alice novel is significantly less respected, I enjoyed every page and did not ever want the story to end. Alice is an unlikely little heroine who has engaged audiences all over the world for as long as she has been on paper.

Character Analysis

Alice, the nine year-old heroine of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” is a proud and curious girl. If she does not like the way something is being done or said to her, she is sure to make it known. She is always looking for the “why” and “how” in things, and won’t leave a situation until she either gets her answer, or becomes so exasperated that she has to separate herself from the madness. I can’t speak directly for children of the 1800’s, but nine year-olds of my time are extremely different than Alice is in these novels. When I was nine, I had little concern with being curt with those whom I did not like. I was curious all the same, but Alice shows her true personality through her rude brevity towards almost everyone in the stories. Although she is sharp and much more mature than her age, readers have a strong connection to her while she travels through Wonderland. Readers root for her and want her to make it home without having her head cut off by the Red Queen or completely forgetting who she is. The characters Alice meets in Wonderland correspond to events in childrens’ lives and either help her in her understanding of this world, or muddy the water even more. For instance, the Caterpillar asks Alice the famous question, “Who are you?” When she first meets him. At this point in the novel, Alice isn’t sure who she is or even where she is, as she has undergone so many changes in appearance and knowledge in that day. When Alice can not come up with a logical answer, the Caterpillar is rude and impatient, causing Alice to mirror that behavior. The Caterpillar, to me, represents adults and how quick they are to have children grow up and understand life the way they do, because they can not remember when they were that age. Alice does a fantastic job at comprehending this character and how to speak to him, proving that she has knowledge far beyond her years.

Another crucial element in the novel is Alice’s constant changing of sizes because of things she eats and drinks. The first time we see this is when she is trying to get into the garden behind the small door, just after she has tumbled down the rabbit hole. She finds a bottle on a table and makes sure that it is not marked poison before drinking it- showing her true age for just a moment, as she is completely trusting that people are honest and will tell her if the bottle really is poison. After drinking this she becomes miniscule, but still can not get through the door because she left the key on the table, which seemed now to be miles away. This is the first of many size changes for poor Alice, and she becomes very tired after this displays itself as a way to make her very unsure as to who she is. She finally gets so frustrated that she offends the Caterpillar in saying “three inches is such a wretched height to be!” (Carroll 60). But of course, like any good adventure story would go, the Caterpillar is exactly three inches high and leaves Alice alone and confused as she so often is.

In the second Alice novel, “Through the Looking Glass: and What Alice Found There,” half a year has gone by. Alice lies playing with Dinah and her kittens, and reprimands them as if they were her own children. This behavior is strictly one for a nine and a half year-old, which I’m sure Carroll put in to remind readers that she is still a child. She speaks to her kittens about the “Looking Glass House,” in which everything is backwards and nothing makes sense, and then her imagination takes hold once again as she steps into the mirror above her fireplace into this so-called Looking Glass House. In this house, she finds a chessboard filled with moving pieces that can’t see her at all. Once she steps outside and realizes that she needs to run backwards to get anywhere in front of her, she finds herself in the same chess game with the same pieces from inside the house, but she is now the same size as them. She is told she needs to win the game to become a queen, and in doing so, she meets a number of fascinating and confusing characters and has her reality altered yet again. Our heroine doesn’t change much in the way she deals with difficult situations from the last novel to this one. The only thing that really changes is her acceptance that these strange things will happen to her- I’m sure she had gotten used it since her trip to Wonderland was so surreal.

The people she meets in this backwards world are not as strange as the places she visits. In this Looking Glass world, Alice enters a shop in which every time she looks at something directly, it vanishes. The shop then turns into a river, back into a shop, and then into Humpty-Dumpty’s wall. Alice is far too amazed to be afraid of the things that are happening to her, so she seems to just go with them.

Although the young girl deals with things differently, she is still just as curious and curt as she was in her first adventure. She fails to solve many problems in both novels, but walks away with much less of a fight in this one. It seems that in these six months, the only thing Alice has learned is that her adventures are insane, and to mind her own business and not worry about anyone she meets.


Through the process of writing this report, I have learned more than I ever could have hoped about Lewis Carroll, the man behind one of my favorite childhood stories, and about the time he lived in and his dark and secretive personal life with the young girl that inspired him to write such pivotal literature. His past is a twisted place, where not many philosophers have been able to get to, as his family and the Liddells did a thorough job at hiding it away. While much is unknown about Lewis Carroll’s personal life, his books have entertained millions since the days they were published.

I will not only take away the knowledge I have gained about Lewis Carroll himself, but also the knowledge I have gained from reading the books I loved so much in my childhood. There is so much more in those mad tales of young Alice that I was not mature enough to grasp when I was a child. The morals and the symbolism shown throughout are things I will undoubtedly take with me into my own journey into young adulthood.

Works Cited

  1. Beckman, Jason. "“we're All Mad Here. I'm Mad. You're Mad.” The Alice Books and the Professional Literature of Psychology and Psychiatry." “we're All Mad Here. I'm Mad. You're Mad.” The Alice Books and the Professional Literature of Psychology and Psychiatry. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.
  2. Benjamin, Melanie. "Years Beyond the Rabbit Hole." Npr.org. Npr Books, 28 Feb. 2010. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.
  3. "Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll): A Brief Biography." Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll): A Brief Biography. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.
  4. Downey, Glen. "The Critical Reception of Through the Looking-Glass." The Critical Reception of Through the Looking-Glass. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.
  5. "Henry Liddell." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Nov. 2014. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.
  6. "History of Substance Abuse." HISTORY OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE (2010): 1-7. Http://www.ncdes.org/manuals/programpdf/handoutspdf/sage-1-history.PDF. Web.
Updated: Sep 23, 2021
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Lewis Carroll Report: The Author's Biography and an Analysis of His Works. (2021, Sep 23). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/lewis-carroll-report-the-author-s-biography-and-an-analysis-of-his-works-essay

Lewis Carroll Report: The Author's Biography and an Analysis of His Works essay
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