What’s in a Name? Charles Dodgson

(Last Updated On June 24, 2022)

When I first made this post, I had only begun my foray into the scholarship of Lewis Carroll.  I simply wanted readers to realize that even a personality as noted as Carroll engaged in some nude photography of little girls.  I did not realize that some of my sources—most especially Cohen—would be regarded as manipulated and biased.  I may not have the time in the foreseeable future to update this post and remedy things so I strongly suggest after looking at this post, you read the scholarly comment offered by one of our readers and my reply to get a more balanced perspective.  

Also, I have been informed that images of the original photograph used to produce the third image below appeared in Anne Higonnet’s Pictures of Innocence: The History of and Crisis of Ideal Childhood (1998).  I think it is worth a look.  -Ron

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898) is better known to most people as Lewis Carroll, the creator of the Alice stories and the inspiration for a plethora of imagery and stories ever since. What is less well-known was his affinity for the company of children and his mastery in photographing them.

He received his first camera in 1856 and in short order, demonstrated his skill with the technology culminating in a public exhibition with the Photographic Society of London in 1858. This is even more impressive given the messy wet collodion process that was common at the time. He did shoot a number of portraits and adult groups which would have been sufficient to secure his place in history never mind his work with children.

When I was invited to co-host this blog, I knew it was important that this be my first post containing images. Not only is this artist historically important, but after I read Lewis Carroll, Photographer of Children: Four Nude Studies and Lewis Carroll: A Biography both written by Morton N. Cohen, I was shocked by the almost identical intellectual, social and aesthetic sensibility we both had. Perhaps some may find it presumptuous, but I feel especially qualified to discuss Dodgson’s motivations and attitudes. The reader will notice I express a greater certitude and less objective detachment than when I discuss any other artist or work.

Although he may have subconsciously registered the natural beauty of children early on, particularly the prettiness of girls, he was first drawn to children because of their minds. They express an exuberant freedom and an openness that Rousseau would have termed their “natural animal spirits”. Even a 6 to 8-year-old girl can have a surprisingly well-developed intellect, facility with language and social skill to make them charming enough companions. Dodgson took the time to lavish attention on his child friends in the form of elaborate tea parties and other diversions. So, it is natural that he should want to preserve forever their images and in the course of that endeavor, begin to consciously notice their physical beauty as well.

Dodgson kept extensive diaries during his life and the first mention of shooting a subject nude was in 1867. His sensitivity about the comfort level of the parents and children is quite touching and his obsession with only shooting girls with “good figures” clearly demonstrate that his work in this area was legitimately aesthetic. His best work were tableaux with staged backgrounds, costumes and situations to build up a scene with the child(ren) center stage. Many good examples can be found online and here in this blog.

Dodgson was quite conflicted about his pursuits: between his desire to produce compelling images for his own enjoyment, concern about how others might regard his unorthodox work and possible ridicule his friends might receive once they grew up. Sound familiar? It is hard to speculate on how many nudes were originally produced, but only 4 are known to survive today. All sitters were children of people he knew personally very well and many plates were sent out to be colorized which is also quite telling. Ben Maddox called these images saccharine, but this perfunctory assessment was unfair given the almost obsessive labor of love these images must have entailed. Dodgson pulled out all the stops in his attempt to enhance the natural beauty of each image. It seems from his diaries that he intended to continue his photography after this prolific burst but he simply could not manage the time to learn the newest techniques after that.

Dodgson secured a mathematical lectureship at Oxford, specializing in logic. The position required that he pursue his religious education as well and eventually he became a deacon of the Church. He must have realized he could not get far because of his stammer but he managed as a kind of substitute minister when needed. Henry Liddell, who became a Dean at Oxford, became Dodgson’s boss and brought with him a young family. Early on, he befriended the oldest girls: Lorina, Alice and Edith. His bond with Alice was especially strong and he would entertain the girls with his vivid nonsensical stories during their outings together and the girls were incorporated as characters in his stories. He finally wrote down some of the stories and bound them as a gift for Alice. Encouragement from friends then compelled him to have them published. The use of the pen name Lewis Carroll was an attempt to keep his popular writings from interfering with his private life. Also contrary to speculation, Dodgson’s fantasies were not hallucination-induced rantings, but creative musings about the bizarre discoveries being made in the mathematics of the period.


Charles Dodgson – Beatrice Seated Before the White Cliffs

Charles Dodgson – Evelyn Hatch (c 1879) (1)

Charles Dodgson – Evelyn Hatch (c 1879) (1)

Charles Dodgson – Evelyn Hatch (c 1879) (2)

Charles Dodgson – Evelyn Hatch (c 1879) (2)

Charles Dodgson – Annie and Frances Henderson (c 1879)

Charles Dodgson – Annie and Frances Henderson (c 1879)

Wikipedia: Lewis Carroll

7 thoughts on “What’s in a Name? Charles Dodgson

  1. All those interested in Lewis Carroll should read Lewis Carroll: The Man and His Circle, the latest book by Edward Wakeling. Contrarily to Collingwood and Cohen, he does not try to transform Carroll’s life into a nice novel, he sticks to documents and ascertained facts, so his book makes a drab reading like a scientific treatise.
    He gives a simple answer to the identity of the “A.L.” mentioned in the Diaries. It is neither Alice Liddell as suggests Japonaliya in his comment, nor Alice Donkins as stated in the blog post to which Phantomwise links. It is simply Aunt Lucy, who took care of the Dodgson family when their mother died. Carroll and his uncle were worried because the sight of this devoted and hard-working family member was deteriorating, she was developing a cataract.

  2. I am amused that “phantomwise” seems to regard any reference to the possible romantic inclinations of Dodgson towards Alice as a “slip of the pen”, where as anything that bolsters Ms. Leach’s theories he adopts without hesitation. (actually, the reference to A.L. to his uncle about his brother DOES make perfect sense since he had himself a similar situation with Alice, and was warning his brother about the consequences.
    It is not known if Dodgson wanted to “marry” Alice, but his affection towards her is inescapable. He also does not cite the remarks Dodgson made about having a talk with Mrs. Liddell about his relationship with Alice about the time of Alice’s marriage. He regarded his relationship (at the time) as “foolishness” and felt he could dredge up these memories now that Alice was safely married.

    (“WHY DID her mother burn all of Dodgson’s letters?) Throwing them in the trash is one thing, but burning takes passion, and what ever the rift at the time, the ONLY thing that could incite such passion in Mrs. Liddell was the possibility of a romantic relationship. Yes, as Alice grew his overt infatuation may have diminished, but he never forgot his feelings for her. “Still she haunts me phantomwise, Alice moving under skies, never seen by waking eyes”…

    Sure, he really was, as Mrs. Leach proposes after Mrs. Liddell herself, or the governess (Leach still can’t make up her mind)
    Just read the poems that Dodgson wrote, especially the “Child of the Unclouded Brow..” and the truth is revealed…
    I could cite many, many reasons why it is obvious that he had some romantic feelings for Alice, but it would be too long to write here. I refer you to my posts on Amazon reviewing Leach’s book.

    • Dear Japonaliya,
      I am so pleased to receive a cogent comment regarding the bizarre and political slant the debate has taken on Dodgson. I trust my instincts and my intellect which is why I accepted phantomwise’s comment only with extreme skepticism. Methinks he (and his colleagues) doth protest too much. I also noticed the citations are so recent and given their completely contradictory conclusions, felt like gratuitous revisionist history. The reason for the two camps seems to be a reaction to the current political climate and the oversimplification of the concept of pedophilia. It is easier to accept and use the emotional patent notion than to truly debate and educate people. It is my hope that in time Pigtails can effectively dispel the most destructive aspects of this kind of debate.
      A couple of friends have expressed similar concerns with the tenor of phantomwise’s argument. I do commend his restraint as an overtly political agenda would be too obvious and would never be posted here. I would also like to remind our readers that I will not allow Pigtails in Paint to become an academic battleground. For starters, I do not want to be bogged down in distracting trivia and I find this manner of debate personally tiresome.
      Thank you so much for grounding us with your down-to-earth rebuttal. -Ron

  3. Hello, I ran my own blog on Alice in Wonderland and Dodgson (included in my comment).

    I couldn’t help noticing some inaccuracies in your post.

    You say “It is hard to speculate on how many nudes were originally produced,” but I disagree. According to Edward Wakeling, probably the leading expert on Dodgson’s photography and was the editor for the diary editions published by the LCS, only 1% of all known 3,000 negatives show nude or partly-clothed children (Woolf 256). He has compiled an extensive registry (www.lewiscarroll-site.com/; click on the photographs link). To be clear, this includes even missing photographs. So, 1% out of 3,000 negatives is around 30 photographs. Considering that only 4 out of the 30 survived is not surprising considering only 1,000 of his negatives survive in the first place.

    Also, I’m not sure why this is never counted, but there is another surviving child nude that was taken of his godson, Bertram Rogers. It’s hardly ever printed or talked about; I suppose because it’s a boy instead of a girl. I can’t even find it online for you.

    You also say he had concern about how others would regard the work and possible ridicule his friends might have received when they grew up; again I disagree. I have not been able to look through all the other posts in your blog, but I have gotten the impression you are aware of Victorian art and photography depicting child nudity. If you’re aware of the Victorian Child Cult, child nudity was seen as innocent and many other artists (painters and photographers) have children nude or semi-nude. Dodgson’s contemporary photographers such as Julia Margaret Cameron and Oscar Gustav Rejlander are known for their child nudes as well. So, knowing this, why would Dodgson been concerned about what others thought about his ‘unorthodox,’ or in the case, orthodox, photography; especially as it was such as small output of his work.

    If the reason you say he was concerned refers to the rumor in his later life about his photography, it actually was not about his child nudes at all. It started over his kissing a seventeen year old girl named Atty Owen. Her mother was outraged and started spreading rumors on his photography of teenage girls in what he called ‘acrobatic’ or ‘swimming’ dress (Lebailly 10). He talks of them in his letters to Xie Kitchin’s mother while trying to convince her to let him take a picture of her then teenage daughter in a swimming dress (Lebailly 9). He also requested Mrs. Kitchin to purchase ladies’ stockings or bathing-dresses for him, seeing as his buying them would be inappropriate. These were the photographs he was concerned the most about and these were the ones his family destroyed the prints of after his death. Of course, this information is ignored or purposefully manipulated by scholars like Cohen to make the rumor about the child nudes.

    In the case the children later fearing embarrassment, there is at least one case of the exact opposite; Evelyn Hatch showed off a print of her child nude, seventeen years after it was taken, to her cousins who were “envious” (Lebailly 5).

    Nowadays, stutter and stammer are used interchangeably, but to be correct, Dodgson had a stammer, which according to his speech therapist John Hunt, “[he] found it hard or impossible to make some elementary speech sounds, and had a hesitating, often convulsive delivery, but no repetition of the initial sounds.” (Woolf 75)

    You also spelled Lorina incorrectly. And actually, Lorina was the sister he was closest too (Leach “Ina in Wonderland”). He also wasn’t ‘compelled’ by his friends to have ‘Alice’ published; he realized himself while writing it that it had publishing potential. He sent it to his friend George MacDonald, another children’s author and close friend, before he even gave the book to Alice. The MacDonald children liked the story (again, they had read the book before Alice did). Immediately after, he looked into a publisher and illustrator. The book was already in the process of publication before Alice even saw the manuscript. Being ‘compelled’ to publish plays into the myth that he was shy when he was quite the opposite.

    The only books you’ve listed reading are by Morton Cohen. Cohen has impressive research skills, there is no question about that, but his conclusions have been proven to be manipulated. If you’ve only read his work, you’ll miss a lot about Dodgson that Cohen left out or changed because it did not fit his idea. For instance, he is the lead scholar for the “Dodgson was in love with Alice” camp. He says it’s certain that he was in love with her. His evidence? Dodgson’s letters to her, his diaries, and a letter Lorina wrote to Alice when they were older. In this post of mine, (http://still-she-haunts-me-phantomwise.tumblr.com/post/50175577813/then-guiliano-upped-the-interview-ante-by-bringing) I deconstruct his argument, showing that he has no proof at all. I believe this is a good demonstration of how unreliable he is.

    Instead of Cohen, I suggest In the Shadow of the Dreamchild by Karoline Leach and The Mystery of Lewis Carroll by Jenny Woolf. Both attempted to trace myths to find they had no biographical evidence at all, or were taken out of context.

    Woolf, Jenny. The Mystery of Lewis Carroll: Discovering the Whimsical, Thoughtful, and Sometimes Lonely Man Who Created Alice in Wonderland. First US. New York: St. Martin’s, 2010. Print.
    Leach, Karoline. In the Shadow of the Dreamchild: the Myth and Reality of Lewis Carroll. Revised Paperback. London: Peter Owen, 2009. Print.
    Lebailly, Hugues. “Your affectionate friend: Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s infatuation with the weaker and more aesthetic sex re-examined.” Contrariwise: the Association for New Lewis Carroll Studies. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Feb 2014.

    • Dear phantomwise,

      I commend you for sticking your neck out like this in the hopes of dispelling misinformation. No good deed goes unpunished and even though I have editorial control of this blog, I am fortunately not the punishing type.

      I have made the small corrections you mentioned and added a disclaimer about the circumstances of the original post. Indeed, the only material I had read at the time were the two Cohen books mentioned here and a handful of recommended reading from Polixeni Papapetrou who wrote her doctoral dissertation on Dodgson’s work–though I didn’t know it at the time. Two names I remember from the list were Douglas Nickel and Catherine Dodson and a few journal articles I could find in the university library. In addition, I recently acquired Franco Maria Ricci’s book and read Helmut Gernsheim’s account of (re)discovering Dodgson’s career as an amateur photographer.

      I have learned to be skeptical if not suspicious of statistics for many reasons, but especially because it seems to be used these days to bolster arguments rather than to serve as a launching point for more definitive research. After all, you are counting on the veracity of Mr. Wakeling and his judgment that he had access to complete records. Please understand that I don’t wish to disparage the man’s character, only to urge skepticism.

      I became aware of the Bertram Rogers photo (later) and have seen it at least two times. Perhaps someone can offer better information, but I believe I saw it in Nickel’s book and another in one of Carol Mavor’s. It always amazes me that people get the impression that everything can be found on the internet and if working on this blog has taught me anything, it is that this is far from the truth. I should remark that the photo of Rogers clearly has a different intent: one of sentimental portraiture rather than imaginative tableau. One of the interesting details I picked up in subsequent reading was the notion that girls might have been more suitable subjects because it was acceptable for them to engage in this kind of frivolity up to a certain age.

      The Victorian child cult is of course a holdover from Rousseau’s influential notions of children and nature philosophy. It is fascinating how Victorian society managed to integrate these ideas into conservative Anglican doctrine and when reading about this era, I always get a feeling of schizophrenic conflict behind their rationalizations. When I allude to Dodgson’s internal conflict and confusion, I am referring to his interpretation of his own animal impulses in the light of Church doctrine (the notion of sin, evil, etc.). As a clergyman, he would not have allowed himself to entertain ideas that questioned the truth of Christianity as he understood it. The exact form these impulses took and how he may have acted on them will probably always remain an open question.

      The first time I learned of Rejlander was in reading Graham Ovenden’s Victorian Children. When I was invited onto this blog, I intended to dig more and do a post on this photographer. The only material I could find was from a book by Edgar Yoxall Jones. There were a few cherubic child nudes there used for his special compositions and there are many children featured in the book, but I cannot yet fathom why he is known for his child nudes. The most charming example I’ve seen is his ‘Allegory of Motherhood’ which appeared in a book on Cameron whom I covered in another post. There is some speculation that the ‘Charlotte Baker’ images in Ovenden’s book are not genuine and were created to bolster his argument about the use of nudes by Rejlander. In any case, I think Dodgson still may have raised eyebrows over his desire for such secularly sensual nudes. In his exuberance, he may not have–at first–noticed that he crossed an unspoken line about children–either in his method of execution or his unmitigated enthusiasm about the subject.

      Of course ignorance feeds speculation and I strongly dislike the way families of artists dispose of their belongings. Dodgson Collingwood did a great disservice by destroying what he did–in more ways than one. Cohen implies that C.L. Dodgson specifically requested certain things be destroyed upon his death if the family (of the subjects) didn’t want them. I guess it was inevitable that Victorian propriety would hold sway. If you are correct about Cohen being deceptive then, despite his great contribution, he has also done scholarship a great disservice–essentially creating these two camps with axes to grind. I should mention that I did not just read Cohen’s words, but the letters that were included and it is from these that I got this strong sense of understanding the man. I reread many of the letters when I got the Ricci book and I still get an uncomfortable sense of tension is his communications about and to children. I think he was hurt when the children–unskilled at maintaining mature relationships–did not make more of an effort to write or visit even though they always had fun together. Given the state of things, I think it worthwhile to look into Cohen’s motivations to be sure we are not dismissing his contentions out of hand with a strained deconstruction of the extant material.

      I have not read much about the differences in the relationships between Dodgson and each of the Liddell sisters. The most obvious question that comes to mind is: if his relationship was strongest with Lorina, why is the Alice character featured as a human girl and protagonist of the story while Lorina (the Lory) and Edith (the Eaglet) had fairly minor supportive roles? I think Alice, at that age, had a greater desire to monopolize Dodgson’s attention and affection than the other girls and was thus a strong agent in the specialness of that relationship.

      I didn’t think that my portrayal of Dodgson implied that he was shy; that would indeed be a misleading characterization. I think he may have been bored or impatient with conventional social occasions, with the mindless and nonthreatening prattle about the Empire or whatever. He craved the kind of mental stimulation that came from playing with ideas like his logic puzzles, play on words and acrostics. The appeal of children is in their creative play, open self-expression and open-mindedness which gave Dodgson some license to express himself. If he exhibited any social ineptness, it would have been mitigated by his sincere frankness, enthusiasm and sharpness of wit. And, yes, I admit I may be projecting myself a bit onto this intriguing personality.

      Thank you sincerely for your thoughtful comment and for giving me and Pigtails’ readers some food for thought. Your citations are all quite recent, so I doubt many of us will have seen them yet and I am pleased to bring them to people’s attention. Naturally, I have not taken the time to assess the veracity of the information provided here, so I would be delighted to hear from our readers about their impressions of the sites and publications mentioned. -Ron

      • Ron, do you know if are there any books containing ALL of the still-existing little girl nudes by Lewis Carroll? I already have the “Four Nude Studies” book, but I would assume that it is not the ONLY such book. The Amazon site does not seem to be of much help, unless I am somehow not noticing something.

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