Lewis Carroll: Icon of Maths and Children’s Fiction

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was a world-famous writer of children’s fiction and a renowned mathematician. He was famous for his imaginative writing, wordplay, fantasy and for creating the new genre of literary nonsense through Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
In 1856, Charles Dosgson’s poem Solitude was published in The Train magazine. It was the first time he had published his work under the pen name Lewis Carroll.(Illustration by: Sudhir Shetty)
In 1856, Charles Dosgson’s poem Solitude was published in The Train magazine. It was the first time he had published his work under the pen name Lewis Carroll.(Illustration by: Sudhir Shetty)
Updated on Jul 01, 2019 04:44 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByHT Correspondent

Early Life

Born on January 27, 1832 in a village named Daresbury in England, in a family which followed the Anglican Church, Carroll was named after his grandfather. Having grown up in a large family, he received early education at home and read books like the Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan at age of seven.

Aged 12, he attended the Richmond Grammar School in North Yorkshire. He later joined the Rugby School in Warwickshire, and completed his matriculation at the University of Oxford’s Christ Church college, obtaining a first-class honours degree in mathematics. He was appointed as a lecturer in mathematics in 1856 and continued to work there for 47 years in various capacities.

Learning the ropes

Carroll developed an interest in writing poems and stories at an early age and his work frequently featured in his family magazine Mischmasch. In 1855, he sent his works for publication in mainstream magazines such as The Train and The Comic Times.

The next year, Carroll’s poem Solitude was published in The Train. It was the first time he had published his work under the pen name Lewis Carroll.

Turning point

In 1856, Henry Liddell joined as dean at Christ Church. Liddell’s family had a huge influence on Carroll’s writings as he became friends with Liddell’s wife Lorina and their children Edith, Lorina and Alice. It was assumed that the character of Alice in his most popular work was based on Alice Liddell but Carroll denied this assumption.

Accompanied by a friend in 1862, Carroll went on a rowing trip with Henry’s daughters. Here, for the first time he narrated the story to Alice Liddell who requested him to pen it for her. In November, 1864, Carroll presented her with the manuscript titled Alice’s Adventures Under Ground.

Sweet success

In 1863, Carroll took the unfinished manuscript to the publisher Macmillan, which approved it. Two years later, after several other titles were rejected, the name Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was accepted with his pen name. The illustrations for the work were done by John Tenniel.

The work created a sensation and was read by people of all age groups, including England’s Queen Victoria and the writer Oscar Wilde. The success changed the author’s life. It was translated into 97 languages and adapted a number of times in films and theatre.

Till date, the novel is considered one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre, which Carroll is known to have created. Its narration structure, characters and symbolism made it an influential piece of art in both literature and popular culture. In the year 1871, he released the sequel — Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

Legacy, Death

Carroll suffered a bout of influenza, followed by pneumonia and breathed his last on January 14, 1898, aged 65. A large number of societies were formed around the world dedicated to promote Carroll’s works.

In 1982, Carroll’s nephew unveiled his memorial at the Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, UK. The Lewis Carroll Bookshelf Award celebrates the genre of literary nonsense.

Interesting Facts:

1. Carroll was a noted mathematician who, at an early age developed interest in the subject. He wrote 11 books including Euclid and his Modern Rivals; and The Alphabet Cipher which mainly dealt with geometry.

2. In the 19th century, a large number of children’s books taught morals. Alice in the Wonderland was an exception - it did not conclude with a didactic statement and helped set the stage for later children’s books.

3. Carroll devised and popularised the early stages of various modern games such as Scrabble. Another one was a brain-teaser titled Word Ladder which began with two words and players had to find a chain of others.

4. In 1856, inspired by his uncle and friend, Carroll took up photography. He soon excelled at the art and opened a studio, where he clicked portraits of notable people like John Everett Millais, Ellen Terry and Alfred Tennyson.

5. In 1889, he invented The Wonderland Postage Stamp, a cloth folder created with 12 slots to keep a variety of denominations. He also created nyctograph, a device for writers to pen down ideas in the dark.

SOURCE: Wikipedia

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Wednesday, January 19, 2022