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Curiouser and curiouser

Alice Liddell photographed as the Beggar Maid by Lewis Carroll.

Alice Liddell photographed as the Beggar Maid by Lewis Carroll.   | Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

The shy and stuttering Lewis Carroll wrote: “A girl of about 12 is my ideal beauty of form”

On a “golden afternoon” of July 1862, young Lewis Carroll aka Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, don of mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford, was rowing down the Thames with his friend Duckworth and three excited little girls. The children, Lorina, Edith and Alice Liddell, were siblings, and they were badgering Carroll for a story. Eight-year-old Alice was especially insistent, demanding imperiously in her high-pitched voice, “Tell me a story!”

It was a command that Carroll could hardly disobey — he was half in love with this child. Soon, he was telling a tale in which Alice falls down and down a dark rabbit hole...

 

Carroll was a shy young man who spoke with a stutter. With children, he became a different person altogether, sure of himself, sure of his audience’s mind. Was this because he had never outgrown his own childhood?

Carroll was also an avid photographer. And featuring repeatedly in his collection are images of naked or half-naked prepubescent girls. He photographed Alice Liddell obsessively — in the photograph of Alice dressed as the Beggar Maid from Tennyson’s poem, her tattered dress is slipping well off her tiny shoulder.

Carroll wrote, “A girl of about 12 is my ideal beauty of form.” Was this a helpless Humbert lusting after Lolitas? Or are we proving our own 21st century sickness of mind by judging this prudish Victorian gentleman in whose time children were revered as the embodiment of innocence? Are we being too literal-minded — in other words, being adults, who have no place in Alice’s Wonderland?

The Gryphon may have reacted to this controversy by urging us to slough off our rusty old skin of knowingness and join the “adventure” instead, because “explanations take such a dreadful time.”

anusua.m@thehindu.co.in

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 7:52:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/curiouser-and-curiouser/article19777317.ece

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