LEWIS CARROLL: A Biography by Morton N. Cohen


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Cohen, the editor of Carroll's herculean correspondence, succeeds with the man's Victorian character--both the academic and the eccentric elements--but misses the point of Carroll's pointless nonsense. Although Charles Lutwidge Dodgson kept his professional life of mathematical rectitude distinct from his private friendships with little girls and Lewis Carroll's nonsense, his life has had steady interest since his death, from Victorian damage control and Freudian psychoanalytic autopsies to, most recently, Derek Hudson's lively biography and Anne Clark's more somber one. Cohen's falls somewhere between the latter two in mood, but its new research and resources are unmatched. Carroll's childhood ironically receives a sketchy characterization, despite all the details of his humorous juvenilia, mathematical precocity, and, Cohen implies, a repressed battle of wills with his father the archdeacon. Dodgson the don emerges as a solid if myriad figure--keen amateur photographer; earnest, semisuccessful lecturer; scrupulously moral deacon; writer of pamphlets and squibs; and sentimental collector of ""child-friends."" Although Carroll's relations with Alice Liddell and her sisters have been researched almost ad nauseam, Cohen centers in on their unexplained break (the relevant pages in Carroll's diary were posthumously destroyed by his niece). Through careful sifting of later evidence, Cohen supports the idea that Carroll somehow offended Mrs. Liddell's matchmaking sensibilities. He goes on to draw inconclusive connections between his outpourings of generalized spiritual remorse and his happy times with the Liddell girls recorded in the diary. Carroll's relations with little gifts in general had elements of both the elder brother and the romantic, although there is no suggestion of sexual misconduct. After drubbing outlandish interpretations of the Alice books, Cohen instead suggests biographic allegories, rites of passage for both Alice Liddell and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Cohen sees Dodgson finally as a talented, upright, melancholy figure, but does not fully integrate Carroll into this protean man.

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 1995
ISBN: 0679745629
Page count: 592pp
Publisher: Knopf