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The Influence of Lewis Carroll’s Life on His Work”, by Brady – 1998 (source of this article)
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Many aspects of Lewis Carroll’s life influenced his writing. Some of these aspects include his mathematical background and logical disposition, interest in and photography of little girls, abnormal eating habits, dual personality, sleeping difficulties, Victorian lifestyle, and neglected childhood. These characteristics of his life are reflected in his literature, including in his most well-known novel, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”.
Carroll was always an extremely logical man, constantly inventing more effective methods to complete a task. As in life, Carroll was extremely logical in his literature. He wrote many mathematical treatises, but also his fiction novels were full of elements of logic, such as cards, chess, and mirror reversals. The appearance of chess and croquet in Carroll’s writing is due to his own interest and participation in these activities. Carroll’s characters consistently ignored the commonly understood to reach a more logical conclusion. In Through the Looking Glass when the King asks Alice to look down the road to see who’s coming, this type of logic is used by the King:
“Just look down the road and tell me if you can see either of them.”
“I see nobody on the road” said Alice.
“I only wish I had such eyes to see Nobody! And at such a distance too!”
Carroll was known to have an obsessively negative association with eating which could have been drawn from his neurosis. This obsession with eating is reflected in his literature. Food is commonly accentuated, most of the time in a negative connotation, as in the Alice tales. The consequence of Alice eating and drinking is a change in her size. The Knave of Hearts is put on trial for allegedly stealing the Queen’s tarts, with a proposed penalty of beheading. Also, The consequence of the Duchess cooking with too much pepper is everyone continually sneezing. At the mad tea party, Alice inquires about food in a story that the Dormouse is telling:
“What did they live on?” asked Alice, who always took a great interest in questions of eating and drinking. “They lived on treacle” said the Dormouse…
“They couldn’t have done that, you know,” Alice gently remarked; “they’d have been very ill.”
“So they were,” said the Dormouse; “very ill.”
Alice also comments:
“Maybe it is pepper that makes people hot-tempered,” she went on, very much pleased at having found out a new kind of rule, “and vinegar that them sour–and camomile that makes them bitter”
Eating is also emphasized in other ways. Eating is associated with sin by the means that a garden, in which a serpent is present, represents the Garden of Eden. Alice, therefore represents Eve when she desires to eat the Queen’s tarts while there, even though she knows its wrong. Also, most poems and songs in his writing revolve around the theme of predator and prey. Furthermore, the Chesire Cat’s grin is the first part of him to appear and last part of him to disappear, therefore focusing on the mouth. Carroll’s cartoon, “The Rectory Umbrella” displays a family eating a meal of extremely irrational proportions. In another of his illustrations, he exhibits a man eating a whole plum-pudding.
A dual personality was present in Carroll’s own life beginning when he started writing under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. Similar to his own duality, many opposing identities are present in Carroll’s literature. In Through the Looking Glass, Tweedledee and Tweedledum are twins who constantly contradict each other’s opinion. In Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland, the animals have opposing identities. Alice’s cat Dinah is predatory, while the Wonderland animals are victimous. When Alice falls down the rabbit hole, top and bottom become one. At one point, Alice pretends to be two people, speaking in two different voices.
She also plans to assume other’s identities when she says:
I shall only look up and say, “Who am I, then? Tell me that first, and then, if I like being that person, I’ll come up: if not, I’ll stay down here till I’m somebody else”
At a trial, Alice assumes the positions of juror, jury, and witness at the trail. During a croquet game, Alice undertakes the roles of punisher and punished. First, she accuses the Queen of cheating, and then Alice cheats herself and boxes her own ears for it.
Carroll had sleeping difficulties and possibly insomnia which was in his writing. Inventions to keep him busy at night, including the Nyctograph, support this assumption. These sleeping problems are reflected in his literature. There is an emphasis on sleep in the Alice stories, at the mad tea party, the dormouse can’t stay awake, and in both of her tales, Alice is dreaming. The title of Carroll’s last mathematical treatise, is Curiosa Mathematica Part III: Pillow Problems, which alludes to his sleeping troubles.
Carroll lived during the Victorian era, which influenced his writing. Queen Victoria reigned during this time period, so female dominance is displayed in Carroll’s writing. In the Alice stories, the Queen of Hearts overcomes the King both in size and power. Also, the Duchess overpowers her husband and is in control of the household. Carroll aged during an era characteristic of punctuality. This is reflected in the White Rabbit’s extremely paranoid reaction to his lateness, in which he repeatedly says “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date.” The Victorian time period was also characteristic of a rigid class structure. This is displayed in his writing when Alice regularly insults the Wonderland creatures, especially the smaller ones.
Carroll had a somewhat neglected childhood, which influenced his writing. The cause of this neglection was the birth of four other siblings before he was six, leading to a loss of attention for himself. “Neither Charles Dodgson or Lewis Carroll had many good things to say about babies. ‘Throw them away.’ ‘Tie them in knots and send them into the wilderness.’ ‘Roast them well and serve them as appetizers for the main meal.’ His negative experience with babies is reflected in Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland when the Duchess’s baby is a nuisance because it cries so much, and then it turns into a pig and is left in the woods.
We can conclude that Lewis Carroll was a very eccentric man, both in his life and his writing, and it is rather plausible that many of the unique episodes in his literature can be attributed to similar experiences he encountered in his life.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Lewis Carroll. New York: Chelsea Hose Publishers, 1987.
Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, Publishers, 1998.