Although I read a lot of biography I would walk across the street to avoid stargazing. The only letter I have by someone famous is an insignificant note from Virginia Woolf . I don’t go to book signings or author appearances, well I did attend a talk by Seamus Heaney. There are only three authors I would have enjoyed being with on a perfect afternoon when they were at their best and I was perhaps an unnoticed Chickadee. No surprise, they are ED, WW, and LC.
Writing about Lewis Carroll is equivalent to traversing the rim of an ancient active volcano. Get serious, come down, and make something of your life. Lewis Carroll spent his life trying to explain himself and never succeeded so why would a lesser writer think they could do a better job? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that Jenny Woolf has written a masterful account of what we can know today of The Mystery Of Lewis Carroll: Discovering The Whimsical, Thoughtful, And Sometimes Lonely Man Who Created Alice in Wonderland.
If you like the certainty of a short, glib answer, or enjoy a salacious account over a reasoned, partial explanation, then you are definitely not going to enjoy Woolf’s book. She has the good grace to not try to categorize, tag, or in any way make Lewis Carroll fit current pop psychology. His talents had not occurred before in English literature nor have they appeared since. Neither family, colleagues, or his child-friends understood him fully. He would have been apoplectic, physically and emotionally fractured if any one of them had gone so far into his inner world. Good research and smart writing give us a better picture than his contemporaries, but the picture will never be complete or totally errorproof. It is exciting as it is, so take it, blank spaces and questions.
It happens often. A talented, complex writer dies and his estate becomes the property of an untalented, provincial family. While the writer made history, they made cookies and loved him. When they see the record left behind, they immediately assume they are his superior and proceed to protect him from himself. They burn, rewrite, deny, and otherwise clean up his life. They are oblivious to the harm they have done their beloved family member. They create problems where there may be none. They raise questions and speculation. A pox on surviving families who meddle.
If only the family of the Queen featured here had exercised the good judgement to expand her early experiences at 6 or 9 years of age beyond dance lessons and regal posture to include an introduction to Lewis Carroll. And if he and the Princess had taken a liking to each other, who knows what that imaginative and delightful relationship might have done for her life and for the Empire. And if he had suggested she visit Christ Church unchaperoned for nude and costumed portraits, and her parents had said yes but with one stipulation. They must have a copy of each photograph to put in an album for her to enjoy when childhood is gone. There might have been coins minted of a smiling Queen, but alas this did not happen. She did however enjoy reading Alice in Wonderland. And before anyone nags me about dates, may I suggest you drop down a groundhog burrow. Charles Marlin