- Carrollian Carrousel
We simply cannot get away from him, can we? Or is it 'get away from them ,' the Lewis Carroll who was also the Rev. C. L. Dodgson, logician and lecturer in mathematics, of Christ Church, Oxford, plus the two Alices with their train of personages, the Snark and its pursuers, even the often embarrassing Sylvies and Brunos?
The name of the Editor of this new collection, Morton Cohen, will be very familiar to us Carrollians, along with other constantly recurring names, Roger Lancelyn Green, for instance, Martin Gardner, Donald Rackin, Jean Gattégno, and so on. I have an irresistible vision of all of us on a big carrousel, mounted each on the likeness of a Carrollian creature, a Lizard, a Dodo, a Gryphon, a Panther, a White Rabbit, a Dormouse, a Frog, and round and round we go. It may induce dizziness at times, but after all we are there of our own choice, along with anyone who cares to join us. So now, what have we here in this new contribution to the ceaseless circling?
The book consists of a quite extensive collection of short pieces about Carroll/Dodgson by different hands, or voices. "We have no actual interviews with either Charles Dodgson or Lewis Carroll," the Editor says in the Introduction. "A few interviews with members of his family and with close friends survive, however." These initiate the collection, "together with material gleaned from memoirs and reminiscences." Some of the sources are very familiar, the Life and Letters penned by Dodgson's nephew, Collingwood, the biographies by Langford Reed and Derek Hudson, the reminiscences of Isa Bowman. There is much else—additional recorded conversations, letters and articles rounded up from newspapers and periodicals, extracts from obscure memoirs and autobiographies, bespeaking clearly the care, industry, and enthusiasm of a super-Carrollian. These are arranged under four headings: Childhood and Family (15 entries); Oxford (29); Child Friends (75); Artists, Writers, Other [End Page 174] Observers (16). The large preponderance of testimony from the little girls who were so central a preoccupation of Dodgson's life is, of course, significant.
The book's format carries some difficulties with it. A long series of very short pieces makes it hard to keep a sense of unity or coherence. I think it is no accident that as I read I noted among the more valuable entries those of greater length, that of the adult Alice, Mrs. Hargreaves, for example, or the two entries by Frederick Powell, one of Dodgson's colleagues at Christ Church. Striving to coalesce for oneself the material so liberally presented in this work, one finds that the pieces tend to cluster around certain significant Carrollian dates: his death in 1898 (and no doubt there will be a further flurry of comment nine years from our present date); the centenary of his birth, 1932; the publication of his Diaries (edited by Roger Lancelyn Green) in 1953, and of his Letters (edited by Morton Cohen assisted by Green) in 1979. The main impression remains, however, of a conglomeration, and of a considerable size.
Having said that, however, one is forced to admit that such a design may very well fit, even resemble, the design of Carroll's own Nonsense master-works. He himself said "Alice and the Looking-Glass are made up almost wholly of bits and pieces, single ideas which came of themselves." Does it perhaps also fit his personality? The question constantly arises: Was he one man or two? Both viewpoints have their supporters among the voices gathered in this book. Was he, too, made up of multiple bits and pieces? I think it is the conviction that he was not, that there is a unifying principle behind it all, which keeps Carrollians circling round and round him.
Perhaps because of the wealth of detail presented here, this does not seem to be a book for beginners. The Editor himself says, "The only fit introduction to Charles Dodgson is through that inspired pair of children's stories he wrote" (xv). I found the actual Introduction here a little sunny—there...