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Reviewed by:
  • The Rectory Magazine
  • Richard Kelly (bio)
The Rectory Magazine by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) Eds. Valerie Sanders and Elizabeth O'Reilly; pp. 136. Sydney, Australia: Juvenilia Press, 2008. $15.00.

The trouble with juvenilia is that they seldom make compelling reading in themselves, but since they often prefigure their author's mature works, they deepen our understanding of the creative process and the development of complex imaginations. Juvenilia Press, which has published editions of juvenilia by authors from Jane Austen to Harold Pinter, provides a welcome and important look at the origins of literary genius.

The Rectory Magazine is one of several family publications that Lewis Carroll edited, wrote for, and illustrated (with some contributions from his brothers and sisters) during his teens, while living at the Croft Rectory. An amalgam of prose, verse, satiric "Reviews," "Answers to Correspondents," and illustrations, The Rectory Magazine reveals an intelligence, wit, and careful eye for the absurd in contemporary literature and magazines. A facsimile edition, edited by Jerome Bump, based on the original manuscript in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin, was published in 1975. The scarcity of this decades-old edition makes the current one all the more agreeable.

In their introduction, Sanders and O'Reilly briefly discuss the text and its ambiguous date of composition (somewhere between 1845 and 1850) and go on to recount the tradition of family magazines in the nineteenth century. They assume that the Dodgson family members were familiar with such periodicals as the Edinburgh Review, Blackwood's, and Punch and conclude that these works served as models for Carroll's satiric incarnations of them. The editors then credit Jane Austen and Charles Dickens for helping to shape Carroll's irony in deflating the pompous and socially pretentious humbugs of the day. They also assume that Carroll's puns, made-up words, and (in his verse) rollicking rhythms reflect Lear's A Book of Nonsense, published in 1846. In the Carroll and Lear scholarship, however, there is (amazingly) no evidence that Carroll ever read Lear or even heard of him. Similarly, there are no indications that Lear was familiar with Carroll, despite his later fame for the Alice books. Lear, of course, was hardly a household name in 1846, whereas works by Dickens and Austen were much more likely to have been gathered into the Dodgson family library. Nevertheless, Sanders and O'Reilly make a reasonable case for Lear's early influence based upon several parallels in the styles of each author.

Carroll's eye for the absurd and his delight in the sheer sport of nonsense are apparent throughout this volume. In his essay "Ideas Upon Ink," he observes that in ancient times there was no ink, that people scratched on the leaves of the papyrus, and goes on to wonder what it would be like if people now had to read the Times on papyrus. Adjoining the essay is his cartoonish colour illustration of a family attempting to read the news on huge papyrus leaves. A [End Page 239] man asks, "Julia, can you understand that leader [British term for editorial]?" Sitting beneath one of the large leaves, Julia responds, "As I'm sure I can't, it's quite above me" (81).

Some of Carroll's verse reveals his sense of the comic grotesque, foreshadowing works like "Phantasmagoria" and "Jabberwocky." His fascination with railroads in "Terrors" combines images of mythic horror deflated by the mundane:

Is not that an angry snakeLo! he twists his writhing tail!Hear the hisses he doth make!See his yellow coat of mail.

Distant howls still louder groan,Angry mutterings sounding near,All proclaim with solemn tone,Something dreadful coming here!

Lo! it comes, a vision grim!Puffing forth black coils of smoke!While amid these terrors dimI listened, thus the monster spoke,

"Clear the line there! Clear the rails!"Stop the engine! hold there! steady!"Stoker! hand me up those pails!"Euston station! tickets ready!"


Although the helpful notes at the end of this edition comment on a few of the connections between The Rectory Magazine and the Alice books, one wishes that the editors had...


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