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The Bizarre Life of Lewis Carroll

Dec 16, 2022
Arts & Culture
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22
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He was the author of "Alice in Wonderland", and has gone down in history as one of the greatest children's writers of all time.

But he had some very unusual habits, preferred the company of children to adults, and took his secrets to the grave.

ln this episode, we explore the bizarre life of Lewis Caroll.

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[00:00:05] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today it is the start of another three-part mini-series, this time on three iconic British children’s authors.

[00:00:31] In part one, today’s episode, we’ll be exploring the curious and controversial life of Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland.

[00:00:41] Next up, in part two, we’ll look at the life of Enid Blyton, the hugely successful author behind the book series such as The Famous Five and Noddy.

[00:00:51] And in the final part of our series, part three, we’ll explore the life of Roald Dahl, a man you may know as the author of books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda.

[00:01:04] OK then, let’s get right into it and go back to Victorian England and kick this mini-series off with the story of Lewis Carroll.

[00:01:16] To be precise, we need to go back to the 4th of July of 1862.

[00:01:22] It was a hot summer afternoon in Oxford, a city nestled in the countryside along the river Thames.

[00:01:31] The sun was shining, and a rowing boat made its way down the river. 

[00:01:37] In it was 30-year-old Lewis Carroll, his friend Robinson Duckworth, and three young girls, Lorina, Edith and Alice.

[00:01:50] The group were going for one of their regular picnics on the riverbank.

[00:01:54] And to pass the time, Carroll was telling the sisters a story about a girl named Alice who had followed a white rabbit down a hole.

[00:02:06] This hole led to a magical land where Alice had many bizarre adventures and met many strange creatures like a smoking caterpillar and a marching hare.

[00:02:19] The girls loved the story, and Alice was thoroughly delighted to hear the tales about her namesake, the character named after her.

[00:02:30] And while it was not the first time Carroll had entertained the girls with stories, Alice’s adventures were clearly their new favourites.

[00:02:40] Alice begged him to write down the stories so they would not be forgotten.

[00:02:45] This, as you may have guessed, would become one of the most famous children’s stories in history, Alice in Wonderland.

[00:02:55] The book has now been translated into more than 170 different languages in over 300 editions.

[00:03:03] I’m sure many of you would have read the story yourselves, or you may have seen the film adaptation.

[00:03:10] And it can all be traced back to this one boat ride.

[00:03:15] However, the trip also captures why Carroll has become such a controversial figure, with many now questioning why he, a 30-year-old man, spent so much time with these young girls.

[00:03:30] He wasn’t their father, their uncle, or their cousin.

[00:03:34] In fact, they weren’t in any way related. 

[00:03:37] They weren’t his family and he wasn’t their guardian, in fact he described them as his friends.

[00:03:44] The youngest of these girls was a mere 8 years old.

[00:03:49] Naturally, this has led to some serious speculation over his motives, what he was actually doing.

[00:03:56] So what was he doing, and how did he meet the girl who became the subject of one of the most famous children’s books in history?

[00:04:06] For starters, his real name wasn’t even Lewis Carroll. 

[00:04:10] It was Charles Dodgson. He was born in 1832, into a wealthy family in Cheshire, in the north of England.

[00:04:20] Growing up he was one 10 children which, as I’m sure you can imagine, made for a very busy homelife.

[00:04:28] From a young age Carroll entertained his family, telling stories, drawing silly cartoons and making up games.

[00:04:37] As we will see, these were hobbies that would last his whole life.

[00:04:42] At home, Carroll was confident and happy but outside he became shy and introverted, struggling due to his stammer, or speech impediment.

[00:04:53] Some historians believe that this stammer, this speech impediment, could actually be traced back to the fact that he was left-handed.

[00:05:03] In the Victorian period, left-handedness was believed to be uncivilised or even the work of the devil, so children would often be beaten and forced to use their right hand instead.

[00:05:18] Most probably, Carroll would have suffered such punishments, leaving him with trauma that could have contributed to developing a stammer.

[00:05:27] This young boy who loved to tell stories found himself struggling to even speak.

[00:05:33] And sadly, Carroll’s social struggles got even worse when he fell ill and became deaf in one ear, he stopped being able to hear from one ear.

[00:05:44] And as you might expect, when he was shipped off to a boarding school in Warwickshire, life was not easy for this shy young boy with difficulty speaking and hearing. 

[00:05:57] He spent his school years trying to avoid school bullies, but it was at school that he would discover a new talent, one for mathematics.

[00:06:08] He excelled in his studies of algebra, geometry and logic, which led to him winning a place at Oxford University.

[00:06:16] He graduated from Oxford with a first class degree, top of his class, and he was offered a teaching position at the university, he was asked to stay on. 

[00:06:28] He did stay on at Oxford, continuing as a teacher. 

[00:06:32] His students, however, we're not particularly fond of their new, young teacher. 

[00:06:38] He had a reputation for being a boring, strict, no nonsense teacher, which is perhaps surprising given that his Alice stories are anything but boring. 

[00:06:50] His students might not have liked him very much, but he developed a reputation for himself as a well respected scholar and academic, publishing papers and books under his real name of Charles Dodgson.

[00:07:05] And mathematics was clearly a passion that pursued him at every hour of the day.

[00:07:11] At night, his mind would race with ideas about numbers and equations, sometimes to the point that he couldn’t get to sleep.

[00:07:20] But, Carroll would later explain, that it was during these sleepless nights that he came up with many of his ideas and concepts, which he would later publish in a book appropriately named Pillow Problems.

[00:07:34] And some of the conundrums he pondered over at night even led to him designing puzzle games, which he eventually collected into a puzzle book.

[00:07:44] But Carroll’s puzzles and mathematical problems weren’t his only creative output.

[00:07:51] For in 1856, aged just 24, a national magazine published his first literary work, a romantic poem entitled Solitude.

[00:08:02] And this was the first time he used his pen name, or fake name, his pseudonym of Lewis Carroll, which was chosen to keep his creative writing separate from his mathematical works. 

[00:08:16] But as if all of this was not already impressive enough, Carroll was a celebrated artist in another way.

[00:08:23] And no, I’m not talking about his career as a children’s author. We’ll get to that shortly.

[00:08:29] Carroll was also a well-known photographer.

[00:08:32] He had been fascinated by cameras for his entire life, utterly amazed by this new technology.

[00:08:39] After all, the first camera had only been invented in 1816, just 16 years before he was born.

[00:08:47] And, like most things that he tried, Carroll excelled at taking photographs.

[00:08:53] Over the course of his life, he took over 3000 photos, including pictures of celebrities like the poet Alfred Tennyson, or even the Crown Prince of Denmark.

[00:09:05] And it was his use of this new flashy technology that led him to the life changing friendship of Alice Liddel.

[00:09:13] One day in 1856, Carroll was taking pictures of the Christ Church Cathedral, the large church in the university college that he was attached to.

[00:09:24] He noticed a group of young girls playing nearby.

[00:09:28] It was Alice and her two sisters, and Carroll believed they would make the perfect photograph.

[00:09:35] The girls were daughters of the dean, or head, of Christ Church, the same college.

[00:09:41] Determined to get his shot, Carroll approached the family and offered to take the girls’ photograph, much to the children’s delight.

[00:09:50] And although she was just 4 years old at the time, Carroll found Alice to be a brilliant subject for his pictures.

[00:10:00] From that day on, he formed a close friendship with the family, especially the young girls, coming to see them frequently.

[00:10:09] It's even said that when he was in the company of the children his stammer would stop and he could speak freely at length.

[00:10:17] Instead of spending time with adults, people his own age, he would take the sisters for picnics, on boat trips, and have photography sessions with them in his studio.

[00:10:29] And no matter the occasion, Carroll would entertain them with magical stories for hours on end as they eagerly listened to every word.

[00:10:39] But it is the story of that sunny afternoon we mentioned in the beginning of this episode that was the most praised by the girls, it was the story of Alice that they liked the best.

[00:10:51] And following Alice’s request to write the story down so it wasn’t forgotten, Carroll decided to put pen to paper.

[00:10:59] However, shortly after he began to write in 1863, a sudden rift, or falling out, between Carroll and Alice’s family emerged.

[00:11:10] After many years of friendship with the girls, and seeing them frequently, Carroll suddenly stopped seeing them altogether.

[00:11:19] Nobody knows what happened or why, as many pages of Carroll’s diary from that time have been mysteriously ripped out.

[00:11:30] And of course, this has led to much speculation.

[00:11:34] The most common theory is that Alice’s family grew concerned over the close relationship between their 11-year-old daughter and the 31-year-old man.

[00:11:45] Some even theorise that Carrol had actually proposed to Alice, he had asked the young girl to marry him.

[00:11:53] Whatever the reason for this rupture, this break, it didn’t stop Carroll from carrying out Alice’s wish, and putting her story to paper.

[00:12:03] He continued to write out the stories and intended to give the completed book to her as a Christmas gift later that year.

[00:12:12] He carefully hand wrote 15,000 words and decorated many pages with illustrations, or drawings, of the characters in the story.

[00:12:22] The final product was a masterpiece and Alice was thrilled with the book, despite its rather mundane title of Alice’s Adventures Underground.

[00:12:34] In the story, Carroll transformed the people in the sisters’ lives into the creatures of his fantasy land.

[00:12:42] Alice was, of course, the main character, the hero of the book. 

[00:12:46] Her nanny, Mary Prickett, was imagined as The Red Queen, an authoritative and angry character.

[00:12:54] Robinson Duckworth, Caroll’s friend who had joined the group on the boat, was presented as a duck, due to his surname, “Duckworth”.

[00:13:04] And Carroll didn’t forget to include himself in the story. 

[00:13:08] He and the girls had often laughed about his stammer, and his inability to pronounce his surname, Dodgson, and how he called himself Do-do-dodgson.

[00:13:19] So, he became a dodo, the extinct bird.

[00:13:24] In the story, Carroll also included much inspiration from his academic career, and interest in maths. You may remember that the story is full of absurd logic and riddles, puzzles to solve.

[00:13:39] When Alice needs to eat the correct amount of a mushroom to grow her neck and shrink her torso to the perfect size, some believe Carroll is alluding to his textbooks on proportions and algebra.

[00:13:52] And there are also times in the story, when numbers don’t even function in normal ways.

[00:13:59] For example, multiplications stop making sense when Alice tries to remember them, and Alice is confused when measurements of things become varied and are no longer constant.

[00:14:12] Some have even theorised that this strangeness was Carroll mocking, making fun of new concepts in symbolic algebra that he opposed.

[00:14:22] Clearly, it was a wonderful story for Caroll and the girls, as they could recognise people from their own life in it.

[00:14:30] But this bizarre and nonsensical world would turn out to be one that was loved and enjoyed by children from all over the world, who had no idea about the original people the characters were based on.

[00:14:44] Caroll, of course, had no idea about how much of a resounding success it would be when he first started writing it.

[00:14:52] After writing the story, and unsure about what to do with it, Carroll spoke to his friend George Macdonald who was a successful author at the time.

[00:15:02] Macdonald took home the copy of Alice’s Adventures Underground to read it to his 6-year-old son. 

[00:15:10] Unsurprisingly, and this seems to be a theme with children’s books, the boy absolutely loved it.

[00:15:18] He said he ‘wished there were 60,000 volumes of it’, in other words, he wished it would never end.

[00:15:25] So, Carroll decided to prepare the work for publication.

[00:15:29] He added some new stories and characters such as the Mad Hatter’s tea party and Alice’s meeting with the Cheshire Cat.

[00:15:38] He also began to think of a new title, with possibilities being Alice Among the Fairies or Alice’s Golden Hour but he finally settled on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

[00:15:52] For the book, he also enlisted a man called John Tenniel, a cartoonist, or illustrator, from the comedy magazine Punch and one who was famous for his animal illustrations in the book Aesop’s Fables.

[00:16:07] By November 1865 the book was published and it did not take long for the initial print of 5000 copies to sell out.

[00:16:17] Among the earliest fans of the book were Oscar Wilde and even Queen Victoria.

[00:16:23] And the book’s popularity only grew after its sequel, Through the Looking Glass, was published In 1871 

[00:16:31] And although Carroll was hesitant about growing famous, and despite the fact that he used a pen name, a pseudonym, by the time of his sudden death in 1898 he had become something of a celebrity.

[00:16:46] So what made the books so popular?

[00:16:50] Well, this format of a magical children’s world might seem obvious to us now, but back in the late 19th century it was like nothing people had seen before.

[00:17:02] Firstly, Alice was the first children’s novel with a strong and confident female protagonist.

[00:17:10] Clearly, for girls who simply hadn’t ever read stories about strong and independent girls before, it must have been wonderful.

[00:17:19] Secondly, the book was hugely innovative through its nonsense, through the fact that it didn’t make a huge amount of sense, and that was the beauty of it.

[00:17:29] Traditionally, Victorian children’s books had always been dogged with some sort of moral lesson for children to learn. Books were viewed as a way for children to be taught how to behave.

[00:17:43] Carroll’s book, however, was written purely to entertain and delight his young audience.

[00:17:50] For the first time, children were being encouraged to simply let their imagination run wild.

[00:17:57] And this has been a recipe for success for centuries afterwards, with Alice in Wonderland remaining in print since 1865 and selling at least 100 million copies worldwide.

[00:18:10] If you read it as a child, or if you’ve seen the movie adaptation, you can probably understand why.

[00:18:18] But while the success of Alice has stood the test of time, Carroll’s own reputation has not, as debates around his relationship with children have cast a shadow over his career.

[00:18:31] Not only did he spend large amounts of time with young children, he took a lot of pictures of the young girls.

[00:18:39] And by modern standards at least, they are quite shocking.

[00:18:44] One shows a 6-year-old Alice posing like an adult with her dress positioned in a way which reveals her upper body.

[00:18:52] Another picture of a fully nude girl of around 12 years old has also been discovered and is believed to belong to Carroll.

[00:19:01] While images like these would certainly not be acceptable in this day and age, some historians have pointed out that in the Victorian period this was not as shocking as it might now seem.

[00:19:14] Many people believed children were symbols of innocence, and naked children could be found on birthday cards, Christmas cards, and in all manner of art.

[00:19:25] It wasn’t, so the argument goes, in any way sexual.

[00:19:30] Now, I should add that there’s no evidence that Carroll ever did anything other than spend time with and photograph any of these children, and Alice for instance, never had anything negative to say about him.

[00:19:44] But his behaviour still raises alarm bells to modern eyes, and the debate around Carroll’s relationship with Alice still rages on.

[00:19:53] Ultimately, the question of who Lewis Carroll actually was still remains unsolved.

[00:20:00] He was a gifted mathematician, a talented photographer, a half-decent poet, and a magical author.

[00:20:09] He was also an unmarried adult who was friends with children. 

[00:20:13] Was that all there was to it, or did he want something more? 

[00:20:18] In all probability, we will never know, and the riddle, the puzzle will endure for as long as his books.

[00:20:26] As his creation, Alice, would famously say “Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”

[00:20:38] Ok then, that is it for part one of this mini-series, on the bizarre life of Lewis Carroll. 

[00:20:44] Next up it’s going to be the two-faced life of the best selling children’s author of the 20th century, Enid Blyton, and after that it’ll be Roald Dahl.

[00:20:54] As always I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:20:57] Have you read Alice in Wonderland?

[00:21:00] Did you know Alice in Wonderland was based on a real Alice?

[00:21:03] Do you think the controversy surrounding Carroll’s reputation should impact the popularity of his books?

[00:21:09] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:21:13] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:21] You've Been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:26] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

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[00:00:05] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today it is the start of another three-part mini-series, this time on three iconic British children’s authors.

[00:00:31] In part one, today’s episode, we’ll be exploring the curious and controversial life of Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland.

[00:00:41] Next up, in part two, we’ll look at the life of Enid Blyton, the hugely successful author behind the book series such as The Famous Five and Noddy.

[00:00:51] And in the final part of our series, part three, we’ll explore the life of Roald Dahl, a man you may know as the author of books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda.

[00:01:04] OK then, let’s get right into it and go back to Victorian England and kick this mini-series off with the story of Lewis Carroll.

[00:01:16] To be precise, we need to go back to the 4th of July of 1862.

[00:01:22] It was a hot summer afternoon in Oxford, a city nestled in the countryside along the river Thames.

[00:01:31] The sun was shining, and a rowing boat made its way down the river. 

[00:01:37] In it was 30-year-old Lewis Carroll, his friend Robinson Duckworth, and three young girls, Lorina, Edith and Alice.

[00:01:50] The group were going for one of their regular picnics on the riverbank.

[00:01:54] And to pass the time, Carroll was telling the sisters a story about a girl named Alice who had followed a white rabbit down a hole.

[00:02:06] This hole led to a magical land where Alice had many bizarre adventures and met many strange creatures like a smoking caterpillar and a marching hare.

[00:02:19] The girls loved the story, and Alice was thoroughly delighted to hear the tales about her namesake, the character named after her.

[00:02:30] And while it was not the first time Carroll had entertained the girls with stories, Alice’s adventures were clearly their new favourites.

[00:02:40] Alice begged him to write down the stories so they would not be forgotten.

[00:02:45] This, as you may have guessed, would become one of the most famous children’s stories in history, Alice in Wonderland.

[00:02:55] The book has now been translated into more than 170 different languages in over 300 editions.

[00:03:03] I’m sure many of you would have read the story yourselves, or you may have seen the film adaptation.

[00:03:10] And it can all be traced back to this one boat ride.

[00:03:15] However, the trip also captures why Carroll has become such a controversial figure, with many now questioning why he, a 30-year-old man, spent so much time with these young girls.

[00:03:30] He wasn’t their father, their uncle, or their cousin.

[00:03:34] In fact, they weren’t in any way related. 

[00:03:37] They weren’t his family and he wasn’t their guardian, in fact he described them as his friends.

[00:03:44] The youngest of these girls was a mere 8 years old.

[00:03:49] Naturally, this has led to some serious speculation over his motives, what he was actually doing.

[00:03:56] So what was he doing, and how did he meet the girl who became the subject of one of the most famous children’s books in history?

[00:04:06] For starters, his real name wasn’t even Lewis Carroll. 

[00:04:10] It was Charles Dodgson. He was born in 1832, into a wealthy family in Cheshire, in the north of England.

[00:04:20] Growing up he was one 10 children which, as I’m sure you can imagine, made for a very busy homelife.

[00:04:28] From a young age Carroll entertained his family, telling stories, drawing silly cartoons and making up games.

[00:04:37] As we will see, these were hobbies that would last his whole life.

[00:04:42] At home, Carroll was confident and happy but outside he became shy and introverted, struggling due to his stammer, or speech impediment.

[00:04:53] Some historians believe that this stammer, this speech impediment, could actually be traced back to the fact that he was left-handed.

[00:05:03] In the Victorian period, left-handedness was believed to be uncivilised or even the work of the devil, so children would often be beaten and forced to use their right hand instead.

[00:05:18] Most probably, Carroll would have suffered such punishments, leaving him with trauma that could have contributed to developing a stammer.

[00:05:27] This young boy who loved to tell stories found himself struggling to even speak.

[00:05:33] And sadly, Carroll’s social struggles got even worse when he fell ill and became deaf in one ear, he stopped being able to hear from one ear.

[00:05:44] And as you might expect, when he was shipped off to a boarding school in Warwickshire, life was not easy for this shy young boy with difficulty speaking and hearing. 

[00:05:57] He spent his school years trying to avoid school bullies, but it was at school that he would discover a new talent, one for mathematics.

[00:06:08] He excelled in his studies of algebra, geometry and logic, which led to him winning a place at Oxford University.

[00:06:16] He graduated from Oxford with a first class degree, top of his class, and he was offered a teaching position at the university, he was asked to stay on. 

[00:06:28] He did stay on at Oxford, continuing as a teacher. 

[00:06:32] His students, however, we're not particularly fond of their new, young teacher. 

[00:06:38] He had a reputation for being a boring, strict, no nonsense teacher, which is perhaps surprising given that his Alice stories are anything but boring. 

[00:06:50] His students might not have liked him very much, but he developed a reputation for himself as a well respected scholar and academic, publishing papers and books under his real name of Charles Dodgson.

[00:07:05] And mathematics was clearly a passion that pursued him at every hour of the day.

[00:07:11] At night, his mind would race with ideas about numbers and equations, sometimes to the point that he couldn’t get to sleep.

[00:07:20] But, Carroll would later explain, that it was during these sleepless nights that he came up with many of his ideas and concepts, which he would later publish in a book appropriately named Pillow Problems.

[00:07:34] And some of the conundrums he pondered over at night even led to him designing puzzle games, which he eventually collected into a puzzle book.

[00:07:44] But Carroll’s puzzles and mathematical problems weren’t his only creative output.

[00:07:51] For in 1856, aged just 24, a national magazine published his first literary work, a romantic poem entitled Solitude.

[00:08:02] And this was the first time he used his pen name, or fake name, his pseudonym of Lewis Carroll, which was chosen to keep his creative writing separate from his mathematical works. 

[00:08:16] But as if all of this was not already impressive enough, Carroll was a celebrated artist in another way.

[00:08:23] And no, I’m not talking about his career as a children’s author. We’ll get to that shortly.

[00:08:29] Carroll was also a well-known photographer.

[00:08:32] He had been fascinated by cameras for his entire life, utterly amazed by this new technology.

[00:08:39] After all, the first camera had only been invented in 1816, just 16 years before he was born.

[00:08:47] And, like most things that he tried, Carroll excelled at taking photographs.

[00:08:53] Over the course of his life, he took over 3000 photos, including pictures of celebrities like the poet Alfred Tennyson, or even the Crown Prince of Denmark.

[00:09:05] And it was his use of this new flashy technology that led him to the life changing friendship of Alice Liddel.

[00:09:13] One day in 1856, Carroll was taking pictures of the Christ Church Cathedral, the large church in the university college that he was attached to.

[00:09:24] He noticed a group of young girls playing nearby.

[00:09:28] It was Alice and her two sisters, and Carroll believed they would make the perfect photograph.

[00:09:35] The girls were daughters of the dean, or head, of Christ Church, the same college.

[00:09:41] Determined to get his shot, Carroll approached the family and offered to take the girls’ photograph, much to the children’s delight.

[00:09:50] And although she was just 4 years old at the time, Carroll found Alice to be a brilliant subject for his pictures.

[00:10:00] From that day on, he formed a close friendship with the family, especially the young girls, coming to see them frequently.

[00:10:09] It's even said that when he was in the company of the children his stammer would stop and he could speak freely at length.

[00:10:17] Instead of spending time with adults, people his own age, he would take the sisters for picnics, on boat trips, and have photography sessions with them in his studio.

[00:10:29] And no matter the occasion, Carroll would entertain them with magical stories for hours on end as they eagerly listened to every word.

[00:10:39] But it is the story of that sunny afternoon we mentioned in the beginning of this episode that was the most praised by the girls, it was the story of Alice that they liked the best.

[00:10:51] And following Alice’s request to write the story down so it wasn’t forgotten, Carroll decided to put pen to paper.

[00:10:59] However, shortly after he began to write in 1863, a sudden rift, or falling out, between Carroll and Alice’s family emerged.

[00:11:10] After many years of friendship with the girls, and seeing them frequently, Carroll suddenly stopped seeing them altogether.

[00:11:19] Nobody knows what happened or why, as many pages of Carroll’s diary from that time have been mysteriously ripped out.

[00:11:30] And of course, this has led to much speculation.

[00:11:34] The most common theory is that Alice’s family grew concerned over the close relationship between their 11-year-old daughter and the 31-year-old man.

[00:11:45] Some even theorise that Carrol had actually proposed to Alice, he had asked the young girl to marry him.

[00:11:53] Whatever the reason for this rupture, this break, it didn’t stop Carroll from carrying out Alice’s wish, and putting her story to paper.

[00:12:03] He continued to write out the stories and intended to give the completed book to her as a Christmas gift later that year.

[00:12:12] He carefully hand wrote 15,000 words and decorated many pages with illustrations, or drawings, of the characters in the story.

[00:12:22] The final product was a masterpiece and Alice was thrilled with the book, despite its rather mundane title of Alice’s Adventures Underground.

[00:12:34] In the story, Carroll transformed the people in the sisters’ lives into the creatures of his fantasy land.

[00:12:42] Alice was, of course, the main character, the hero of the book. 

[00:12:46] Her nanny, Mary Prickett, was imagined as The Red Queen, an authoritative and angry character.

[00:12:54] Robinson Duckworth, Caroll’s friend who had joined the group on the boat, was presented as a duck, due to his surname, “Duckworth”.

[00:13:04] And Carroll didn’t forget to include himself in the story. 

[00:13:08] He and the girls had often laughed about his stammer, and his inability to pronounce his surname, Dodgson, and how he called himself Do-do-dodgson.

[00:13:19] So, he became a dodo, the extinct bird.

[00:13:24] In the story, Carroll also included much inspiration from his academic career, and interest in maths. You may remember that the story is full of absurd logic and riddles, puzzles to solve.

[00:13:39] When Alice needs to eat the correct amount of a mushroom to grow her neck and shrink her torso to the perfect size, some believe Carroll is alluding to his textbooks on proportions and algebra.

[00:13:52] And there are also times in the story, when numbers don’t even function in normal ways.

[00:13:59] For example, multiplications stop making sense when Alice tries to remember them, and Alice is confused when measurements of things become varied and are no longer constant.

[00:14:12] Some have even theorised that this strangeness was Carroll mocking, making fun of new concepts in symbolic algebra that he opposed.

[00:14:22] Clearly, it was a wonderful story for Caroll and the girls, as they could recognise people from their own life in it.

[00:14:30] But this bizarre and nonsensical world would turn out to be one that was loved and enjoyed by children from all over the world, who had no idea about the original people the characters were based on.

[00:14:44] Caroll, of course, had no idea about how much of a resounding success it would be when he first started writing it.

[00:14:52] After writing the story, and unsure about what to do with it, Carroll spoke to his friend George Macdonald who was a successful author at the time.

[00:15:02] Macdonald took home the copy of Alice’s Adventures Underground to read it to his 6-year-old son. 

[00:15:10] Unsurprisingly, and this seems to be a theme with children’s books, the boy absolutely loved it.

[00:15:18] He said he ‘wished there were 60,000 volumes of it’, in other words, he wished it would never end.

[00:15:25] So, Carroll decided to prepare the work for publication.

[00:15:29] He added some new stories and characters such as the Mad Hatter’s tea party and Alice’s meeting with the Cheshire Cat.

[00:15:38] He also began to think of a new title, with possibilities being Alice Among the Fairies or Alice’s Golden Hour but he finally settled on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

[00:15:52] For the book, he also enlisted a man called John Tenniel, a cartoonist, or illustrator, from the comedy magazine Punch and one who was famous for his animal illustrations in the book Aesop’s Fables.

[00:16:07] By November 1865 the book was published and it did not take long for the initial print of 5000 copies to sell out.

[00:16:17] Among the earliest fans of the book were Oscar Wilde and even Queen Victoria.

[00:16:23] And the book’s popularity only grew after its sequel, Through the Looking Glass, was published In 1871 

[00:16:31] And although Carroll was hesitant about growing famous, and despite the fact that he used a pen name, a pseudonym, by the time of his sudden death in 1898 he had become something of a celebrity.

[00:16:46] So what made the books so popular?

[00:16:50] Well, this format of a magical children’s world might seem obvious to us now, but back in the late 19th century it was like nothing people had seen before.

[00:17:02] Firstly, Alice was the first children’s novel with a strong and confident female protagonist.

[00:17:10] Clearly, for girls who simply hadn’t ever read stories about strong and independent girls before, it must have been wonderful.

[00:17:19] Secondly, the book was hugely innovative through its nonsense, through the fact that it didn’t make a huge amount of sense, and that was the beauty of it.

[00:17:29] Traditionally, Victorian children’s books had always been dogged with some sort of moral lesson for children to learn. Books were viewed as a way for children to be taught how to behave.

[00:17:43] Carroll’s book, however, was written purely to entertain and delight his young audience.

[00:17:50] For the first time, children were being encouraged to simply let their imagination run wild.

[00:17:57] And this has been a recipe for success for centuries afterwards, with Alice in Wonderland remaining in print since 1865 and selling at least 100 million copies worldwide.

[00:18:10] If you read it as a child, or if you’ve seen the movie adaptation, you can probably understand why.

[00:18:18] But while the success of Alice has stood the test of time, Carroll’s own reputation has not, as debates around his relationship with children have cast a shadow over his career.

[00:18:31] Not only did he spend large amounts of time with young children, he took a lot of pictures of the young girls.

[00:18:39] And by modern standards at least, they are quite shocking.

[00:18:44] One shows a 6-year-old Alice posing like an adult with her dress positioned in a way which reveals her upper body.

[00:18:52] Another picture of a fully nude girl of around 12 years old has also been discovered and is believed to belong to Carroll.

[00:19:01] While images like these would certainly not be acceptable in this day and age, some historians have pointed out that in the Victorian period this was not as shocking as it might now seem.

[00:19:14] Many people believed children were symbols of innocence, and naked children could be found on birthday cards, Christmas cards, and in all manner of art.

[00:19:25] It wasn’t, so the argument goes, in any way sexual.

[00:19:30] Now, I should add that there’s no evidence that Carroll ever did anything other than spend time with and photograph any of these children, and Alice for instance, never had anything negative to say about him.

[00:19:44] But his behaviour still raises alarm bells to modern eyes, and the debate around Carroll’s relationship with Alice still rages on.

[00:19:53] Ultimately, the question of who Lewis Carroll actually was still remains unsolved.

[00:20:00] He was a gifted mathematician, a talented photographer, a half-decent poet, and a magical author.

[00:20:09] He was also an unmarried adult who was friends with children. 

[00:20:13] Was that all there was to it, or did he want something more? 

[00:20:18] In all probability, we will never know, and the riddle, the puzzle will endure for as long as his books.

[00:20:26] As his creation, Alice, would famously say “Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”

[00:20:38] Ok then, that is it for part one of this mini-series, on the bizarre life of Lewis Carroll. 

[00:20:44] Next up it’s going to be the two-faced life of the best selling children’s author of the 20th century, Enid Blyton, and after that it’ll be Roald Dahl.

[00:20:54] As always I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:20:57] Have you read Alice in Wonderland?

[00:21:00] Did you know Alice in Wonderland was based on a real Alice?

[00:21:03] Do you think the controversy surrounding Carroll’s reputation should impact the popularity of his books?

[00:21:09] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:21:13] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:21] You've Been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:26] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:05] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today it is the start of another three-part mini-series, this time on three iconic British children’s authors.

[00:00:31] In part one, today’s episode, we’ll be exploring the curious and controversial life of Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland.

[00:00:41] Next up, in part two, we’ll look at the life of Enid Blyton, the hugely successful author behind the book series such as The Famous Five and Noddy.

[00:00:51] And in the final part of our series, part three, we’ll explore the life of Roald Dahl, a man you may know as the author of books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda.

[00:01:04] OK then, let’s get right into it and go back to Victorian England and kick this mini-series off with the story of Lewis Carroll.

[00:01:16] To be precise, we need to go back to the 4th of July of 1862.

[00:01:22] It was a hot summer afternoon in Oxford, a city nestled in the countryside along the river Thames.

[00:01:31] The sun was shining, and a rowing boat made its way down the river. 

[00:01:37] In it was 30-year-old Lewis Carroll, his friend Robinson Duckworth, and three young girls, Lorina, Edith and Alice.

[00:01:50] The group were going for one of their regular picnics on the riverbank.

[00:01:54] And to pass the time, Carroll was telling the sisters a story about a girl named Alice who had followed a white rabbit down a hole.

[00:02:06] This hole led to a magical land where Alice had many bizarre adventures and met many strange creatures like a smoking caterpillar and a marching hare.

[00:02:19] The girls loved the story, and Alice was thoroughly delighted to hear the tales about her namesake, the character named after her.

[00:02:30] And while it was not the first time Carroll had entertained the girls with stories, Alice’s adventures were clearly their new favourites.

[00:02:40] Alice begged him to write down the stories so they would not be forgotten.

[00:02:45] This, as you may have guessed, would become one of the most famous children’s stories in history, Alice in Wonderland.

[00:02:55] The book has now been translated into more than 170 different languages in over 300 editions.

[00:03:03] I’m sure many of you would have read the story yourselves, or you may have seen the film adaptation.

[00:03:10] And it can all be traced back to this one boat ride.

[00:03:15] However, the trip also captures why Carroll has become such a controversial figure, with many now questioning why he, a 30-year-old man, spent so much time with these young girls.

[00:03:30] He wasn’t their father, their uncle, or their cousin.

[00:03:34] In fact, they weren’t in any way related. 

[00:03:37] They weren’t his family and he wasn’t their guardian, in fact he described them as his friends.

[00:03:44] The youngest of these girls was a mere 8 years old.

[00:03:49] Naturally, this has led to some serious speculation over his motives, what he was actually doing.

[00:03:56] So what was he doing, and how did he meet the girl who became the subject of one of the most famous children’s books in history?

[00:04:06] For starters, his real name wasn’t even Lewis Carroll. 

[00:04:10] It was Charles Dodgson. He was born in 1832, into a wealthy family in Cheshire, in the north of England.

[00:04:20] Growing up he was one 10 children which, as I’m sure you can imagine, made for a very busy homelife.

[00:04:28] From a young age Carroll entertained his family, telling stories, drawing silly cartoons and making up games.

[00:04:37] As we will see, these were hobbies that would last his whole life.

[00:04:42] At home, Carroll was confident and happy but outside he became shy and introverted, struggling due to his stammer, or speech impediment.

[00:04:53] Some historians believe that this stammer, this speech impediment, could actually be traced back to the fact that he was left-handed.

[00:05:03] In the Victorian period, left-handedness was believed to be uncivilised or even the work of the devil, so children would often be beaten and forced to use their right hand instead.

[00:05:18] Most probably, Carroll would have suffered such punishments, leaving him with trauma that could have contributed to developing a stammer.

[00:05:27] This young boy who loved to tell stories found himself struggling to even speak.

[00:05:33] And sadly, Carroll’s social struggles got even worse when he fell ill and became deaf in one ear, he stopped being able to hear from one ear.

[00:05:44] And as you might expect, when he was shipped off to a boarding school in Warwickshire, life was not easy for this shy young boy with difficulty speaking and hearing. 

[00:05:57] He spent his school years trying to avoid school bullies, but it was at school that he would discover a new talent, one for mathematics.

[00:06:08] He excelled in his studies of algebra, geometry and logic, which led to him winning a place at Oxford University.

[00:06:16] He graduated from Oxford with a first class degree, top of his class, and he was offered a teaching position at the university, he was asked to stay on. 

[00:06:28] He did stay on at Oxford, continuing as a teacher. 

[00:06:32] His students, however, we're not particularly fond of their new, young teacher. 

[00:06:38] He had a reputation for being a boring, strict, no nonsense teacher, which is perhaps surprising given that his Alice stories are anything but boring. 

[00:06:50] His students might not have liked him very much, but he developed a reputation for himself as a well respected scholar and academic, publishing papers and books under his real name of Charles Dodgson.

[00:07:05] And mathematics was clearly a passion that pursued him at every hour of the day.

[00:07:11] At night, his mind would race with ideas about numbers and equations, sometimes to the point that he couldn’t get to sleep.

[00:07:20] But, Carroll would later explain, that it was during these sleepless nights that he came up with many of his ideas and concepts, which he would later publish in a book appropriately named Pillow Problems.

[00:07:34] And some of the conundrums he pondered over at night even led to him designing puzzle games, which he eventually collected into a puzzle book.

[00:07:44] But Carroll’s puzzles and mathematical problems weren’t his only creative output.

[00:07:51] For in 1856, aged just 24, a national magazine published his first literary work, a romantic poem entitled Solitude.

[00:08:02] And this was the first time he used his pen name, or fake name, his pseudonym of Lewis Carroll, which was chosen to keep his creative writing separate from his mathematical works. 

[00:08:16] But as if all of this was not already impressive enough, Carroll was a celebrated artist in another way.

[00:08:23] And no, I’m not talking about his career as a children’s author. We’ll get to that shortly.

[00:08:29] Carroll was also a well-known photographer.

[00:08:32] He had been fascinated by cameras for his entire life, utterly amazed by this new technology.

[00:08:39] After all, the first camera had only been invented in 1816, just 16 years before he was born.

[00:08:47] And, like most things that he tried, Carroll excelled at taking photographs.

[00:08:53] Over the course of his life, he took over 3000 photos, including pictures of celebrities like the poet Alfred Tennyson, or even the Crown Prince of Denmark.

[00:09:05] And it was his use of this new flashy technology that led him to the life changing friendship of Alice Liddel.

[00:09:13] One day in 1856, Carroll was taking pictures of the Christ Church Cathedral, the large church in the university college that he was attached to.

[00:09:24] He noticed a group of young girls playing nearby.

[00:09:28] It was Alice and her two sisters, and Carroll believed they would make the perfect photograph.

[00:09:35] The girls were daughters of the dean, or head, of Christ Church, the same college.

[00:09:41] Determined to get his shot, Carroll approached the family and offered to take the girls’ photograph, much to the children’s delight.

[00:09:50] And although she was just 4 years old at the time, Carroll found Alice to be a brilliant subject for his pictures.

[00:10:00] From that day on, he formed a close friendship with the family, especially the young girls, coming to see them frequently.

[00:10:09] It's even said that when he was in the company of the children his stammer would stop and he could speak freely at length.

[00:10:17] Instead of spending time with adults, people his own age, he would take the sisters for picnics, on boat trips, and have photography sessions with them in his studio.

[00:10:29] And no matter the occasion, Carroll would entertain them with magical stories for hours on end as they eagerly listened to every word.

[00:10:39] But it is the story of that sunny afternoon we mentioned in the beginning of this episode that was the most praised by the girls, it was the story of Alice that they liked the best.

[00:10:51] And following Alice’s request to write the story down so it wasn’t forgotten, Carroll decided to put pen to paper.

[00:10:59] However, shortly after he began to write in 1863, a sudden rift, or falling out, between Carroll and Alice’s family emerged.

[00:11:10] After many years of friendship with the girls, and seeing them frequently, Carroll suddenly stopped seeing them altogether.

[00:11:19] Nobody knows what happened or why, as many pages of Carroll’s diary from that time have been mysteriously ripped out.

[00:11:30] And of course, this has led to much speculation.

[00:11:34] The most common theory is that Alice’s family grew concerned over the close relationship between their 11-year-old daughter and the 31-year-old man.

[00:11:45] Some even theorise that Carrol had actually proposed to Alice, he had asked the young girl to marry him.

[00:11:53] Whatever the reason for this rupture, this break, it didn’t stop Carroll from carrying out Alice’s wish, and putting her story to paper.

[00:12:03] He continued to write out the stories and intended to give the completed book to her as a Christmas gift later that year.

[00:12:12] He carefully hand wrote 15,000 words and decorated many pages with illustrations, or drawings, of the characters in the story.

[00:12:22] The final product was a masterpiece and Alice was thrilled with the book, despite its rather mundane title of Alice’s Adventures Underground.

[00:12:34] In the story, Carroll transformed the people in the sisters’ lives into the creatures of his fantasy land.

[00:12:42] Alice was, of course, the main character, the hero of the book. 

[00:12:46] Her nanny, Mary Prickett, was imagined as The Red Queen, an authoritative and angry character.

[00:12:54] Robinson Duckworth, Caroll’s friend who had joined the group on the boat, was presented as a duck, due to his surname, “Duckworth”.

[00:13:04] And Carroll didn’t forget to include himself in the story. 

[00:13:08] He and the girls had often laughed about his stammer, and his inability to pronounce his surname, Dodgson, and how he called himself Do-do-dodgson.

[00:13:19] So, he became a dodo, the extinct bird.

[00:13:24] In the story, Carroll also included much inspiration from his academic career, and interest in maths. You may remember that the story is full of absurd logic and riddles, puzzles to solve.

[00:13:39] When Alice needs to eat the correct amount of a mushroom to grow her neck and shrink her torso to the perfect size, some believe Carroll is alluding to his textbooks on proportions and algebra.

[00:13:52] And there are also times in the story, when numbers don’t even function in normal ways.

[00:13:59] For example, multiplications stop making sense when Alice tries to remember them, and Alice is confused when measurements of things become varied and are no longer constant.

[00:14:12] Some have even theorised that this strangeness was Carroll mocking, making fun of new concepts in symbolic algebra that he opposed.

[00:14:22] Clearly, it was a wonderful story for Caroll and the girls, as they could recognise people from their own life in it.

[00:14:30] But this bizarre and nonsensical world would turn out to be one that was loved and enjoyed by children from all over the world, who had no idea about the original people the characters were based on.

[00:14:44] Caroll, of course, had no idea about how much of a resounding success it would be when he first started writing it.

[00:14:52] After writing the story, and unsure about what to do with it, Carroll spoke to his friend George Macdonald who was a successful author at the time.

[00:15:02] Macdonald took home the copy of Alice’s Adventures Underground to read it to his 6-year-old son. 

[00:15:10] Unsurprisingly, and this seems to be a theme with children’s books, the boy absolutely loved it.

[00:15:18] He said he ‘wished there were 60,000 volumes of it’, in other words, he wished it would never end.

[00:15:25] So, Carroll decided to prepare the work for publication.

[00:15:29] He added some new stories and characters such as the Mad Hatter’s tea party and Alice’s meeting with the Cheshire Cat.

[00:15:38] He also began to think of a new title, with possibilities being Alice Among the Fairies or Alice’s Golden Hour but he finally settled on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

[00:15:52] For the book, he also enlisted a man called John Tenniel, a cartoonist, or illustrator, from the comedy magazine Punch and one who was famous for his animal illustrations in the book Aesop’s Fables.

[00:16:07] By November 1865 the book was published and it did not take long for the initial print of 5000 copies to sell out.

[00:16:17] Among the earliest fans of the book were Oscar Wilde and even Queen Victoria.

[00:16:23] And the book’s popularity only grew after its sequel, Through the Looking Glass, was published In 1871 

[00:16:31] And although Carroll was hesitant about growing famous, and despite the fact that he used a pen name, a pseudonym, by the time of his sudden death in 1898 he had become something of a celebrity.

[00:16:46] So what made the books so popular?

[00:16:50] Well, this format of a magical children’s world might seem obvious to us now, but back in the late 19th century it was like nothing people had seen before.

[00:17:02] Firstly, Alice was the first children’s novel with a strong and confident female protagonist.

[00:17:10] Clearly, for girls who simply hadn’t ever read stories about strong and independent girls before, it must have been wonderful.

[00:17:19] Secondly, the book was hugely innovative through its nonsense, through the fact that it didn’t make a huge amount of sense, and that was the beauty of it.

[00:17:29] Traditionally, Victorian children’s books had always been dogged with some sort of moral lesson for children to learn. Books were viewed as a way for children to be taught how to behave.

[00:17:43] Carroll’s book, however, was written purely to entertain and delight his young audience.

[00:17:50] For the first time, children were being encouraged to simply let their imagination run wild.

[00:17:57] And this has been a recipe for success for centuries afterwards, with Alice in Wonderland remaining in print since 1865 and selling at least 100 million copies worldwide.

[00:18:10] If you read it as a child, or if you’ve seen the movie adaptation, you can probably understand why.

[00:18:18] But while the success of Alice has stood the test of time, Carroll’s own reputation has not, as debates around his relationship with children have cast a shadow over his career.

[00:18:31] Not only did he spend large amounts of time with young children, he took a lot of pictures of the young girls.

[00:18:39] And by modern standards at least, they are quite shocking.

[00:18:44] One shows a 6-year-old Alice posing like an adult with her dress positioned in a way which reveals her upper body.

[00:18:52] Another picture of a fully nude girl of around 12 years old has also been discovered and is believed to belong to Carroll.

[00:19:01] While images like these would certainly not be acceptable in this day and age, some historians have pointed out that in the Victorian period this was not as shocking as it might now seem.

[00:19:14] Many people believed children were symbols of innocence, and naked children could be found on birthday cards, Christmas cards, and in all manner of art.

[00:19:25] It wasn’t, so the argument goes, in any way sexual.

[00:19:30] Now, I should add that there’s no evidence that Carroll ever did anything other than spend time with and photograph any of these children, and Alice for instance, never had anything negative to say about him.

[00:19:44] But his behaviour still raises alarm bells to modern eyes, and the debate around Carroll’s relationship with Alice still rages on.

[00:19:53] Ultimately, the question of who Lewis Carroll actually was still remains unsolved.

[00:20:00] He was a gifted mathematician, a talented photographer, a half-decent poet, and a magical author.

[00:20:09] He was also an unmarried adult who was friends with children. 

[00:20:13] Was that all there was to it, or did he want something more? 

[00:20:18] In all probability, we will never know, and the riddle, the puzzle will endure for as long as his books.

[00:20:26] As his creation, Alice, would famously say “Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”

[00:20:38] Ok then, that is it for part one of this mini-series, on the bizarre life of Lewis Carroll. 

[00:20:44] Next up it’s going to be the two-faced life of the best selling children’s author of the 20th century, Enid Blyton, and after that it’ll be Roald Dahl.

[00:20:54] As always I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:20:57] Have you read Alice in Wonderland?

[00:21:00] Did you know Alice in Wonderland was based on a real Alice?

[00:21:03] Do you think the controversy surrounding Carroll’s reputation should impact the popularity of his books?

[00:21:09] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:21:13] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:21] You've Been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:26] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]