There are only a small handful of authors who were active prior to the 20th century for whom I not only have great respect but I wish to learn as much about them as possible. Lewis Carroll, aka Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, would be high on that list. When I saw this ‘new’ book by Edward Wakeling, I knew it was a must-read for me.
Edward Wakeling is, according to a quick Google search, considered to be one of the premiere Lewis Carroll scholars. One of the things that makes someone like Wakeling stand out is the effort to approach a subject in new ways. This book is definitely a new take on examining Dodgson’s life.
Many biographies that I’ve read in the past (and we’re talking 30, 40 years ago) asserted that Dodgson had an unhealthy fixation on children, based primarily on a few of his portrait photographs. I think there have been a few biographies since that have dispelled this notion and Wakeling dismisses this rather handily, noting that Dodgson, an amateur photographer, had taken scores of portraits with those of children being a minority of those pictures. He also notes that how such actions and photos were seen in Dodgson’s day is not with the same sensibilities we might have today.
I don’t men to make it sound as though this is a book dispelling other biographies of Dodgson. This was just a small portion of this work. Mostly what Wakeling does here is examine Dodgson based on the friends and acquaintances he kept.
From his letters and photographs, invitations to social affairs and autographed copies of his books, we get a glimpse of Dodgson – a middle-class math professor whose social circles were much larger than those enjoyed by others in similar circumstances. Dodgson used his published works, signing copies and sending them out, sometimes, it appears, to reach into upper circles.
What I found most interesting was reading of the relationships with artists John Tenniel, E. Gertrude Thomson, Edmund Evans, Henry Holiday, Arthur Burdett Frost, and Harry Furniss. Dodgson, who initially planned to have his own drawings appear in the first published Alice book, was not an easy man to work with. For most of us, the artwork of John Tenniel is nearly synonymous with with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and it’s hard to imagine that there was any difficulty or controversy in their collaboration. But as touch as their work together may have been, other artists, particularly that of Harry Furniss, was even more fiery. A lack of respect for the others’ art was clear.
This was well worth reading for me – a fan of the works of the Charles Dodgson.
Looking for a good book? Lewis Carroll: The Man and His Circle by Edward Wakeling isn’t a deeply informative biography of Lewis Carroll, but it is an insightful addition to the plethora of biographies already out there. Other inquisitive Dodgson fans will find it a worthy read.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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Lewis Carroll: The Man and His Circle
author: Edward Wakeling
publisher: I. B. Tauris