|Lewis Carroll (January 27, 1832-January 14, 1898), polishing his camera lens, taken March 28, 1863 by O. G. Rejlander|
Many are of the opinion that Lewis Carroll's attraction to young girls was sexual, while others argue that there's no proof to such allegations. What exactly would constitute "proof"? A confession in Carroll's own handwriting?
Accusations of pedophilia are part of what Karoline Leach calls the "Carroll Myth", and more recent biographers and scholars have built up a case to support the notion that Carroll had a normal, healthy preference for adult females. As far as popular perception goes, these revisionists are vastly outnumbered. The problem, these new scholars say, is that for more than a century biographers have perpetuated myths about Carroll, based on misinformation, lack of information, and shoddy research, as well as a gross misunderstanding of Victorian attitudes towards child nude photography.
Another reason cited for the "Carroll Myth" is that four of the thirteen volumes of his diaries are missing: Vol. 1 (1854); Vol. 3 (the last few months of 1855); Vols. 6 & 7 (April 1858 to May 1862). As well, some pages have been cut out from the existing nine volumes. Revisionists speculate that the missing diaries and pages were suppressed or destroyed by Carroll's relatives to conceal his friendships with grown women, some of whom were married, which they feared might be deemed scandalous. However, it's also possible that the family was trying to conceal something else.
|Mary Millais, daughter of painter John Everett Millais, one of the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; taken July 21, 1865 at 7 Cromwell Place, London|
|Carroll at his best: This unusual portrait, of Kathleen Tidy, was taken on her seventh birthday, April 1, 1858. She was born in Ireland, but was living with her grandmother in Littlethorp, Yorkshire, near Ripon, where this picture was taken.|
|"Polly and Flo"; Marion and Florence Terry, younger sisters of actress Ellen Terry, July 14, 1865, Caversham Road, Kentish Town.|
As Collingwood quoted from all of the diaries, it's clear that the four missing volumes disappeared sometime later. In a letter (February 3, 1932) to his cousin Menella, Collingwood wrote, "I don't think I ever had the complete diary, though possibly Uncle Wilfred had it." Leach has been utterly hostile towards Collingwood on this discrepancy: "In fact he had not simply 'had' the missing diaries," she says, "he was very likely one of the last people who had ever seen them. So, we are left wondering why he felt the need to lie about this to his cousin Menella." One wonders why Leach feels Collingwood's statement has to be a "lie". Derek Hudson, in his 1954 biography, LEWIS CARROLL, addressed the same statement with a more rational explanation in a footnote: "Here Collingwood was mistaken..."
The term "Victorian Child Cult", often used by Hughes Lebailly, has been bandied about so much on the internet, that the casual Carroll reader assumes it was some kind of movement, like Temperance or the Pre-Raphaelites. There was no "Victorian Child Cult". It's also an unfortunate choice of words, as it almost gives the impression of a secret society of pedophiles. One well-meaning person, responding to an open question online about Lewis Carroll, had this to say: "It is documented Carroll was a member of the Victorian Child Cult...Whom [sic] were an organization that took pictures of nude girls as it was not a taboo in their era of society . . ."
|Katie Brine, June 16, 1866, Badcock's Yard, Oxford. Her grandfather, Dr. E. B. Pusey, nominated Carroll for Studentship for Christ Church, Christmas Eve, 1852|
But the revisionists are perceiving a veneration of children that never existed. Any Victorian who had eyes to see or ears to hear was certainly aware of how very many orphaned children were roaming the streets, eking out a survival as beggars, thieves and prostitutes, and of the awful conditions in orphan asylums and work houses. Lord Ashley estimated that there were 30,000 "naked, filthy, roaming lawless and deserted children in London." Most brothels had little girls available for clients with certain tastes, or could at least procure one upon request. Many factories employed children as young as 3, working 12 to 16 hours a day, six days a week. They were beaten to keep awake, fed gruel or a potato for lunch, and many of those little sleepy heads were maimed or killed in the machinery. Children were cheap labour, paid a few pennies a day, some of which was subtracted for food and lodgings, though their lodgings may have been nothing more than a hayloft. Yet the cries of those helpless waifs were so often ignored by the very society that supposedly cherished them so much.
|Agnes Florence Price, Badcock's Yard, Oxford, March 24, 1864|
There was also a sensational article about child prostitution, particularly in London, titled "The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon", written by William T. Stead, who conducted a thorough investigation. It was published in four parts in the PALL MALL GAZETTE. After reading the first part, which appeared July 6, 1885, Carroll wrote a letter the next day to Lord Salisbury attempting to have the articles suppressed: "I would ask you to look at the Pall Mall of last night, and see if it seems to you that the publication...of the most loathsome details of prostitution, is or is not conducive to public morality. If not, the sooner legal steps are taken, the better."
|Beatrice Henley, Putney (where her father was Vicar), September, 1862|
One brothel keeper told Stead: "I sent my own daughter out on the streets from my own brothel. I know a couple of very fine little girls now who will be sold before very long. They are bred and trained for the life. They must take the first step some time, and it is bad business not to make as much out of that as possible. Drunken parents often sell their children to brothel keepers. In the East-end, you can always pick up as many fresh girls as you want. In one street in Dalston you might buy a dozen. Sometimes the supply is in excess of the demand..."
Stead, in his attempts to test how easy it was to procure a young girl, was told that "after champagne and liquors, my old friend G––, M––lane, Hackney, agreed to hand over her own child, a pretty girl of eleven, for £5, if she could get no more."
|"Coates"; Annie Coates was the daughter of an employee at Croft Rectory, c. 1857|
Stead goes into great detail about how girls are lured into prostitution. As lurid as his report seems on the surface, he deemed it necessary, so that other girls wouldn't fall into the same trap, to warn parents who think their child is being sent to a "situation", and to show how these young girls are unwilling and unwitting victims in these insidious schemes, and not in any way responsible for their own "ruin".
"As a rule," said Stead, "the children who are sent to homes as 'fallen' at the age of ten, eleven, and twelve, are children of prostitutes, bred to the business, and broken in prematurely to their dreadful calling...One child in St. Cyprian's was turned out on to the streets by her mother to earn a living when ten."
|Isabella "Ella" Drury, Chestnuts, Guildford, September 1869. Carroll had just met the Drury sisters, Ella, Emmie and Minnie, that year|
Was Carroll worried that Stead's article would cast suspicion on his friendship with young girls? His letter to Lord Salisbury is odd in that he shows a total disregard for the welfare of the young girls, possibly because they were of a lower class and were "ruined". His only concern was that the articles would somehow corrupt young men.
Carroll was certainly guilty of snobbery. In a letter to Beatrice Hatch, dated February 16, 1894, he wrote: "I should like to know, for curiosity, who that sweet-looking girl was, aged 12, with a red nightcap -- I think she had a younger sister, also with a red nightcap. She was speaking to you when I came up to wish you good-night. I fear I must be content with her name only: the social gulf between us is probably too wide for it to be wise to make friends. Some of my little actress-friends are of a rather lower status than myself. But, below a certain line, it is hardly wise to let a girl have a 'gentleman' friend..."
|Beatrice "Birdie" Hatch (1866-1947), one of Carroll's favourite models|
If the Victorians were as accepting of child nudes as we're led to believe, then Carroll should have had no problem obtaining parental consent to take nude photos of young daughters. The fact is, he often had a hard time convincing mothers that his intentions were wholesome and that the result would be an aesthetic portrait suitable for displaying in the home, or at least including in a family album. When broaching the subject he would tread very carefully, and often employed euphemisms for nudity, such as "Eve's original dress" and "absence of drapery". Even in his own diary he used the term "sans habilement". "Oh the trouble I have sometimes had with ladies," Carroll wrote in a letter, discussing rejections and mistrust, "who will give fictitious reasons for things, and, when those break down, invent others, till at last they are driven to speak the truth!" Julia Margaret Cameron, being a woman, likely had an easier time of securing permission to take nude photos of children.
"[O]ne hardly sees why the lovely forms of girls should ever be covered up!" wrote Carroll to E. Gertrude Thomson, who provided illustrations for THREE SUNSETS AND OTHER POEMS (1898), Carroll's last book, published posthumously. But he was well aware that not everyone shared his view about art. In a letter of November 26, 1876, he thanked Mrs. Chataway for sending her daughter Gertrude over to be photographed and "in making concessions (much against inclination, I fear) to my rather outre and unconventional notions of art..."
Carroll wrote to Mrs. E. Hatch on March 14, 1877, to discuss having a nude photo of her daughter Beatrice (Birdie) coloured by a lady named Miss Bond: "But I am shy of asking her the question, people have such different views, and it might be a shock to her feelings if I did so. Would you kindly do it for me?"
|Beatrice Hatch, March 24, 1874|
Carroll was offended enough to end the acquaintance. However, many years later he met Margaret Mayhew, who wasn't born until long after the episode mentioned above, and on February 19, 1896 he wrote Mrs. Mayhew asking if she would allow their friendship. Permission was granted. (In an interview, Margaret spoke about the incident that ruptured Carroll's relationship with the Mayhews, saying "...my mother's strict sense of Victorian propriety was shocked, and she refused the request.")
Carroll also made assurances to parents that the negatives were locked away in a safe, with instructions that they be destroyed upon his death. "I would not like (for the families' sakes) the possibility of their getting into other hands." What hands would those be? Surely not the people who viewed child nudes as an expression of innocence.
But the idea that Carroll's attraction to young girls wasn't just spiritual or avuncular isn't a recent one. Psychoanalytical studies about him have been written since at least the early 1930s, a major contribution to that field being Dr. Phyllis Greenacre in SWIFT AND CARROLL (1955). As well, Florence Becker Lennon didn't shy away from the topic when she wrote VICTORIA THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (1945; revised 1962 as THE LIFE OF LEWIS CARROLL).
Another argument made by Carroll revisionists is that his aversion to boys is also mythical, and makes his interest in girls seem more pronounced than it actually was. "I am fond of children (except boys)," he's often quoted from a letter to Kathleen Eschwege on October 24, 1879, "and have more child-friends than I could possibly count on my fingers, even if I were a centipede..." That adds up to a lot of girls, and he wasn't exaggerating: a diary entry for March 25, 1863 contains a list of the names of 107 girls "photographed or to be photographed".
To Edith Blakemore he said, "with little boys I'm out of my element altogether." He went on further with this anecdote: "I sent Sylvie and Bruno to an Oxford friend, and, in writing his thanks, he added, 'I think I must bring my little boy to see you.' So I wrote to say 'don't', or words to that effect: and he wrote again that he could hardly believe his eyes when he got my note. He thought I doted on all children. But I'm not omnivorous! -- like a pig. I pick and choose..."
In THE LEWIS CARROLL PICTURE BOOK, a former child friend, Ella Monier Williams, spoke of the last time she'd seen Carroll, two years earlier: "...he tried to prove to me -- the mother of six sons -- how infinitely superior he considered girls to boys."
Alice Liddell grew up to become Mrs. Hargreaves, and her youngest son Caryl told this story to the press: "Soon after the eldest Hargreaves child was born, Mr. Dodgson wrote to my mother, and asked if he might have a copy bound and sent to 'your little daughter, who no doubt is called Alice.' When she wrote and said that she had no daughter, and asked if he would be godfather to her eldest son, he never answered, and took no further notice. Whether, if my mother had had a daughter, he would have taken any interest, we shall never know, as she only had three sons."
Carroll added this post script to a letter to Margaret Cunnynghame (January 30, 1868): "My best love to yourself -- to your Mother my kindest regards -- to your small, fat, impertinent, ignorant brother my hatred. That is all."
While those words surely were written in jest, the sentiment was sincere enough. Less comical was a painful story Alice Collett told to Derek Hudson, which occurred when she was about five years old. While travelling with her family, her father bumped into Carroll, an old acquaintance: "There followed a journey I shall never forget and a time which might have been boring became entrancing. For kind 'Lewis Carroll' took me on his knee and told me stories and drew pictures for me. I had the luck to be called Alice and to have a quantity of fair hair, so he took a fancy to me, while my poor brother, who knew 'Alice' almost by heart, gazed at its author with adoring eyes but had no notice taken of him."
Edward Wakeling has come up with a list of some 90 boys Carroll has photographed, as proof that his interest in girls was a false assumption, but Helmut Gernsheim, in his book LEWIS CARROLL, PHOTOGRAPHER (1949), gave what seems a reasonable explanation for such a high figure: "[H]e photographed [boys] only when they were pretty in a girlish way, when they were brothers of his girl friends and could not very well be left out, or, occasionally, when they could be used as a bait to catch their famous parents." (Carroll was a notorious lioniser.) But Carroll never had any of these boys visiting his rooms, nor did he take them for long walks, or to the theatre, or sketch them, or invite them to stay with him at Sandown or Eastbourne, where he spent his vacations, and letters to them are rare.
|Dymphna Ellis, July 25, 1865; daughter of the Rector of Cranbourne|
A curious note discovered in the Dodgson family archive appears to be a summary of two missing pages from Vol. 8 (pgs. 72 and 91, though the latter is mistakenly identified as 92), and pg. 110 from Vol. 11. Concerning the page from Vol. 8, which covered part of June 27, 1863, as well as June 28 and 29, the note says "L. C. learns from Mrs. Liddell that he is supposed to be using the children as a means of paying court to the governess. He is also supposed by some to be courting Ina." Carroll was rumoured to be courting Miss Prickett, the governess, as early as 1857, and he addressed it in an entry dated May 17 of that year: "I find to my great surprise that my notice of them (the children) is construed by some men into attentions to the governess, Miss Prickett." He goes on to call the rumours "groundless". He also cross-referenced the entry with a note: "(See June 27, 1863)". The note has been offered up as evidence that Carroll never had any romantic interest in Alice Liddell, who was 11 years old, at all, but in the more grown up Lorina, her older sister, or Miss Prickett. Of course, it's understandable if someone assumed Carroll was interested in Lorina, who was pretty and of a marriageable age, or the governess. Who would have guessed at some romantic interest in Alice?
Alice Liddell wasn't his first child friend. Earlier he'd sketched a girl he met on the seashore, who, as it happens, was a cousin of Alice, "one of the nicest children I have ever seen," he wrote in his diary, September 21, 1855, "as well as the prettiest: dear, sweet, pretty little Frederika!" He then encountered her sister: "The youngest Liddell, Gertrude, is even prettier than my little favourite, Freddie: indeed she has quite the most lovely face I ever saw in a child." (In his diaries and letters, Carroll rarely describes a child's personality, but usually remarks on her physical beauty.)
Carroll's uncle, Skeffington Lutwidge, got him interested in photography in 1855, and, after learning some of the basics with his friend, Reginald Southey, his own camera was delivered to him on May 1, 1856. To test it out, Carroll photographed just about anything that could be photographed, including Harry Liddell, the young son of the new dean at Christ Church college (where Carroll, a former pupil, became mathematical lecturer the year before, and retained that position until 1881). Eventually he would meet the Liddell girls, Lorina, Alice and Edith. He wrote in his diary on June 3: "Spent the morning at the Deanery, photographing the children."
|Alice Liddell, June 1857|
Carroll first told the story of "Alice" July 4, 1862 while he, the three Liddell sisters (Lorina, 13; Alice, 10; Edith, 8), and Carroll's friend, Robinson Duckworth, rowed up the Isis river. Duckworth recalled that day in a letter to Collingwood:
"I rowed stroke and he rode bow in the famous Long Vacation voyage to Godstow when the three Miss Liddells were our passengers, and the story was actually composed and spoken over my shoulder for the benefit of Alice Liddell, who was acting as 'cox' of our gig. I remember turning round and saying, "Dodgson, is this an extempore romance of yours?" And he replied, "Yes, I'm inventing as we go along."
One wonders if Duckworth's question was meant to be ambiguous.
|Edith, Lorina and Alice Liddell, Summer 1858|
|Alice Liddell as Beggar-Maid, Summer 1858. Perhaps Carroll's most famous photo. The dreamy eyes are childish in contrast to the come-hither posture, with Alice's rags slipping off her shoulder, revealing the left nipple; inspired by a Tennyson poem|
But if he was actually in love with Alice Liddell, he was never faithful. He kept a great number of little girl friends, and constantly replenished his stock, knowing that they would eventually grow up. And if his post-Alice child friends were a "different thing", he nonetheless smothered them all with kisses, both in person and in writing.
Carroll was an insatiable letter writer, and on January 1, 1861 he started keeping a register of all the letters he sent. The last recorded number was 98,721. This number doesn't include the numerous business letters he sent off as Curator of Senior Common Room at Christ Church, and, of course, there's no telling how many letters he'd written prior to 1861, but the total number must be staggering.
The seemingly countless letters to his little girlfriends are delightful to read, full of humour, wit and playful teasing. Some are written backwards, some contain poems, puzzles, acrostics, hidden rhymes, drawings, and even come in the form of a rebus. One letter to Agnes Hughes circa 1871 displays some of the same cruel humour found in the "Alice" books:
My dear Agnes,
You lazy thing! What? I'm to divide the kisses myself, am I? Indeed, I won't take the trouble to do anything of the sort! But I'll tell you how to do it. First, you must take four of the kisses, and -- and that reminds me of a very curious thing that happened at half-past four yesterday. Three visitors came knocking at my door, begging me to let them in. And when I opened the door, who do you think they were? You'll never guess. Why, they were three cats! However, they all looked so cross and disagreeable that I took up the first thing I could lay my hand on (which happened to be the rolling-pin) and knocked them all down as flat as pan-cakes! "If you come knocking at my door," I said, "I shall come knocking at your heads." That was fair, wasn't it?
Another example of such a letter was written to Edith Blakemore on November 7, 1882:
My dear Edith,
How often you must find yourself in want of a pin! For instance, you go into a shop, and you say to the man, "I want the largest penny-bun you can give me for a half penny." And perhaps the man looks stupid and doesn't quite understand what you mean. Then how convenient it is to have a pin ready to stick into the back of his hand, while you say, "Now then! Look sharp, stupid!"
|Carroll's drawing of Edith Blakemore, at Eastbourne, September 14, 1880|
Of Carroll's kisses in letters to girls, Florence Becker Lennon aptly put it that "His ability to convert danger into play was unique." In a letter to Gertrude Chataway, dated July 21, 1876, he ended the letter with "I send you 7 kisses (to last a week)..." A few months later, he wrote Gertrude a humorous letter dated October 28, 1876, telling her how he had gone to see a doctor to complain that he was tired. After a series of questions, the doctor determined that the source of his fatigue was his lips:
"Of course!" I said, "that's exactly what it is!" Then he looked very grave indeed, and said "I think you must have been giving too many kisses." "Well," I said, "I did give one kiss to a baby-child, a little friend of mine." "Think again," he said, "are you sure it was only one?" I thought again, and said "Perhaps it was eleven times." Then the Doctor said "You must not give her any more until your lips are quite rested again." "But what am I to do?" I said, "because, you see, I owe her a hundred and eighty-two more." Then he looked so grave that the tears ran down his cheeks, and he said "You may send them to her in a box." Then I remembered a little box that I once bought at Dover and thought that I would give it to some little girl or other. So I have packed them all in it very carefully: tell me if they come safe, or if any are lost on the way."
He often had kisses to spare, as in this extract from a letter to Agnes Hull, dated November 26, 1879: "No end of love and kisses to Evie and Jessie. I suppose there's no use in saying "and the same to you," for, if I never leave off kissing them, how in the world can I begin on you?" He also offered kisses indiscriminately, as he did in a letter to Isa Bowman: "Love and kisses to any one you know who is lovely and kissable."
He wrote to Mary Mileham (September 6, 1885), "Thank you very much indeed for the peaches. They were delicious. Eating one was almost as nice as kissing you..."
His kisses, though, weren't just limited to greetings and farewells. According to Isa Bowman in her book, THE STORY OF LEWIS CARROLL (1899), she had drawn a caricature of Carroll, which he tore up and threw into the fire: "Afterwards he came suddenly to me, and saying nothing, caught me up in his arms and kissed me passionately. I was only some ten or eleven years of age at the time, but now the incident comes back to me very clearly, and I can see it as if it happened but yesterday -- the sudden snatching of my picture, the hurried striding across the room, and then the tender light in his face as he caught me up to him and kissed me."
Derek Hudson wrote in his biography: "...one lady, who was taken out by him as a child, has told the present writer that she was rather surprised to be kissed by him in the middle of a performance in the theatre."
He first proposed taking nude photographs of one of his favourite child friends, Gertrude Chataway, to her mother in the post script to a letter written June 28, 1876: "If you should decide on sending over Gertrude and not coming yourself, would you kindly let me know what is the minimum amount of dress in which you are willing to have her taken?" He assured her that he rarely had a chance to photograph "so well-formed a subject for art."
Rarely did Carroll address the father when seeking permission to photograph a child, but he did so June 18, 1877 when he wrote to Mr. P. A. W. Henderson, a complete stranger, asking leave to photograph his "2 little girls (whom i don't even know by sight yet)..." on the suggestion of a mutual acquaintance. He would take photos of the girls for the next three years, and, towards the end, nudes. In this instance, he hadn't the express permission of Mrs. Henderson -- in fact, she forbade it. Carroll wrote to her, "I felt so confident that, when you told Annie they must not be taken naked because it was too cold, it was your only reason..." Carroll explained that his studio was now heated and admitted that the girls ran around his studio in "their favourite costume" (i.e., naked) for three hours. He also hoped to photograph them in the nude for the next two or three years.
As persuasive as he could be in his carefully-worded letters, Carroll wasn't always successful in obtaining permission to photograph nudes, as mentioned above in the case of the Mayhew girls.
|Xie Kitchin, Carroll's most photographed subject|
Holiday, who illustrated Carroll's THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK (1876), also supplied Carroll with drawings to help him pose his subjects in photos. On January 15, 1874 Carroll wrote, "He showed me the drawings he is doing for me (suggestions for groups of two children -- nude studies -- for me to try to reproduce in photographs from life), which are quite exquisite."
This drastic decision is the subject of some speculation. Carroll himself was never consistent with his reasons for giving up photography. He complained that it was taking up too much of his time, and required too much labour, when a professional studio could be used to take portraits of his friends. "The last photograph I took was in August 1880!" he said in a letter to a Mrs. Hunt, dated December 8, 1880; "Not one have I done this year: as there was no subject tempting enough to make me face the labour of getting the studio into working order again...It is a very tiring amusement, and anything which can be equally well, or better, done in a professional studio for a few shillings I would always rather have so done than go through the labour myself." This explanation doesn't ring true, however, since it seems unlikely that Carroll saw his photography as nothing more than a mechanical process. As Edward Wakeling said, Carroll was "a man who appreciated beauty in art, a regular visitor to art galleries and exhibitions, a friend of famous artists of his day. To some extent, he saw photography as an alternative to painting and sketching. He was never satisfied with his own attempts to draw. Photography gave him an opportunity to use and develop his aesthetic and artistic abilities. Later, when he gave copies of his photographs to sitters and their families, he would inscribe the picture as 'from the Artist' rather than 'from the Photographer.'" He wrote to E. Gertrude Thomson July 16, 1885, "It is 3 or 4 years now since I have photographed -- I have been too busy..." But his decision wasn't written in stone, for, in a letter to Miss Thomson, dated July 9, 1893, he hinted at the possibility of returning to photography: "If I had a dry plate camera, and time to work it, and could secure a child of really good figure, either a professional model, or (much better) a child of the upper-classes, I would put her into every pretty attitude I could think of, and could get in a single morning 50 or 100 such memoranda."
|"St. George and the Dragon". Taken June 26, 1875 in Carroll's studio. Xie Kitchin and her brothers: Brook (on the rocking horse), Hugh (in leopard skin, as the dragon), and Herbert (a fallen would-be rescuer).|
On April 12, 1891, he wrote to Mrs. P. A. W. Henderson, whose daughters he had "so often photographed naked", saying "I've been drawing, in Mrs. Shute's studio in London, 2 beautiful models, aged 16 and 14: but I'd far rather draw a child of 11 than any number of girls in their teens: the child-form has a special loveliness of its own." His passion for drawing knew no bounds: "In the next life, I do hope we shall not only see lovely forms, such as this world does not contain, but also be able to draw them."
Carroll wrote to Gertrude Chataway's sister, Mrs. C. F. Moberly Bell, September 22, 1893, about the possibility of letting artist Gertrude Thomson use her 6-year-old daughter, Cynthia, "...in the very unusual character of a nude model", for THREE SUNSETS (which wouldn't be published until 1898).
|Eliza Hobson, Croft Rectory, August 1857|
"And there upon the gleaming sands,
Between the ripples and the rocks,
Stood, mother-naked in the sun,
A little maid with golden locks."
Carroll's obsession with young girls manifested itself in odd ways. In the introduction to one of his dozens of published pamphlets, THE DYNAMICS OF A PARTI-CLE (1865), he wrote: "It was a lovely Autumn evening, and the glorious effects of chromatic aberration were beginning to show themselves in the atmosphere as the earth evolved away from the great western luminary, when two lines might have been observed wending their weary way across a plain superficies. The elder of the two had by long practice acquired the art, so painful to young and impulsive loci, of lying evenly between her extreme points; but the younger, in her girlish impetuosity, was ever longing to diverge and become an hyperbola or some such romantic and boundless curve."
Carroll had some deep-seated need to tell everyone about his girlfriends, his outings with them, his photographing them. The girls knew that their friendship with Carroll wasn't unique, that there were hundreds of others, for he often mentioned them in letters. When he wrote to their mothers making a request for nude photos, or asking if they could accompany him for a day, or visit him at Eastbourne, he made it known how many other girls were allowed to do so. Even the public was made aware, as in a letter to the St. James's Gazette, published July 19, 1887 (though written on July 16) under his Carroll pseudonym: "I spent yesterday afternoon at Brighton, where for five hours I enjoyed the society of three exceedingly happy and healthy little girls, aged twelve, ten and seven."
|Kate Terry as Andromeda, Caversham Road, Kentish Town, July 15, 1865|
To Adelaide Payne, he wrote on January 9, 1884, that "the majority (say 60 p.c.) of my child-friends cease to be friends at all after they grow up: about 30 p.c. develop 'yours affectionately' into 'yours truly': only about 10 p.c. keep up the old relationship unchanged." Adelaide was one of the 10 percent.
To Isabel Standen he wrote (August 5, 1885): "I always feel especially grateful to friends who, like you, have given me a child-friendship and a woman-friendship too. About 9 out of 10, I think, of my child-friendships get shipwrecked at the critical point 'where the stream and river meet'...and the child-friends, once so affectionate, become uninteresting acquaintances, whom I have no wish to set eyes on again."
|Xie Kitchin, "tuning", taken in Carroll's studio, July 1, 1876. The violin wasn't just a prop, Xie really did play|
He wrote to Mrs. J. C. Egerton March 8, 1894, "Much of the brightness of my life, and it has been a wonderfully happy one, has come from the friendship of girl-friends. Twenty or thirty years ago, 'ten' was about my ideal age for such friends: now, 'twenty' or 'twenty-five' is nearer the mark." Still, his interest in little girls remained as intense as it ever was.
|Xie Kitchin, July 1, 1876; note the lines in Xie's stockings, the umbrella and the wicker chair|
He also made a habit of inviting girls to stay with him alone at his seaside resort. Most were allowed to, especially after assurances that they would have their own bedroom, a maid to look after them, and that both Carroll and his guest would be under the scrutiny of his landlady, Mrs. Dyer. He eventually took to inviting older girls. He invited 21-year-old Gertrude Chataway in a letter of September 7, 1890: "[I]f I live to next January, I shall be 59 years old. So it's not like a man of 30, or even a man of 40, proposing such a thing. I should hold it quite out of the question in either case. I never thought of such a thing, myself, until 5 years ago. Then, feeling I really had accumulated a good lot of years, I ventured to invite a little girl of 10, who was lent without the least demur. The next year I had one of 12 staying here for a week. The next year I invited one of 14, quite expecting a refusal, that time, on the ground of her being too old. To my surprise, and delight, her mother simply wrote, 'Irene may come to you for a week, or a fortnight. What day would you like to have her?' After taking her back, I boldly invited an elder sister of hers, aged 18. She came quite readily. I've had another 18-year-old since, and feel quite reckless now, as to ages: and, so far as I know, 'Mrs. Grundy' has made no remarks at all." At the end of the letter he added that "At present, there is, lying on the sofa by the open window of my tiny little sitting-room, a girl-friend from Oxford, aged 17. She came yesterday, and will stay perhaps a week."
|Evelyn Dubourg and Kathleen O'Reilly, Oak Tree House, Hampstead, July 10, 1875. Evelyn (1861-1917) was the daughter of Augustus William Dubourg, who tried -- unsuccessfully -- to bring Alice to the stage|
"I'm a very old fogey now, you know; so I defy 'Mrs. Grundy' fearlessly!" he wrote to Winifred in the same letter about his Eastbourne guests. In fact, later in life, he used his age, and the age gap between him and his "child-friends", as an assurance that his motives were entirely platonic. Permission wasn't always granted, though. Enid Stevens, one of Carroll's favourites, wasn't allowed to go to Eastbourne, a missed opportunity that she deeply regretted.
There were rumours at Eastbourne. Carroll wrote in his diary August 14, 1894, that May Miller, one of two sisters, was "engaged to dine with me; but Mrs. Miller wrote to say there was so much 'ill-natured gossip' afloat, she would rather I did not invite either girl without the other." Carroll often insisted that girls visit him alone. He wrote to Mrs. A. L. Moore July 24, 1896, "I don't think anyone knows what girl-nature is, who has only seen them in the presence of their mothers or sisters."
Mothers needn't have worried. Carroll had hundreds of little girlfriends over the years, and by all accounts he conducted himself with the utmost propriety. He took them out for a day and restored them to their homes safe and sound, and their cherished memories of Carroll were nothing short of pleasant
Enid Stevens offered this wonderful testament: "I know now that my friendship with him was probably the most valuable experience in a long life, and that it influenced my outlook more than anything that has happened since -- and wholly for good."