Mental Troubles

Perhaps I may venture for a moment to use a more serious tone, and to point out that there are mental troubles, much worse than mere worry, for which an absorbing object of thought may serve as a remedy.

  • There are sceptical thoughts, which seem for the moment to uproot the firmest faith;
  • there are blasphemous thoughts, which dart unbidden into the most reverent souls;
  • there are unholy thoughts, which torture with their hateful presence the fancy that would fain be pure.

Against all these some real mental work is a most helpful ally. That “unclean spirit” of the parable, who brought back with him seven others more wicked than himself, only did so because he found the chamber “swept and garnished,” and its owner sitting with folded hands. Had he found it all alive with the “busy hum” of active work, there would have been scant welcome for him and his seven!

(Charles Lutwidge Dodgson: Pillow Problems and A Tangled Tale, 1885, p. XV;
see also: Life & Letters. Bulletpoints not by Dodgson.)


As any human, Carroll/Dodgson was battling with all kind of temptations. As we know, speculations about possible temptations in his private life keep feeding the pop culture Carroll debate since the 1930s. The controversy is marginalizing the religious conflicts which Dodgson, the Deacon, was struggling with. I think that one of these serious conflicts was Charles Darwin’s challenge to fundamental religious beliefs. Darwin’s discoveries surely had (and still have) the potential to uproot the firmest faith in various religions.

In the title of the book [Pillow-Problems, 2nd edition], the words “sleepless nights” have been replaced by “wakefull hours”.
        This last change has been made in order to allay the anxiety of friends, who have written to me to express their sympathy in my broken-down state of health, believing that I am a sufferer of chronic “insomnia”, and that it is a remedy for that exhausting malady that I have recommended mathematical calculation.
        The title was not, I fear, wisely chosen; and it certainly was liable to suggest a meaning I did not intend to convey, viz. that my “nights” are often wholly “sleepless”. This is by no means the case: I have never suffered from “insomnia”: and the over-wakeful hours, that I have had to spend at night, have often been simply the result of the over-sleepy hours I have spent during the preceding evening! Nor is it as a remedy for wakefulness that I have suggested mathematical calculation: but as a remedy for the harassing thoughts that are apt to invade a wholly-unoccupied mind.

I believe that an hour of calculation is much better for me than half-an-hour of worry.

(Charles Lutwidge Dodgson: Pillow Problems, preface to the second edition, 1893)

Carroll openly described how he used mental mathematical work to find distraction from “harassing thoughts”.

I don’t know to which degree the illustrator Henry Holiday discussed and aligned with Carroll his choice of pictorial references in his illustrations to Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, but there is a pictorial reference to mental troubles: St. Anthony’s temptations (painting by Matthias Grünewald). In one of Holiday’s illustrations you see Colenso’s arithmetic textbook. Like Anthony, also Carroll needed lots of mental work as an distraction from sceptical, blasphemous and unholy thoughts. Anthony probably found help in the scriptures which were sacred to him. Interestingly, the Dodgson used mathematics to resist the temptations.

I saw this math textbook in Holiday’s illustration since many years. Only recently that led me to the assumption (which probably always will be just an assumption) that Holiday might have placed that book into his illustration as a hint to how Carroll used math to keep his brain busy with “some real mental work” as a “most helpful ally” in his battle against the temptations which haunted him.

By the way: Possible references in “The Hunting of the Snark” to St. Anthony and to Darwin had been addressed by Mahendra Singh before I thought about that. Mahendra (who alluded to Matthias Grünewald’s painting himself) and John Tufail were among my most helpful scouts during my own Snark hunt.

2020-06-11, update: 2023-01-12

Dernière sortie pour wonderland

À propos du Dernière sortie pour wonderland par Ghislain Gilberti :

Paroles d’un mégalomane: « C’est sans concession que Dernière Sortie pour Wonderland referme pour toujours la porte du Pays des Merveilles et met un point final à la pudibonderie hypocrite que même Tim Burton n’a pas pu briser avec ses dernières adaptations cinématographiques. » Hypocrite ?  Ne pourrait-il pas être simplement que Burton ne considère pas les preuves existantes suffisantes pour des jugements moraux ?

Le roman est présenté comme une analyse révélant le « vrai visage » de Carroll. Le sujet nécessite une recherche minutieuse, vérifiable et discutable (sur la base de preuves) et une présentation scientifiquement propre. Mais ce livre a reçu la forme du roman « ré-écrit ». Il s’agit d’une tentative d’échapper aux critiques.

Blog Tea Time in Bloomsbury (2017-10-20) :

[…] Bon, maintenant que vous et moi avons une vision plus honnête de ce pavé de 500 pages, est-ce que ça vaut le coup de le lire ?

Oui, parce que c’est une adaptation fascinante et bien écrite. Vous ne vous rendrez pas compte que vous lisez un pavé (sauf au poids). Vous rentrerez dans un monde plein de couleurs (même si parfois, il y a un peu trop d’hémoglobine, un peu comme dans une série B ou un Tarantino), un univers connu qui continue à alimenter votre curiosité. Néanmoins, plus vous avancerez dans le livre et moins vous aurez envie de lire les passages dits parasites. Ces passages sont des traversées dans le temps pour une Alice adulte du futur qui voit des scènes de vie glauques/puantes de Lewis Carroll imaginée par l’auteur. Plus vous avancerez et plus ces passages deviennent puants, borderline de la fiction érotique pour pédophile.


Non []

Dernière Sortie pour Wonderland fait croire aux lecteurs qui ne comprennent pas les exigences d’une analyse qu’ils comprennent Carroll après avoir lu le livre. Que Gilberti, de l’avis de ses admirateurs, est un excellent écrivain ne fait qu’empirer les choses. Cependant, ce que le roman réalise, c’est qu’il rend les fantasmes de l’auteur plus clairs que les fantasmes de Carroll. Gilberti est un maître de l’écriture de fiction : Il pourrait également réécrire les instructions d’utilisation d’une machine à laver comme un roman adapté fascinant sur les appareils électroménagers pervers.


(1) Pages 463~485 : Une sélection (par Séverine Clément, auteur de matériel) de plus de 80 photos en noir et blanc sans spécification suffisamment précise des sources. Au moins pour une photo (en haut à gauche à la page 485) ne fait pas partie de la collection de Carroll. Les commentaires de Clément en disent plus sur sa propre imagination que sur les intentions de Dodgson/Carroll.

(2) Qui est Norah Spencer (ou Nora Spencer, CBS) ?  J’ai posé cette question à Gilbert sur Facebook. Mais après cela, il a supprimé cet article Facebook.

(3) Facebook: [1] [2] [3] [4]

(4) Babelio


There seems to be more “imaginative” fiction: the “novel” O fotógrafo e a rapariga by Mario Cláudio, 2015

2019-12-09, update: 2019-12-29

Illustrated Poetry 
in the Victorian Period

Since edited by Alison Chapman will be shut down together with on 2018-07-31, I mirror their wiki page on the Lewis Carroll Picture Book in my blog and quote a paragraph on Illustrated Poetry in the Victorian Period:

Advances in technology made it possible for any given literary volume to be published en masse, thus expanding the book market extensibly. Previously, manuscript copies of a writer’s work were limited, due to the laborious effort it took to recreate these volumes; however, following the invention of the printing press, books became less of a luxury item, and, therefore, more accessible to less wealthy households.

This caused value to shift from the rarity of a book to its other additive qualities, spurring a tradition of adding corresponding illustrations to increase a books’ aesthetic appeal. Publishers encouraged 19th century writers to include pictures alongside their prose and poetry in order to draw in greater profit for themselves: these companies anticipated greater sales of an illustrated volume that of its unembellished counterpart, and were able to attach a higher price tag to each of these lavish copies.

Despite this pressure and undeniable popularity, poets were often still hesitant to publish their works accompanied by such adornments due to the notion that visual aids might skew the reader’s perception of the verse.

The choice of Stuart Dodgson Collingwood to include his uncle’s personal sketches [in the Lewis Carroll Picture Book (1899)] indicates an attempt to appeal to the gift book market, and, further, reveals the publisher’s own aspiration to profit monetarily from his personal relationship to Lewis Carroll– notorious author and poet, but lesser-known sketch artist. Through composing this augmented edition of Carroll’s most prominent titles, Collingwood undoubtedly capitalized on this pre-established celebrity while simultaneously preserving his uncle’s notoriety.

(Alison Chapman credits the wiki page on the Lewis Carroll Picture Book to an undergraduate student who prefers to be anonymous.)

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