Weird and Brilliant

From a Twitter thread by Nicola Cameron (2020-03-07 02:04 UTC):

Carroll was labeled a potential pedophile because of a perfect storm of some really stupid actions by his family, a bunch of 1950’s psychologists jumping on a bandwagon, and a lack of understanding of period norms.

Let’s start with the photography — yes, he took pictures of naked little girls. As did a bunch of other reputable Victorian photographers. It was considered artistic and indicative of the childrens’ innocence. These pictures would be framed and displayed in family homes.

He always asked permission of the parents AND the child, and if the child didn’t want to do it he agreed immediately. He was very interested in pushing the boundaries of photography (at that point still a VERY difficult process) into the realm of art.

That being said, he never took a nude photograph of Alice Liddell. There’s one of her in a fairly short chemise, where she’s supposed to be a fairy, but that’s as far as it went.

Now, let’s go back to his family. Man’s real name was Charles Dodgson, and he was the oldest boy in a family of nine kids. His dad was a Anglican minister, and he was raised with the expectation that he would follow dear old dad into the ministry.

When he matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, he decided to stick with deacon’s orders because
1) he adored maths like you would not believe, and
2) his stutter made delivering sermons difficult,
and become a Student in Mathematics (basically he became a part-time professor).

During this time he became friends with Dean Henry Liddell and his family, which included Alice. She was the inspiration for Dodgson’s Alice stories. During that time, there were rumors that he spent so much time with Alice & her sisters because was romancing the family’s nanny.

This is highly unlikely due to class issues, but there have also been suggestions that Dodgson was having an affair with the Dean’s wife, and may even be the father of her daughter Rhoda. No one really knows what caused the sudden rupture in his friendship with the Liddells because after his death his family went through his extensive journals and cut out anything they felt damaged his reputation as a child-loving saint. He used to go on trips and vacations (Platonic, granted) with adult women regularly, and was friends with a number of them.

He was good with little girls because he had six younger sisters whom he was expected to entertain when he himself was a child, which he did handily. It’s not surprising, taking that into account, that he liked spending time with little girls. They reminded him of home.

Okay, fast forward to his death. The Dodgson family get ahold of his papers and promptly destroy anything that suggests he liked hanging out with adult women, and start the rumor that he was afraid of women and only liked to be around little girls (which is blatant balderdash).

His nephew writes a highly sanitized biography of him reiterating this belief. Onward to the development of psychology and psychiatry, when a couple of bright sparks get ahold of this information, match it with the fact that Dodgson photographed naked girls, and came up with “Pedophile!” And that view of the man takes off like a rocket. Nobody bothered to take into consideration all of the other Victorian photographers who were doing the same damn thing.

The idea that Carroll was a pedo enters the public consciousness and becomes firmly rooted there, to the point where even one of his most important modern biographers entertains the idea.

It hasn’t been until relatively recently that academics and other biographers have challenged this concept — in particular, Karoline Leach’s “In the Shadow of the Dreamchild” is a VERY interesting and illuminating take on how Dodgson became saddled with his creepy reputation.

One other very telling detail in defense of him — of all the little girls he befriended, photographed, took to plays or outings, etc., only one had ever suggested that he behaved improperly, and that was only after he refused to continue to buy her stuff, telling a friend that she was becoming greedy and he didn’t want to encourage such behavior so he was breaking off the friendship.

Was Lewis Carroll weird? Undoubtedly. Was he brilliant? Hell yes. Was he a pedophile? After years of research of my own, I strongly doubt it, and I would be more than happy to throw that type into the nearest crocodile pit.

back