This fictional autobiography of Alice Liddell, the original Alice in Wonderland, is disturbing in its portrayal of Alice as Lolita and Lewis Carroll as a sort of passive pedophile. The book doesn’t indicate that Carroll molested Alice and there’s nothing sexually explicit in the story, but it does imply that Carroll ruined her youth and reputation with his excessive interest in photographing her and that his interest in her was unnatural and detrimental to Alice’s growth into maturity.
I find such speculation excessive in itself, and although the novel was interesting, I found the parts about Alice’s relationships with men, not just Carroll but also Ruskin and one of Queen Victoria’s sons, to be difficult to believe. So Victorian—in the worst sense of that term. I don’t know. If you’re particularly interested in Carroll and Alice Liddell, you might either love or hate the book, depending on your image of Mr. Carroll.
Here are some other facts and snippets to take into consideration as you read, if you read:
Wikipedia article on Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov:
“Vladimir Nabokov was fond of Lewis Carroll and had translated Alice in Wonderland into Russian. He even called Carroll the ‘first Humbert Humbert’.”
From The Eighth Lamp Ruskin studies today:
“Alice’s father Henry Liddell was Ruskin’s tutor at one time in Christ Church, Oxford. He encouraged Ruskin’s talent and promoted his architectural drawings. It was this early connection that led to Ruskin giving drawing lessons to the Liddell children, at a time when he was becoming increasingly famous due to the success of his critical writings.”
Q: Was Carroll a pedophile?
A: No, probably not. He certainly liked little girls at a level that was more than normal. However, there is no evidence at all that he was sexually attracted to them. He did photograph them in the nude, but only with permission from their mothers, and only if the children were completely at ease with it. He made sure that after his death those pictures were destroyed or returned to the children to prevent them from getting embarrassed.
In his time making nude photographs of children wasn’t uncommon; all Victorian artists did studies of child-nudes, it was a trendy subject for the time. When his child-friends grew up, they told only positive stories about their warm friendship. It is suggested that Carroll loved little girls so much because he had many sisters which he loved to entertain when he was a young boy.
This article in Slate magazine about children’s author Margaret Wise Brown mentions Lewis Carroll as another example of a writer who perhaps never grew up, who retained his childhood in a way that most of us don’t. The movie Finding Neverland portrays Peter Pan author James Barrie as a perpetual child who enjoyed the company of children, not in a sexual way, but as playmates who appreciated his fantasy world. I think this understanding of both Barrie and Carroll is the closest to truth.