Friday, March 20, 2015

Fine films my sagas would make

I spent some time a month or so ago assembling a detailed Dodgson timeline from the various bios - it all leads up to Saturday, June 27th 1863, which along with the next 2 days was ripped out of his diaries.

Having had lots of face time with Alice and her sisters since March 1863, CD had become more and more confident, and in the days preceding Sat Jun 27 he mentions that he'd asked Mrs Liddell (her mum natch) to 'send the children over as usual'.

None of the Liddells are mentioned again until Dec 2 1863! My reading has always been that he'd worked himself up to the point of considering proposing to Alice as soon as she was old enough - something that wasn't all that unusual in the Victorian era, creepy as it sounds now.

Dodgson was or wasn't a child molester in the same way that eggs are and aren't bad for you according to the most recent edition of the Daily Mail. If you try and approach him solely through that question you won't understand him at all.

I've always thought that Dodgson v Mrs Liddell would make a fantastic film. It'd have the Oxbridge tradition factor that made The Masters so popular, the draw of a man and woman facing off in a power struggle, and the added titillation factor of the 'Filthy Peedo Controversy.' And then you can fast forward to 10 years later in 1875, when the Liddells vainly hoped that Alice might marry Prince Leopold, then studying at Christ Church.

And throw in Cakeless, the satire of the whole thing written by the luckless student John Howe Jenkins, who paints a very telling picture indeed of 'Kraftsohn' objecting to the marriage of 'Ecilia' to 'a Prince, the youngest of his race.' - and was sent down for his pains.

In fact JHJ could probably be the narrator. This film writes itself!!

(Apologies for the roughness. I need to post this to a forum and I want it up on my own blog first in case of tiresome disputes)

(This interesting post may tell us what happened to JHJ after he got sent down. (I love the interlocutor's theory that Dodgson wrote Cakeless himself - but even if it was true, this story is complicated enough already.))

I should also add that Mrs Liddell - Lorina Liddell we should really call her - seems to have been aware of the draw her adorable children constituted. I happened to read a review of a new Dodgson bio in the FT last weekend that has her and the Dean going out to dinner leaving John Ruskin to play with them, and having unavoidably come back early, LL commenting 'How sorry you must be to see us, Mr Ruskin!'

I'm noticing a surprising number of readers for this post (in fact it's quite surprising when any of my posts get a hit) - so I'll take it upon myself to recommend further reading of the various Lewis Carroll biographies.

  • If you're only going to read one: pick one of these three quite factual treatments: Derek Hudson is a solid treatment and probably the most 'popular' of all the ones I'll mention here, but rather old now. Michael Bakewell has a more modern perspective. Ann Clarke is in the same territory as Derek Hudson, but pays more attention to how Alice and Mrs Liddell might have perceived events, and as such might well appeal more to readers of this post.
  • If you're ready to read widely: as well as the above bios, Donald Thomas and Morton N Cohen allow themselves to speculate more freely. If it came to a choice between those two I'd keep the MNC book, because it's more exhaustive, and also because MNC keeps Lewis Carroll centre stage when DT prefers to switch to covering late 20th century moral panics.