As I expected, Heretic TOC’s Lewis Carroll blog last time proved controversial. I have held back from responding in any detail to specific points of criticism in part because I felt I should avoid my own contribution becoming too much “the dominant discourse”, as it were. I am delighted to say this restraint has been richly rewarded with a number of interesting comments that have already appeared. There was also a blog-length one by “Sylvie” of such quality it cried out to be used as a guest blog, and it accordingly makes its debut below. This is Sylvie’s second guest piece, her first having been “We fight for more than Love or Pleasure”, last year.
This latest article is especially valuable as Sylvie is the author of two academic theses on Lewis Carroll and writes with obvious authority.
It seems that, as the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland continue, we are likely to find Lewis Carroll mentioned over and over again in newspapers, at literary events, and all over the Internet. I welcome this, as any discussion around this wonderfully complex personality never fails to thrill me. Unfortunately, it seems that we are not going to mark 2015 with white stones. Those who hope, as l very much do, to finally read an unbiased portrait of the author of the Alice books are doomed to be disappointed this year as well.
Were it not for the fact that I am well acquainted with the character of the man, I’d have good reasons to lose my sanity over the mostly absurd theories revolving around him. There are seemingly two opposite factions nowadays: the very indignant “Lewis Carroll-Absolutely-Not-A-Paedophile” one, and the apparently nonchalant “Dark-Side-Of-The-Repressed-Paedophile-Lewis Carroll”. Whereas these two battling factions claim to be distinct, truth is that they are very much alike in their lack of insight into the nature of paedophilia: they are Tweedledumbs and Tweedledumbers on the subject. Even more poignantly, they strive in controversy over a non-existing man: the real Lewis Carroll – whom they claim to appreciate but evidently fail to fully grasp – was neither dark nor sinister, nor was he repressed.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was not, in many respects, a repressed man. On the contrary, he had come to terms with himself, perhaps not without difficulty, as he had very likely been on his own on the challenging journey to self-discovery. He must have arrived at such realisation possibly after much soul-searching, as is usual when one has a rich and complex inner life. He was not “strange”. He had his quirks, true, but that’s because he was somehow naturally unconventional – in his mind first and foremost, and therefore in his outer demeanour, interests, and hobbies. I believe he was at peace with his conscience; that is why he would not welcome interference from people, whether parents (whenever he thought they were being unnecessarily cautious) or anyone who would raise an eyebrow.
When word of his “friendships” reached his sister Mary, she wrote a concerned letter to her brother. Charles’ reply (21 September, 1893), shuts the mouths, l believe, of those who accuse him of being “sinister”, and reveals instead the character of the man as well as his integrity:
“The only two tests l now apply to such a question as the having some particular girl-friend as a guest are, first, my own conscience, to settle whether I feel it to be entirely innocent and right, in the sight of God; secondly, the parents of my friend, to settle whether l have their full approval for what l do.”
He was so free from repression that he claimed the right to pursue whatever friendships he liked best: not only with children but, for instance, with adult unmarried women as well, which may not have appeared as terribly appropriate at the time. He would happily mingle with artists and actresses. He was always looking out for like-minded people.
He took decisions that were coherent with his lifestyle: he took up photography and experimented with it as long as it thrilled him. He gave it up, not because of wagging tongues but more likely because technological advancement had made photography a more complex and burdensome hobby, and he presumably no longer wished to commit that much, in his later years, to something he felt he had experimented enough with.
His decision not to proceed to the priesthood cannot be accounted for convincingly by his speech impediment, which he had managed to control to a certain extent through discipline and professional help; a better explanation is that his beliefs developed as his life progressed, taking him beyond his Anglican faith towards a more ecumenical attitude. You couldn’t hold him down; he refused to be restricted.
In a letter to his niece, Edith Dodgson (March 8, 1891), he wrote:
“A truth that is becoming more and more clear to me as life passes away –- that God’s purpose, in this wonderful complex life of ours, is mutual interaction, all round. Every life…bears upon, or ought to bear upon, the lives of others.”
He had had a religious, conservative upbringing, but despite being traditional in many respects, he was never narrow-minded, or regressive. Far from being repressed or frustrated, he had a disposition that we could positively define as all embracing. Whereas the dicta of the established Church would not easily condone such an intellectual stance, he positively included dissenters and sinners into the picture.
Likewise, as a result of the same independent spirit, he did not remain a bachelor because “it was part of his contract with Christ Church”, as it has been perhaps too naively stated. Had he considered marriage feasible for himself, it is safe to assume that, in the end, he would have married. It had been clear to him, from an early age that married life was simply not for him. Not because he was uncomfortable around adults, or he failed to be appreciative of the many benefits of marriage, but likely because he may have recognised married life as incompatible with his lifestyle, and perhaps, with himself as a man – what he was, what he could or could not give. He longed to maintain a life that was not strictly bound by domestic obligations; a life that enabled him to be free to pursue interests and hobbies, and take up things and dismiss them, and change opinion and route.
The very strong point in Tom’s blog is, in my opinion, the affirmation that Dodgson’s sophistication was not at all incompatible with paedophilia. That’s because it is rather convenient nowadays to convey the message that virtually anyone who has a paedophilic inclination, or has experienced paedophilic feelings towards a child, must necessarily be an emotionally retarded loner. To concede that paedophilia does not necessarily make one “retarded”, either emotionally or on any other level, would attribute a certain degree of “normality” to paedophilic inclinations. There is always a risk that the public may suspect that the game is not being fairly played, and that this suggested “degree of normality” clearly clashes against the modern crusade that sees all adult-child relationships as suspicious. The mere suggestion of normality would make the crusaders’ stances reek more and more of propaganda, and less of legitimacy. Far from being emotionally retarded, Lewis Carroll “had a passionate orchestra playing within his breast”, as Morton N. Cohen has perceptively remarked.
Lewis Carroll did what he enjoyed doing and he could see nothing wrong in anything he did, because there simply was nothing wrong or “strange” or “unhealthy” about him. It’s not a matter of “Victorian social sensitivities” as the apologists (scholars included) nowadays claim, rather it is a matter of what he was and what he was not: he was not dark, he was not sinister. He was not then, he is not now.
Is this what you call, living a repressed life?
Similarly deluded are those Carrollians engaged in a (puerile and rather boring, if you ask me) battle for the affirmation of an appreciation for the companionship of children, on the part of Lewis Carroll, that was absolutely free from any paedophilic implications. Whereas I could, on a good day, be willing to make an effort to try and understand the reasons of those “fans” who evidently sleep better at night if they know that their literary “hero” was as far from being a paedophile as anything could be, I most certainly am not as merciful with “experts”, who have spent decades researching the life of Lewis Carroll. If the former are naive, the latter are likely to be intellectually dishonest.
I am absolutely sure Tom was perfectly aware of the fact that Lewis Carroll was being humorous when, in an attempt to amuse a child, he reassured her that he indeed was “fond of children, except boys”. I bet any girl would rightly giggle at that!
But was it just humour?
To say that he would spend more time with girls because girls were what he would find at home while boys were in school, is deluded at best, outright dishonest at worst. Such an openly misleading remark would convince no one except perhaps a naive audience longing to be reassured that Lewis Carroll was not a “child molester”. Furthermore, by rejecting allegations of paedophilia, the speaker is implicitly conveying the message that all erotic fascination with children is unacceptable, and therefore resisting the idea that paedophilia could be a sexual orientation with a legitimate place in the complex universe of human sexuality.
For most of his life, Lewis Carroll was actively and relentlessly seeking the companionship of girls, writing letters to girls, pleading mothers to bring girls along, asking permission to take girls out, simply because that’s where he derived his emotional satisfaction. It’s not that he went to this or that home and had to be content with what he found there, namely girls. There was a component with girls – emotional, romantic, and possibly erotic, why not? – that was just not there with boys. The fact that Lewis Carroll was most certainly celibate is no evidence that he never experienced a paedophilic attraction. Rather it is evidence of his stern rules of behaviour, and what he believed to be moral rectitude.
To claim that Lewis Carroll’s pursuit of child friendships equalled that of your average Victorian gentleman is nonsense. While it is true that Victorian attitudes towards children in general, and child friendships in particular, were certainly very different from ours, it is also true that it would have been quite unusual, even in those times, for a Victorian gentleman to engage in a relentless, life-long pursuit of friendships with little girls.
To claim that Lewis Carroll could not have been a paedophile because he was able to appreciate the beauty of the adult female form, is sadly unconvincing. There is no indication that one who has paedophilic inclinations cannot, at the same time, be attracted to adults, let alone recognise and appreciate the beauty of the human form.
Finally, to claim that Lewis Carroll did not have an appreciation for the company of girls that largely surpassed that of any man or woman of his times because, in his later years, he seemed to enjoy the company of adults as well, or even more, is frankly risible. Far from persuading me that there was “absolutely nothing even remotely paedophilic” in the man’s proclivities, it is evidence of that “degree of normality” in paedophilia that has been suggested before. In other words, that there is nothing, in an individual who has paedophilic inclinations, that will prevent him or her from being intellectually sophisticated, emotionally stable, fully psychologically developed, and socially acceptable.
In conclusion, the real obstacle to an open and frank discussion about Lewis Carroll seems to me to depend upon a reluctance to admit that there might be nothing inherently harmful in paedophilia, and that there is nothing, in paedophilic inclinations, that may prevent an individual from positively contributing to the greater good. In other words, that paedophiles as well can be a force for good in society.
All his life, Charles L. Dodgson cared for and looked after people, including attending to those in need as well as relatives, and providing financial support well beyond his obligations. In his dealings with child-friends he would make sure that the child was more than happy with anything he proposed, otherwise he would step back. He was forward-thinking in many respects: he wrote numerous pamphlets, including one pleading for the construction of a Women’s University, as he believed women were equally entitled to a higher education.
Very likely he experienced obvious difficulties. Very likely he experienced frustration. Very likely he experienced disappointment. Very likely he experienced loneliness. Still he was a creative genius who would always make sure that all of his magical gifts were shared with others, friends and strangers alike. His whimsical, immortal genius has continued to amuse and inspire generation after generation of readers, up to this day. If that’s not a beneficial contribution to society, what is? If he is not an example to truly look up to, who is?
Author Will Self has recently expressed concern over the creator of Alice in Wonderland: “It’s a problem, isn’t it, when somebody writes a great book and they’re not a great person?”
According to the dominant cultural climate, anyone who experiences an attraction to children, must automatically be “not great people”. To even suggest otherwise invites reprimand and suspicion. To suggest that paedophilia may simply be a natural variant in the diversity of human sexuality, could rightly be described, theologically speaking, as a newfound “scandal of the Cross”: an idea that is so radical, that it can only be perceived as scandalous.
According to some, Lewis Carroll had such “dark side”. But let me challenge the status quo: why must this side be dark? Why can’t it be bright, instead? And why can’t you be just as great if you have it?
Lewis Carroll was anything but dark. He was not only a decent person – he was indeed what you would describe as “great”.
Then where do these allegations of a “dark side” originate from?
They very likely stem from the unwillingness to accept the idea that the same individual who experiences an attraction to children (whether this be romantic, emotional, psychological, erotic – or all of these combined) can, at the same time, be the one who will go to great lengths to ensure that a child’s wellbeing is a priority, and who naturally has a child’s best interest at heart.
Just as Lewis Carroll had.
SMEAR CAMPAIGN REACHES NEW LOW
In “An Idiot’s Guide to the Westminster Bubble” last month, Heretic TOC reported on a couple of events in parliament, one of which was a rally by Hacked Off, a group which aims to secure a more independent press complaints body than the toothless old Press Complaints Commission and the equally non-scary watchdog the press barons are presently trying to replace it with, an outfit laughably called the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).
In their efforts to smear Hacked Off, the Mail on Sunday, owned by one of the said barons, Lord Rothermere, has run a story highlighting the presence at the meeting of someone who would be, in their words, “an embarrassment” for the group. Who was that person? Well, it was someone who had been an activist in an organisation “formed in 1974 to campaign for sex with children to be legalised”. Yes, you’ve guessed it: they were talking about thoroughly embarrassing yours truly! See here for their mighty scoop, which mentions this blog albeit without doing the courtesy of giving the name or a link.