Monday, February 6, 2012

Recent Read: The Mystery of Lewis Carroll

My alma mater, Meredith College, has many wonderful traditions, and one of my favorite of those that happens every four years was recently. Eighty-eight years ago the campus was quarantined and to keep the students entertained, the professors got together to put on the play, Alice in Wonderland. The idea since has been for the professors to perform the play again once in each college generation. I saw it my junior year, missed it in 2008 and was determined to make the 2012 performance. I was able to make it happen, sit with friends and former coworkers and bring my five year-old niece with me, who loved it.

I've always loved the Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, both by Lewis Carroll, and listened to them both on my iPod last year for the first time in a while. To celebrate I read a book I bought used from Better World Books several months ago: The Mystery of Lewis Carroll: Discovering the Whimsical, Thoughtful, and Sometimes Lonely Man Who Created Alice in Wonderland by Jenny Woolf. Reading it to coincide with seeing the play seemed ideal. The book came out last year.

On my trip to London in 2010 I saw Carroll's manuscript that later became Alice in Wonderland called Alice's Adventures Underground. It was illustrated and one of my favorite things I saw in that gallery filled with wonderful manuscripts. My friend from the trip and I commented then about Carroll's questionable reputation when it came to his relationship with young girls. This idea has been rumor for years, and according to Woolf's book, it's due to the fact that we no longer consider Victorian ideals to be part of our lives. Yes, things change. So, I'm glad to have read The Mystery of Lewis Carroll so I can get a clearer picture of this interesting author and find out more about what has been skewed over the years.

For starters, Woolf maintains that we can't, as citizens of the 21st century, judge Carroll according to the rules that govern our society; we must judge him according to the rules of the time in which he lived. I realized as I read the book that I don't think I've really done much reading before on Carroll's life, so I'm glad my first read about him appears to be balanced and well-researched. Woolf's book is different from other accounts of Carroll's life out there in that she was able to explore Carroll's financial records, something that's never been analyzed before. She also considered a letter that lives at the University of Colorado-Boulder that sheds light on one of his personal relationships.

I enjoyed this book, and for a fresh take on Carroll's life, I'd recommend the book to anyone who loves Alice in Wonderland too.

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