Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-98) was a mathematics don at Oxford Universtity who loved word play and puzzles as much as he did the study of Euclid. But then, Dodgson was a young man of many and diverse talents - and something of an enigma himself.
A skilful pioneer of photography, Dodgson was one of the first to create personal portraits - his work being much sought after by such fashionable luminaries as Alfred Lord Tennyson, Daniel Rossetti, John Millais, and Ellen Terry.
But, despite loving to visit art galleries and the theatre, the unmarried clergyman who is said by some to have had a stutter or hesitation in his speech, often seemed to prefer his less complicated friendships with children to those with other adults. Such sincere and intense 'relationships' have since led to much speculation regarding Dodgson's motives - though the VV is keen to stress that there is no actual evidence that Dodgson's intentions were influenced by anything more sinister than the fact that he was a sensitive man, perhaps overly fixated on his own innocent childhood years.
He did not enjoy the company of the boisterous male pupils, such as those found when once employed as a teacher in a school.
In 1856, Dodgson was to write in his diary: "School...again noisy and troublesome...I have not yet acquired the arts of keeping order."
One can imagine the nervous young man being mocked by the thoughtless boys, and perhaps this may also explain why he never went on to become a fully-ordained church minister, finding formal public speaking to be an embarrassing ordeal.
At Oxford he sought a quieter life, mingling with the families of fellow clerics and dons while applying himself to research and study. He published many mathematical textbooks. He wrote plays and political essays, discussing matters such as voting theories in The Principles of Parliamentary Representation.
But, despite such serious, prosaic matters Dodgson has always been best known as the author of 'nonsense' poems like Jabberwocky and The Hunting of the Snark and, in particular, for his fantasy tale: Alice in Wonderland.
By 1865, the original handwritten version of Alice's Adventures Underground had been reworked and expanded from 15,000 - 27,500 words. It was published by Macmillan and Co under the pen name of Lewis Carroll, though the author's own illustrations - which were not without some merit - were replaced by those of John Tenniel, a far more accomplished artist who was already famous for his work with Punch magazine.
Tenniel and Dodgson had a somewhat strained relationship, with the artist regularly complaining that the author was meddlesome and demanding regarding the precison of his work. But then, Tenniel was not averse to making complaints himself. The first 50 books to be printed were swiftly withdrawn from sale when he claimed to be dissatisfied with the quality of reproduction. Those rejected copies were distributed to children's hospitals and institutions, of which 23 copies still survive. They are known as the '1865 Alice'.
The phenomenal success of Alice in Wonderland was followed in 1871 by Alice through the Looking Glass. By then even Queen Victoria had written personally to the author to say how much she enjoyed his work. But then, she and Dodgson also shared a mutual interest in the spirit world. (The widowed Queen was fascinated by cult of spiritualism - even engaging mediums or seances in the royal homes, in the hope of making contact with her deceased husband, Prince Albert.)
Dodgson was a founder member of the Society for Psychical Research. He believed that the human mind was able to percieve other realms in which our spirits might live on, and he also had faith that science would one day enable men with the means to 'speak' with the dead.
Some wonder if this sympathy with events in the spirit world might have in some way been the muse for Dodson's imagination, though others have been more cynical, citing his use of hallucinogens.
In fact, much of his inspiration seems to have come from a far more down to earth source, with characters and themes in the Alice books reflecting people and places familiar to Dodgson's upbringing and subsequent academic life at Oxford University - all of which were skilfully woven into such a convincing, alternative 'whole'.
Tenniel's rendition of Alice
The character of Alice was based on Alice Liddell and has been discussed in detail in a previous post, THE REAL ALICE IN WONDERLAND.
It has been suggested that the Cheshire Cat was inspired by ecclesiastical stone carvings, such as those at St Wilfred's church near Warrington where Dodgson's father was a rector. At a nearby mediavel church - St Christopher's at Pott Shrigley - a grinning cat can be seen carved into an outside wall. There is also a gargoyle at St Nicholas, Cranleigh, where Dodgson was once known to worship.
But, Dodgson was not the first to use the description of a 'grinning cat'. One was mentioned in 1795, in Pindar's Lyric Epistles - 'Lo, like a Cheshire cat our court will grin.'