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The Straight Dope


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What's the Straight Dope on Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, known to millions as Lewis Carroll, and his unusual interest in prepubescent girls? Was he a ... well ... you know? What can you tell us about his relationship with Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Alice in Wonderland? And what was going on with those photographs he took, anyway? Does Newt Gingrich know about this? --Paul H. Henry, Lawrence, Kansas

If you're asking whether Lewis Carroll was a ... well ... Republican, I confess I do not know. He was shy, eccentric, and seemingly incapable of having a mature relationship with a woman, but this cannot be said of all members of the GOP. Gingrich sure isn't shy.

But perhaps what you're asking is whether Dodgson was a deve. His interest in little girls was such that he probably wouldn't be the first guy you'd think of to put in charge of your daughter's Brownie troop, but for the most part he seems to have been harmless. A lifelong bachelor with a stammer, he was uncomfortable among adults and could relax only with little girls, who were amused by his stories and games.

Dodgson's biggest crush was on Alice Liddell, daughter of a dean at Oxford, where the author of "Jabberwocky" taught mathematics. Dodgson saw her often over a ten-year period but drifted away after she reached puberty--a typical pattern for him. Some believe he asked her parents for permission to marry her and was rebuffed, but it seems out of character, like a proposal from Mister Rogers. Whatever his intentions, on the surface he was always the proper Victorian gent.

Then again, we do have those nude photographs. An enthusiastic amateur photographer, Dodgson took thousands of pictures, many of them portraits of his little friends. Everybody was clothed at first, but in the late 1870s, when Dodgson was in his mid 40s, he tried to shoot some of the girls in the buff--not an easy thing to arrange. He did a few nude studies of young female models and went prospecting among the families of his friends and acquaintances.

In 1879 Dodgson sent several curious letters, republished a while back in Harper's, to the family of Andrew Mayhew, an Oxford colleague. He asked permission to take nude photographs of the three Mayhew daughters, ages 6, 11, and 13, with no other adults present. When the parents nixed the idea of no chaperone, Dodgson lost interest. He did succeed in doing nudes of other girls, but usually by agreeing to let their moms hover nearby.

In 1880 Dodgson gave up photography forever. Too much heat? Nobody knows, although around the same time he got flak for kissing one of his girlfriends. At any rate the nude photos and plates were returned to the families of the subjects or destroyed upon his death, and none has ever come to light.

If at this point you're waiting for a segue into satanic rituals and doing it with cucumbers ... sorry, partner. So far as is known, Dodgson never had a sexual relationship with another human being, and his right hand ain't talking.


Concerning Mumia Abu-Jamal [July 21], please don't do us any favors with your well (?) intended infotainment. You got a lot of nerve....Inane way you presented his case....You just don't get it....You chose to spew a few facts, then regurgitated your slick hipness....Cecil doesn't even have the guts....Laughing stock....Nothing funny....Fuck you.

--Robin Rothman, Brooklyn, New York

Only if we can skip the rest of the foreplay.

I realize my question isn't your usual stock-in-trade, but who does deserve the fatal dose? --Alex Green, Kensington, California

Look, I'm Mr. Compassion, but a society in which you couldn't demand death for guys who cut you off in traffic is not one in which I'd care to live.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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