BACK IN THE 1930s, Lewis Carroll's bibliographer, Falconer Madan, thought that no new life of Alice in Wonderland's creator was needed until Carroll's, or rather, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson's diaries were published. When they appeared in 1954, they turned out to be as unrevealing as might have been expected from so secret and double a man, the one possibly significant fact about them being that those for 1858-1862 have vanished. In 1954 also appeared Derek Hudson's biography of Carroll -- reissued, enlarged and illustrated in 1976 -- while numerous works on this now fashionable figure pervade the '60s and '70s. Now comes a biography described by the publishers as "major," containing "much previously unpublished material."
However, it would help if the book had an introduction outlining what this new material is. In point of fact it appears unlikely -- unless the missing diaries turn up, having been suppressed rather than lost -- that much significant new material on Carroll-Dodgson awaits discovery, even though the "Wasp in a Wig" chapter excised from Through the Looking-Glass surfaced suddenly in 1976 and received due mention in Clark's book. Short of a full-scale "compare-and-contrast" operation, I can only set down what seems to me fresh and interesting in this present work.
First, in regard to Dodgson's photography, I was interested in the expanded account given here of his connections with that other great Victorian photographer, Julia Cameron, of their personalities and work. (Predictably, neigher appreciated the other!) Clark does not refer to the monograph put out in 1978 by the Rosenbach Foundation, Lewis Carroll, Photographer of Children: Four Nude Studies (distributed by Clarkson N. Potter/Crown), with its four colored reproductions of what had been thought to be irretrievably lost plates, but book-production schedules may have ruled this out.
Second, the author gives considerable attention to Dodgson's religious views, for instance his unwillingness to proceed from the diaconate to the priesthood, backing this up with careful and detailed work on his clerical father and the relations between father and son; also Carroll's strict segregation of religion and laughter. Of this whole area she says, very truly, "His motives need deeper analysis."
Third is her interesting discovery in the manuscript diaries, to which she had access, of a page cut out. June 27, 1863, the exact moment at which an unexplained breach occurred between Dodgson and the family of Alice Liddell, model for the heroine named after her. Another hand completed Carroll's entry on the previous page to conceal the mutilation. (One remembers Coleridge and the snipping, inking-out fingers that went over his notebooks.) Later, another detail: Dodgson's younger brother, Wilfred, in 1865, fell in love with a 14-year-old girl. Dodgson sought advice from a favorite uncle, and recorded in his diary: "On each occasion we had a good deal of conversation about Wilfred, and about A. l. It is a very anxious subject." Alice Liddell was by then 13, and that pairing or analogy is telling.
Other lesser news in the book: Dodgson did apparently visit Llandudno as that city has always maintained; Prince Leopold fell in love with Alice Liddell; the diary reference to "Lord Newry's business" is settled. "Settled Hoti's business . . . /Properly based Oun ,/Gave us the doctrine of the enclitic De " -- that does seem the level we have arrived at. For when all is said and done, there is in this new biography a massive overlap with previous ones, in material, passages quoted, photographs reproduced -- which are of poor, blurred quality here compared with their counterparts elsewhere.
If the book needed an introduction, it needed even more a good editor. References are repeatedly inadequate or inaccurate. Masie Ward becomes Maisie Wood; page references are specified in Through the Looking-Glass but no edition is given; names change their spelling halfway through the book, or appear in three different forms in footnotes; a quotation by Edmund Miller is footnoted as, "Article," then title, then nothing -- article where? Florence Becker Lennon's pioneering work on Lewis Carroll, first published here in 1945 and in England in 1947 and later reissued, is here dated 1972, etc., etc. The text abounds in misprints. In fact the whole production is strangely amateurish.
I should not grumble about this if it were balanced by the mark of the true amateur, the loving, disinterested grasp of one's subject. Unhappily this study falls under the bane of most English-language works on this peculiar genius -- the sense that any real probing is sacrilege. One marks with relief Clark's occasional criticism of her subject -- "cruel and unnecessary" she says of his self-published squibs against Mrs. Liddell -- but she also quotes standard gush with apparent approval: "the sweetest soul/That everl looked with human eyes" or "I think we ought not to try to explain Alice; we should just be thankful that we have her" (Warren Weaver). Clark is capable, too, of producing some of her own: "seeds of Wonderland . . . lay dormant until they were watered by the tears and warmed by the smiles of a unique little girl: Alice." The very "Freudians," so much inveighed against by such writers, accord Carroll more respect than this.
Creator of a unique analytic child-universe into which so much human experience can be fitted, between laughter and horror, Carroll deserves a critical biography that will tackle him flaws and all (as one loves one's friends and, with luck, oneself.) This is not it.