After reading Martin Gardner’s introduction and then revised introduction to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland I was struck by how so many aspects of Carroll’s life and demeanor reminded me of someone I just couldn’t put a finger on. It hit me finally several pages in that Carroll did not in fact remind me of a real person, but rather a literary one, that of Humbert Humbert, the famed girl-child obsessed protagonist of Nabokov’s Lolita. As Gardner says, “…Carroll’s principle hobby–the hobby that aroused his greatest joys–was entertaining little girls.” And later, “He thought the naked bodies of little girls (unlike the bodies of boys) extremely beautiful.” These few lines in addition to several quotes and letters included in the text as made by Carroll himself reminded me so much of Humbert that I brought out my copy of Lolita and found their language to be strikingly similar. For example, this passage from Lolita seems to me representative of the relationship between Carroll and Alice Liddell:
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for fancy prose style. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.
The fanciful language concerning his obvious affection and passion for this young girl simulates what I also imagine to have been consuming Carroll. However, further on in the introduction, Gardner refutes this possibility saying that “their goals [Humbert Humbert and Lewis Carroll] were completely different.” Gardner goes on to suggest that while Humbert Humbert’s fascination and attraction to little girls was purely sexual, Carroll’s interest was “of complete sexual innocence with a passion that can only be described as thoroughly heterosexual.” In my opinion Gardner dismisses this comparison far too easily. The character of Humbert Humbert did not only have a sexual attraction to little girls, but he was selective in choosing which ones merited his attention. Carroll seems to have done something very similar with his pursuit of Alice Liddell or Irene Barnes. In addition, like the writer Humbert Humbert in Lolita,certain little girls became life-long muses, their girlhood forever captured between the pages of books, the greatest example in Carroll’s case being of course Alice in Wonderland. And, just as with Humbert Humbert, Carroll’s fascination with little girls was precisely that: once they became older, young women, the relationship faded, or served an entirely different purpose than before. Though there is speculation that Carroll had wanted to marry Alice Liddell, her mother was stern about this never coming to be. And just as with other little girls he had doted on or brought to the seaside, his relationship with her changed and soon disappeared after she encountered adulthood.
It is certainly more difficult to prove that Carroll desired and perhaps had sexual relationships with his, if I may, “nymphets”, but after all of the nude photographs, romantic letters and whimsical story telling and weekends at the beach, it is foolish to dismiss the possibility of the sexual undertones and perhaps frustration of Lewis Carroll, not unlike Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert.
I’ve included some photographs of Humbert Humbert and of Lewis Carroll below: