Lewis Carroll/Child friends and adult friends

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Probably the greatest fallacy about Lewis Carroll is that he never had any affection for adult women. He was allegedly obsessed with little girls (never boys) to the point that he has been called a paedophile, and that he ceased to want to know his child friends as soon as they became adults. This is a total slur on his memory. In fact, he remained fond of, and close to, many women long after they had become adults. Further, there were several boys among his child friends, notably Greville MacDonald, Hallam Tennyson (son of the poet) and the actor Bert Coote.

It may be that he was too shy to make friends with many adult women, but that does not mean that he did not enjoy their company. Once he had established a friendship with a girl, he was happy enough to continue it into adulthood with any girl who did not drift away.

Mary Brown[edit]

Mary Brown (1861-?) was a long-standing friend. In a letter to her dated October 11, 1882, he says "It is very pleasant to think that your child-friendship for me has not quite evaporated (as so many have done) on your reaching womanhood." It seems that it was his young friends who left him, and he was quite happy to continue affectionately with grown-ups. Indeed, S. D. Collingwood refers in his Life and Letters (p. 413) to "friendships which endure: the sort of friendship that he always longed for, and so often failed to secure".

In a letter to her dated December 26, 1889 (when she was 28) he says "I find it one of the pleasures of old age (I think at 57 I may call myself an old man?) to be allowed to enter into the inner lives, and secret sorrows, of child-friends now grown to be women, and to give them such comfort and advice as I can."

Gertrude Chataway[edit]

Gertrude Chataway (1866-1951) was one of Lewis Carroll's closest friends. He dedicated The Hunting of the Snark to her. The first edition (1876) is prefaced "Inscribed to a dear Child: in memory of golden summer hours and whispers of a summer sea." There follows a poem in which her name is concealed in two different ways. When Carroll included The Hunting of the Snark in his collection Rhyme and Reason (1883), he copied the dedication into that book.

They remained friends until his death, with no sign of the alleged parting of the ways that his child friends were supposed to have when they became adults. She stayed with him at Eastbourne, 19-23 September 1893, when she was 27; she would have stayed longer, but her very recently widowed father was lonely. There is, of course, no suggestion that anything improper could have happened between them. In his last surviving letter to her, dated January 1, 1895 (when she was 28), he still began "My dear Gertrude" and signed it "Your loving old friend".

Edith Rix[edit]

Edith Rix (1866-1918) was another close friend. She came to Carroll's attention while he was publishing a ten-part serial called "A Tangled Tale" (1880-5). Each episode contained a story in which one or more mathematical puzzles were embedded. Correspondents sent in solutions, which he marked as grade I, II or III class solutions (or fails if they were wrong). Most correspondents used pseudonyms. One of the few who did not was E. M. Rix, who answered only the very last question posed in February 1885, but was awarded grade I for that.

They first met on 25 June 1885 (when she was 19); he says in his diary "Edith and I met as quite old friends". On 27 June he took her and her mother to the Royal Academy; Mrs Rix left at noon, leaving Edith with Carroll until 8pm. When Carroll published "A Tangled Tale" in one volume (1885), he dedicated it with a poem, starting "Beloved pupil", in which her name is concealed.

In his last surviving letter to her, dated December 31, 1889 (when she was 23), he still began "Dearest Edith". He continued to meet her regularly; he had tea with her on 21 August 1897, just months before his death.

Theodosia Heaphy[edit]

Theodosia Heaphy (1859-1920, later Mrs. Russell-Morris) was another person who stayed friends into adulthood. On 14 April 1884, he writes to a friend "Just now she - Mrs. G[rundy] - is no doubt busy talking about me and another young friend of mine - a mere child, only 4 or 5 and 20 - whom I have brought down from town."

They remained friends even after her marriage, and he visited her son Vivian in hospital. Carroll's sister gave Vivian a copy of the Nursery Alice inscribed "For Vivian. With L. Dodgson's love."

The Drury sisters[edit]

Lewis Carroll met the three Drury sisters during a train journey in 1869. They were Mary (1859-1935), Isabella (1862-84) and Emily (1864-1930). He remained friends with them even after their marriages, and had lunch with Mary on 30 October 1897, less than three months before his death.

Why has the myth arisen?[edit]

It seems that Lewis Carroll's sister Mary was concerned about his friendships with young ladies. During or just before Gertrude Chataway's stay with him in 1893, he evidently had a letter from her, because he replied on 21st September: "I do like getting such letters as yours. I think all you say about my girl-guests is most kind and sisterly ... But I don't think it at all advisable to any controversy about it." He goes on to say that he does not care for the opinion of others, and is only concerned with his own conscience.

Mary's son Stuart Collingwood wrote the first biography of Lewis Carroll. He was later to admit that his mother and her sisters were extremely fond of their brother, and would not allow the slightest suggestion that he had any human weaknesses. Even after all their deaths, when Roger Lancelyn Green published Lewis Carroll's diaries in 1953, Lewis Carroll's surviving nieces would not allow him to see the originals and he had to work from a censored transcript. When the originals were finally deposited in the British Library, some volumes had gone missing and others had had pages cut out.

Thus his family may have tried to conceal all evidence of his relationships with adult women, suggesting that he only had pure, innocent relationships with young girls. If so, it has backfired.


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