My review of Lewis Carroll: The Man and his Circle by Edward Wakeling

This new biography of Carroll by leading international authority, Edward Wakeling, presents a fresh appraisal of the man based upon his social circle. Contrary to the claims of many previous authors, Carroll's circle was not child centered: his correspondence was enormous, numbering almost 100,000 items at the time of his death, and included royalty and many of the leading artists, illustrators, publishers, academics, musicians and composers of the Victorian era. Edward Wakeling draws upon his personal database of nearly 6,000 letters, mostly never before published, to fill the gaps left by earlier biographies and resolve some of the key myths that surround Lewis Carroll, such as his friendships with children and his drug-taking. Essential reading for scholars and admirers of one of the key authors of the Victorian age. 
  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: I. B. Tauris (January 28, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1780768206
  • ISBN-13: 978-1780768205
 

 "He was, however, a man who appreciated beauty in art, a regular visitor to art galleries and exhibitions, a friend of famous artists of his day. To some extent, he saw photography as an alternative to painting and sketching. He was never satisfied with his own attempts to draw and photography gave him an opportunity to use and develop his aesthetic and artistic abilities. Later, when he gave copies of his photographs to sitters and their families, he would inscribe the picture as 'from the Artist' rather than 'from the Photographer'. (pg. 157) 

Edward Wakeling, uses the first half of, 'Lewis Carroll: The Man and his Circle' to write the biography of the life through to the death of the man Charles Lutwidge Dodgson; including, the author of the pen name Lewis Carroll known for the children's books, Alice and Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Covering the years (27 January 1832 – 14 January 1898), you discover who influenced the characters in both children's books, you meet The Liddell Family, you discover who the boy Charles was into adulthood from a familial and religious ideological standpoint as to better ascertain the man behind the troubled and puzzling myth of how he became forever known as Lewis Carroll. Somewhere in between these chapter pages you will meet the mathematician who loved literature, poets, artists, and whose young passion was in photography.  He established himself at Christ Church, Oxford earning a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics residing there lecturing and teaching. He became a devout follower of the Church of England as was his father before him. 

Charles Dodgson lectures and begins studying photography through numerous mutual friends such as Reginald Southey, a mate from Oxford who introduces him to Julia Margaret Cameron on the Isle of Wight and painters such as Pre-Raphaelite member William Holman-Hunt. Some of my favorite chapters revolve around the late 1850s through to the late 1890s when a young Dodgson meets the men and women of The Freshwater Circle attempting to become friends beyond admiring their works. For instance, leading Poet Laureate of the day, Alfred Tennyson becomes what some would call an obsession for Dodgson.  He is determined to meet and photograph the poet which he does including his family. Unfortunately, told through excerpts of Carroll's diary, you discover the reasons behind the fallout between Tennyson and a young Dodgson. There is only one fleeting mention of mutual friend of Tennyson's, Julia Margaret Cameron. Instead, the emphasis is in photography and Dodgson focuses on his rooftop studio back at Oxford and his years living and teaching there.  

Once Dodgson becomes a published children's author, he maintains a lifelong friendship with Alice Liddell and her family.  Edward Wakeling spends a few chapters giving credence to Carroll's reputation as a photographer of 'nude girls' and how it ruined his reputation then and now. I will leave the outcome up to the reader. I will say the author covers this aspect of Dodgson's life with respect and aplomb.  He does not provide any new or earthshattering information but for readers who long to know about the human being, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, beyond the author of nonsense tales, Lewis Carroll, I hope you will take the time to buy and read it for yourself. I am very impressed by the author's passion for Dodgson's life.  One of the great aspects of this novel, is how the author focuses the last half of the novel writing about Dodgson's years after 1880 through to the year of his death in 1898.  He was financially secure from selling his books, he retired from Oxford and decides to give up photography in the same year that a grown woman Alice Liddell marries. Coincidence? I don't think so. I believe he took that as a sign to move beyond his past and into the rest of his years. He does this by focusing on the Victorian art world, writing and visiting such artists as:  Dante Gabriel Rossetti of which a mention of a photograph Dodgson takes of Rossetti painting in his studio which sadly has gone missing from any of his photography albums that are now archived at Princeton University and University of Texas' Harry Ransom Center. He visits  Mr. Millais, the genius painter and photographs his wife, Effie Gray and their children.  At the end of, 'Lewis Carroll: The Man and his Circle' is a much needed Bibliography, a notes and chapter overview section, that is very helpful to the reader. 

Thank you to NetGalley and publishing company I.B. Tauris for providing me with an online reading copy.  The U.S. publication date is, January 28, 2015.  

For more information, I.B. Tauris Publishers

Also, Lewis Carroll: The Man and his Circle by Edward Wakeling  is already published in the United Kingdom and available for purchase now.



 



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