Lewis Carroll and the Education of Victorian Women

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Author: Morton N. Cohen
Editors: Marie C. Toft and Russel Whitaker
Date: 2004
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 4,317 words

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[(essay date 1984) In the following essay, originally published in 1984, Cohen discusses Dodgson's views on higher education for women and his personal contributions to the education of women and girls in mathematics and formal logic.]

We are all aware that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, nurtured all his mature life a special preference for the female of the species. The preference was special because it was a preference not for all females, but for young girls. Even in Victorian times--some would say particularly in Victorian times--the idea of an unmarried Oxford don, however respectable, pursuing friendships with pre-pubescent girls offended some sensibilities.

But now, more than three quarters of a century after Dodgson's death, when virtually all those young friends of his have also died, we should be able to look at the evidence coolly and clinically. The record of these friendships is formidable, not only because Dodgson himself kept diaries and wrote mountains of letters, but because those little girls collectively left behind yet another treasure trove of memorabilia--their own personal reminiscences. But nothing in these private documents reveals any greatly guarded secrets; there lurked behind the features of that benign Oxford cleric no sinister Mr. Hyde. The evidence makes us realize that, ho hum, nothing scandalous entered into those relationships. They were all open and free, something that both parties greatly enjoyed. No sordid details await us, nothing will titillate the prurient. Dodgson did not possess wandering hands, he made no attempt upon the chastity of those young female friends.

Psychoanalysts have a good deal to say, of course, about the Reverend Charles Dodgson's suppressed desires, and we may ourselves be certain that the man regarded any sexual promptings that he may have felt as inspired by the devil. So genuine and devout a Christian was he that he chained his natural instincts and allowed them, at least those that were sexual, no conscious expression. The result is that in his life we find idealized relationships, where purity and beauty are worshipped, where young girls become young angels and, when they mature, young goddesses. Sex does not enter at all. Dodgson wants to admire the girls aesthetically, he enjoys their companionship, he seeks to contribute to their intellectual and social development, and, perhaps most of all, he tries to amuse them.

For that is, after all, the aim to which he devoted much of his life, helping his young friends in every possible way. He wrote his two great children's classics to amuse the most famous of those young girls, and he wrote dozens of other works in order to entertain hundreds, thousands of other young friends, both seen and unseen, the world over. The young girls he actually knew and cared for he aided in a multitude of ways. He supervised their careers, he gave them spiritual guidance, he took them on outings to London, he received them as house guests at the seaside, he bought them railway tickets, he gave them...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420057682