[(essay date spring 2001) In the following essay, Ashbourne examines the semiotic implications of the Cheshire Cat in the Alice stories.]
On January 14, 1898, Charles Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll, died at the age of 65 years, leaving the world to grieve the loss of one of its most gifted writers of books for children. Both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (hereinafter: Wonderland) and Alice Through the Looking Glass (hereinafter: Looking Glass) are considered to be childhood classics, although some believe that "the time is past when a child under fifteen, even in England, can read Alice with the same delight as gained from, say, The Wind in the Willows or The Wizard of Oz. It is only because adults--scientists and mathematicians in particular--continue to relish the Alice books that they are assured of immortality" (Gardner 1998:7, 8). Whether one agrees with this view or not, one might hasten to add that the Alice books also could be appreciated by other non-mathematical and non-scientific audiences consisting of semioticians of virtually every persuasion, for the Alice stories are about unique signs signifying, and for this reason, children--born semioticians--of all ages and stripes can continue to enjoy them.
Dodgson added The Cheshire-Cat and several other characters to his original Alice's Adventures Under Ground, and published the modified story as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Wonderland, along with its sequel Looking Glass, has enjoyed enduring success not only as a story for children, but as an object of delight and continuing study for many adults. This study examines the Carrollian Cheshire-Cat as a sign.
Charles Dodgson: Biographical notes
Several biographies of Charles Dodgson have been written during the past century, and although biographers necessarily must select and interpret their data and present their findings according to their own lights, this study will include only those elements which seem most salient for its own purposes. The excellent biography by Morton N. Cohen (1996) is the source and the touchstone for most of the biographical information contained herein.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born January 27, 1832 in the Anglican parsonage of Daresbury, Cheshire, the first son and third child of the Reverend (later, Archdeacon) Charles Dodgson and his wife Frances Lutwidge. Young Charles was afflicted with a stammer and chronically hearing-impaired by one ear from childhood, but it is unclear as to whether or not the jerky or unsteady gait he exhibited as an adult was present from his youth, or even whether it was symptomatic of a disturbance of balance or co-ordination precipitated by middle-ear anomalies that may have contributed to his partial deafness. In other respects, however, it seems that the young Dodgson enjoyed a healthy and happy childhood.
The Rev. Dodgson undertook responsibility for his son's early education, teaching him (in addition to matters pertaining to Christian doctrine) mathematics, classics, Latin and English literature. When the family moved to the village of Croft, the eleven year-old Charles began to attend the nearby Richmond School where the headmaster noted his extraordinary giftedness, writing that...