Birth of a nymphlet or the Subterranean Adventures of Alice (in Wonderland)
It was at Christchurch (Oxford) where the reader Charles Lutwidge Dodgson also practised. He taught mathematics there and appreciated the charm of little girls, Alice Liddell among them, his dean’s daugther (and the girl’s mother ?), who provided him with the subject for his book : Alice in Wonderland (1865), published under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll and which, after the Bible and Shakespeare, still commands a foremost place in the bookshop sales of the anglo-saxon world.
The author’s strange passion, kind gentleman that he became subsequently, - keen user of the railways and furnished with an abundant supply of safety pins, because little girls constantly need pins – this passion, was it really merely avuncular or is it the expression of irreparable deviation characteristic of the achievements of Nabokov’s Lolita rather than those of Queneau’s Zazie.
Lewis Carroll’s catalogue listed, so it seems, 2-300 names of little girls, whom at times he photographed naked, and outside their mothers’ presence, in the loft of the College, not before asking the generatresses beforehand whether their children "could be kissed" , which did not prevent Alice’s mother from forbidding all visits to her daughter, and the latter’s sisters, by this mathematician-photographer who, in his studio under the roofs, may have merely aspired to showing them the beauty of the euclidian axioms, pure flowers of a science by definition made asexual.
Let’s imagine, by way of example, the astonishment of Queen Victoria who, moved by the great deeds of the Red Queen, had asked Prof. Dodgson to send her his other works, on receiving, by way of his will, The Statics and Dynamics of Particles and other books about analytical geometry, symbolical logic or trigonometry, from a man who, like herself, frequented the Society of Psychic Research, where she went to evoke the dear phantom of her beloved Albert before abandoning herself to the gilly-gillies of her favourite gillie.
As for Carroll, he was firmly against all tips to the domestic servants of Chirstchurch, refusing them likewise all Christmas presents. He was the official wine taster or his college whose old menus he kept, while considering that Mssrs. Members of the High Table ate and drank too much, a view that he translates into Alice by telling the story of these little girls who feed on molasses only because the little Victorian girl is the most delicate of beings who will only nibble a tiny little bit of buttered toasts coated with a touch of marmalade ; and who doesn’t know – as confirmed by the well-known song – that sugar and spices advantageously replace the calcium or the more recently prescribed veal liver extract in the structure of her organism. Lutwidge Dodgson, by the way, practised what he was preaching : a glass of sherry and a few biscuits served him for dinner.
But there, too, one hesitates. Does Carroll envy the child because of her asexuality or else is it because the woman in the making constitutes in herself an astonishing microcosmos à la Gulliver, which would present the never-ending unity of a mirror.
Did he arrive at this self-portrait as the ultimate consequence of the sharp and bruising souvenir of his own misery at the public School of Rugby (and of these immense games with the oval ball, during which Alice flies about from hand to hand, at the risk of drowning in the amniotic fluid of a scrum that fails to give birth) or following the deeply buried call of Her, who, the first and probably the only one, taught treason ("I kissed her on the false false lips !") to this timid young man, tall, thin, hard of hearing on one ear and whose upper lip was trembling, and to make matters worse, afflicted with a high-pitched voice delivering clumsily because of a tenacious stutter.
In any case, the little girl was now to accompany Prof. Dodgson for the rest of his life, noiselessly, without fuss, as far as the walls of Lady Margaret Hall (Oxford) where in 1890 he was still teaching logic to young ladies 18 years of age.
In the anglograph press, the battle waged in reader’s letters goes on : was Lewis Carroll a mere sugar-daddy or a real lover of little girls. Let us say that the author of Alice in Wonderland adored the Henry VIII by Shakespeare an Co. , but did not go as far as to mention the Taming of the Shrew, Q.E.D. or is this a question too indiscreet to tackle, as he himself begged to be excused from answering ?
Original Drawings in "Three Sunsets and Other Poems" by E. Gertrude Thomson, 1898
Translation : Dagmar Coward Kuschke (Tübingen)