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The Mystery of Lewis Carroll: Understanding the Author of Alice in Wonderland Hardcover – 1 Feb 2010
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From USA Today, 12 January 2010 'Woolf sheds more light on the mysterious Dodgson in this new biography, examining everything from his relationship with Alice and her older sister to his controversial photographing of nude young girls. 'The more closely Lewis Carroll is studied, the more he seems to slide quietly away,' Woolf writes' - Craig Wilson. http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2010-01-12-alice12_ST_N.htm (Craig Wilson USA Today 20100112)
'In her book, The Mystery of Lewis Carroll, to be published next month, Woolf says the payments show that he detested the idea of children or any helpless creature being abused. He was certainly not trying to assuage a guilty conscience, she believes.' (The Sunday Times 20100214)
'For decades, biographers of Lewis Carroll have been too fixated on the question of whether the author of Alice in Wonderland was a secret pedophile who got away with taking pictures of scantily-dressed girls during the Victorian era. But a new book by English author Jenny Woolf, out today in the U.K. to coincide with Tim Burton's 'Alice' film, claims that the unearthing of never-before-published bank statements absolves him of many of the wild allegations made against him over the years. 'The Mystery of Lewis Carroll' goes beyond the central controversy over his life to shed light on a man who has proved elusive to his biographers.' (Javier Espinoza The WSJ 20100305)
'Woolf’s research and reading of other Carroll biographies is extensive and this comes together to provide a very comprehensive and fascinating overview of the author that gave the world Alice. This highly recommended biography will allow the reader to learn much of Carroll and the times into which he was born.' (Fantasy Book Review 20100218)
'Woolf sheds more light on the mysterious Dodgson in this new biography, examining everything from his relationship with Alice and her older sister to his controversial photographing of nude young girls. 'The more closely Lewis Carroll is studied, the more he seems to slide quietly away,' Woolf writes' (Craig Wilson USA Today 20100112)
The Mystery of Lewis Carroll reveals new facts about the famous mathematician and author of Alice In Wonderland. Lewis Carroll’s real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Woolf uses recently discovered facts, such as Carroll’s accounts ledger and unpublished correspondence with his Alice Liddell’s family. Alice was the daughter of his dean at Oxford and inspiration for Alice In Wonderland. Woolf explores how Carroll was repressed by the Victorian era as well as his upbringing as a cleric’s son. There were many rumors about Carroll, was he in love with young girls or was it the idea of innocents? There are also rumors that he had affairs with married women. Woolf tries to dispel some of the worst rumors about Carroll. She talks about his love for photography and how he took photographs of friend’s children nude, a common practice during the Victorian age rather than an indication of pedophilia. There’s no evidence that he harmed any children, although some say he wished to marry 11-year-old Alice Liddell. Four lost volumes of his 13-volume personal diaries might tell that story, if they’re ever found. Woolf got the idea for the book about Carroll after she found his personal bank account, forgotten and unnoticed in an archive for over a hundred years. Once transcribed and interpreted, it revealed much about this interesting man. Woolf used documents and family letters to piece together Carroll’s life from various archives all over the world. “Some of them I visited in person, others list their holdings online and researchers can buy photocopies of relevant documents,” says Woolf. “Some of the material had been transcribed by other researchers and some experts and collectors kindly allowed me the run of their material.” “I read all the biographies, plus any monographs, studies, and magazine articles, and all the original documents I could find which had not been published,” says Woolf. “I also consulted letters, published and unpublished, and the nine existing volumes of his diary. In short, a lot of work. I wanted to be sure I had seen as much as possible so I could put together my own impression of this intriguing man.” The BBC produced a half hour program about Woolf’s discovery of Carroll’s personal bank account. “There’s been movie interest in the book from a British company doing TV co-productions,” says Woolf. “It’s been interesting to me to realize how many different types of people are interested in Lewis Carroll, from sweet old ladies to the likes of Marilyn Manson.”... “The original publisher of this book is Haus in the UK,” says Flamini [of St. Martins Press]. “I gave all of my editorial suggestions to the wonderful editor there who worked on this book. They’ve produced a great book that is also a beautiful object.”... The Mystery of Lewis Carroll is the perfect book for those who love Alice in Wonderland and want to know more about its unusual author.' (Hollywood Today 20100214)
'To coincide with the release of the film, this biography seeks to redress the misconceptions that have grown over Lewis Carroll's personal life.' (The Times 20100302)
'To his adoring readers he was Lewis Carroll, the sweet-natured writer who wandered through life with a head full of stories. To his long-suffering colleagues in Oxford he was the Rev Charles Dodgson, the prickly mathematician who walked around with a poker-straight back and a head full of algebra. The two were like strangers who merely happened to inhabit the same skin.Both sides of him would have appreciated Jenny Woolf’s sensible and generous new biography, The Mystery of Lewis Carroll... Dodgson might ruefully have recognised the contradictions of a professional life in which he upheld standard forms of piety in public while privately devouring books about ghosts and witchcraft. Carroll might have been grateful for the detective work involved in going through his bank account, which shows that the figure post-Freudian readers have been encouraged to see as pathetically seedy, if not actively predatory, actually donated large sums to charities that supported children who had been sexually exploited. Both would have been thankful for Woolf’s dismissal of previous biographers’ more lurid hypotheses, from drug addiction to stories about Jack the Ripper, and both would have enjoyed Woolf’s own enjoyment at his verbal gymnastics and philosophical contortions. They might even have been briefly reconciled before they resumed their endless quarrel, like a real-life Tweedledum and Tweedledee.' (The Telegraph 20100308)
"Woolf has uncovered new evidence, mostly in the form of letters, about the mysterious, often-contradictory life of Charles Lutwidge Dodson... Woolf admires Carroll, and works hard to answer long-standing questions about his life and work." (Minneapolis Star Tribune 20110701)
About the Author
Jenny Woolf has been a freelance journalist for UK national newspapers and was a contributing editor of the American travel magazine Islands. She continued to work for British and foreign publications and for the BBC, for whom she made a Radio 4 programme about Lewis Carroll in 2006. She has had a lifelong interest in Carroll and is the author of Lewis Carroll In His Own Account (2005). Jenny can be found online at her website: http://www.jabberwock.co.uk/
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In a way this book raises more mysteries than it can solve. The idea that he had a deeply devastating relationship which was kept secret and affected him for life is an intriguing one. There is also an implication that Alice Liddell was not the 'real Alice' - another mystery!
I am left with the impression of a man who liked roles where there was a certain well-defined distance between himself and others - that of the photographer, the teacher and the entertaining 'friend of the family'. Perhaps this has its origin in his childhood as one of a family of eleven.
What separates Woolf's biography from other reads of a similar vein is her outstanding discovery of Carroll's bank accounts. These give Woolf's biography real depth and it is particularly interesting to read how Carroll gave a substantial amount of money to destitute women's charities, which Woolf argues assuages him from his suspected sexual deviancy.
Woolf's book is a fascinating read which will both keep you enthralled from page to page and nourish the intellect.
In Lewis Carroll Studies the Myth has been dominant
not only among academic people but also among us
ordinary people, since Alice phenomena have penetrated
almost all the corners around the world.
The Myth has been concerned with the missing pages of
Lewis Carrol's diary.
The most potent and poignant one has been about Lewis Carroll's
love for Alice Liddel, whose synonyms are regarded as Lolita Complex
and paedophile. These labels, however, have been completely
wrong and yet so dominant that those who have been conscientious
find them hard to get rid of for those who could have been happy
The author's approaches to the Myth are sound and convincing;
you will witness them by your own reading of the book.
With her style that enables a seven-year-old child to understand,
Jenny Woolf also has done a good job to show youngsters as well
as adults what Lewis Carrol was really like, by going through the
paths that might have been trodden by this Victorian universal man.
The author, having published Lewis Carroll in His Own Account(ita)
five years ago, has got the good ground to put her feet covering
the academic and non-academic spheres, which her acknowledgement
It usually takes time for academic people to have a paradigm shift
even though they do study non academic texts as well.
Thus, with this background of Lewis Carroll Studies Woolf's book is a must
for Lewis Carroll lovers as well as people, who try to do justice to the
Victorian or if we just try to be good for goodness' sake.
Using information from a wide variety of sources, including Carroll's previously undiscovered bank account, Woolf manages to give a sympathetic but clear-sighted perspective on the life of this unusual man. She is unable to solve the many mysteries that surround Lewis Carroll, but she uses her research into the mysteries to provide insight into the type of person he probably was, and importantly, a way to view his sometimes unsual behaviour through 21st century eyes.
This book is a must for anyone interested in the author of the Alice books, and for people generally interested in Victorians.
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