“Lolita Liddell?”

I wanted to continue our discussion in class today regarding Charles Dodgson’s apparent fascination with young girls, particularly with Alice Liddell, and whether or not reading his work supports his potentially deviant sexuality. As I said in class, I think it’s important that the first time we read his work, and that of other artists, it is without the filter of biographical details that might cloud our perception of his art. However, I also think that another reading (with full knowledge of the shadiness of his relationship with Alice and other girls) can be valuable. Perhaps the knowledge will reveal things about the book that weren’t picked up the first time; they will certainly provide a richer understanding of the author himself.

I found an interesting parallel when reading the letters and hearing about Dodgson’s biographical details today. Dodgson seems to share some traits with Humbert Humbert, from Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. This character, like Dodgson, is a writer, handsome and good with children, but also eccentric. In the novel, Humbert harbors a secret: a wretched lust and love for prepubescent girls. We know that Charles Dodgson was very close with the Liddell girls until 1863, when he stopped visiting them altogether. Ina Liddell said in a letter that she reported that Dodgson became too affectionate toward Alice. Scholars have speculated that he was courting her for marriage, or her older sister Lorina (Ina). Ina, being 14, was old enough to be courted by Victorian standards, but Alice, at age 11, was not. The theory is that the Liddell mother spoke to him about it, and he never returned. Whatever the case, he lost his connection to the girl he used to spend his days with and photograph extensively. Similarly, Humbert lost his childhood love, Annabel, to a sudden death. After this loss, he becomes obsessed with prepubescent girls, particularly with Lolita, the 12-year-old girl he comes to lust/love. Both figures were eccentric authors who spend considerable time with a prepubescent girl, who became their muse for writing a novel.

The similarities that arose between the two figures fascinated me, and seemed to provide evidence to support reading a text with biological details in mind. Any one agree or disagree with the parallel I drew here?

2 thoughts on ““Lolita Liddell?”

  1. I saw the same thing, and… I don’t know, I believe it affected my reading differently than Lolita. Reading Lolita for the first time was already uncomfortable, and I knew everything going into it. Alice in Wonderland was always a little unnerving, but I attributed that to how he deconstructs reality. I’m much more uncomfortable looking at it now knowing about Dodgson.

    If anything I think it distracts greatly from the material. You cannot ignore an author’s life and behavior, but I believe it is best suited for a second or third reading. I would have had a much different reading of Alice if we unearthed more about Dodgson’s life, and to be honest I enjoy having my first reading stay unscathed. The second, third, and any further readings I’m totally fine knowing every possible detail surrounding the book.

  2. I definitely think you drew an interesting parallel here, but I’m not clear what you mean by how it provides “evidence”. The fictional character Humbert Humbert doesn’t actually inform Alice in Wonderland, and there isn’t evidence in Alice of an age-inappropriate relationship like in Lolita.

    It would be interesting if there was more information about why Dodgson stopped visiting the Liddells, and if that’s really when all communication (letters) between them stopped.

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