Lewis Carroll published his classic book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865. Almost 150 years later films and plays are made regularly.
Carroll was also an amateur photographer. He produced in his life more than 3,000 negatives, which was obviously a huge number in those days. He photographed landscapes, architecture, and he made portraits.
“”From his shoulder Hiawatha
Took the camera of rosewood.
Made of sliding folding rosewood;
Neatly put it all together….
Pushed and pulled the joints and hinges,
Till it looked all squared and oblongs….
This he perched upon a tripod
And the family in order
Sat before him for their picture
Mystic, awful was the process.”
He often portrayed little girls, sometimes nude, sometimes scarcely clothed.
An example is the portrait of Alice Liddell. She was only five years old when she came in contact with the much older Lewis, a friend of the family. He told his famous story to this Alice. Part of the success of Alice in Wonderland can be attributed to the lack of a clear moral. But does the same apply to Carroll?
Alice Liddell by Lewis Carroll
I decided to do a little investigation and noticed that most biographies describe him as an a-sexual and innocent man with almost sacred qualities but in a sense still a kid himself. Others bluntly call him a pedophile. The site glgarden.org even put him on the list of the most famous British pedophiles. According to them Carroll tried to hide his monstrous deeds when he destroyed many of his photos. I think the similarities with the stories about Michael Jackson’s alleged pedophilia are striking. While some describe him as a saint, others as a monster. Let’s look at his photos and maybe we get a answer on the question who is right and who is wrong.
Let’s focus on the photo of Alice Liddell. We see a young girl probably around six or seven years old. Her whole body is visible and tshe appears to be depicted as a beggar. Her clothes are ripped off artfully. While she holds up her hand for money she is looking at you. She is clearly not a real beggar but a child dressed as one. The question now is whether this is a sexually charged image. Suppose that this is indeed the case. It is not difficult to assume she is looking at you in a seductive way. In combination with the financial aspect of the picture, the hand, it would even suggest that she seems be selling her body. Described this way Lewis Carroll would have portrayed as a prostitute.
The foam of the sea symbolizes sperm
Olympia by Manet
These colored pictures of Evelyn and Beatrice Hatch and Xie Kitchin seem to confirm my description. Especially since they were made a few years after Manet made Olympia. Manet’s painting of the Parisian prostitute was by the press dismissed as vulgar. Partly because of the way the was addressing the viewer and the fact sex and money were part of the same painting.
But drawing conclusions seems a little too ‘premature’. First, because Carroll these and other pictures made with the consent of and in the presence of the parents of the children. In addition, a girl of that age is not aware of her own sexuality. According to the biographies made by Derek Hudson and Roger Lancelyn Green Carroll himself was too immature to have such sexual feelings. It also needs to be said that the controversy surrounding these photos seem to have begun much later.
In another biography of Carroll, Karoline Leachs does away with the myth of the a-sexual Carroll as she sums up the many relationships he had with adult females, often married women. Leach also points out that Carroll in his time was controversial because of the relationships he had with these women and not because of the unhealthy relationships he had with children or the photographs he made of them.
Little children were in those times seen as a symbol of innocence or purity and not a symbol of sex and desire.The love that Carroll showed children was even welcomed as a “Christlike renunciation of adult pleasure and the adult world.” For this reason I think people who would have openly accused Carroll for making sexually charged photo’s would be suspected for having immoral feelings himself.
As a provisional conclusion of my little research I think it is quite possible that Carroll had sexual feelings for the girls that he photographed. He made clever use of the fact that children in that time were not associated with adult love and that people will not openly suspect him without being suspected themselves. I think producing these pictures were for him a safe way to satisfy his sexual needs and this certainly doesn’t make him a monster.