Lewis Carroll is one of the most well known Nonsense Writers. Though using nonsense in poetry has been dismissed as simply "for entertainment purposes", most nonsensical poetry acts as an allegory, has deep symbolism and leaves the door wide open for varying interpretations. Lewis Carroll has utilized this sense with nonsense through his poems and prose found in his novels Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass . Through Carroll's interactions with his close friends and family, and the innovative and eccentric society and politics of the Victorian Era, he has created beautiful poetry with many different levels.
The Victorian Era lasted from 1837 until 1901, which was the time during Queen Victoria's reign in England. The term Victorian has "conveyed connotations of prudish', repress', and old fashioned'"(Landow 1). This era is now seen as a time of " great expansion of wealth, power, and culture"(Landow 1). This change in ideas and politics led to great change in democracy, and saw a rise in other modern movements. Since the era lasted for so long it is comprised of several different periods including Socialism, Darwinism, and scientific Agnosticism. The widespread use of opium during the Victorian period may have influenced or been reflected in Carroll's work. "In Carroll's time five out of six families used opium habitually"(Wohl 34). The Victorian Era, ideology, and politics had a great impact on Lewis Carroll's poetry.
Lewis Carroll, formally Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was born at Daresbury, Cheshire, on January 27, 1832. His parents were Charles and Frances Dodgson. He was the oldest of 11 children.All through his life he loved to write, and take photographs. During 1854 Carroll continued to write and compiled a scrapbook of his best writings, called "Mischmasch". "Mischmasch" included a four line verse, titled "Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry". Later this became the first verse of his nonsense poem "Jabberwocky". In 1855, Henry Liddell arrived as the new Dean at Christ Church and Carroll was introduced to his children. He had a son, Harry, and three daughters: Lorina, Alice, and Edith. Carroll had begun to photograph the family and had become especially charmed by the little girl Alice. Alice later become the main character in his most famous works.
In the poem that begins and ends the story of Alice in Wonderland it is obviously seen that Carroll's interaction and fascination with Liddle girls have greatly influenced his writing. The three children are the focus of the beginning poem, "Ah, cruel Three!...Imperious Prima flashes forth...In gentler tones Secunda hopes... While Teritia interrupts the tale"(Carroll 3).Lorina is referred to as "Prima", she was the oldest, Alice is "Secunda", and Edith "Teria". When the story begins in 1862, Alice is seven, and the story is set in May. Through the Looking-Glass takes place in November. "Without, the frost, the blinding snow"(Carroll 103 ).Although the other two girls are mentioned, Carroll chose mainly to focus on Alice. Alice Pleasance Liddle is the full name of the child, "the pleasance of our fairy tale"(Carroll 103). In the closing poem of Through the Looking-Glass
in the final chapter "Which Dreamed It?" when read downward, the initial letters of each line spell out Alice's full name,
"A boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July-
Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear, ..."(Carroll 209)
Other than the influence that the entire Liddle Family had on Carroll's writing there were other incidents that had a great influence on the nonsense in his poems.
During the Victorian Era the use of opium and other mind altering experiences resulting from narcotics could of had a great impact on the ideas behind the Alice books. In Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll brings up many images that can be interpreted as advice to youngsters (Connell 1)....
Cited: Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland. Norton Critical Edition. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1992.
Connell, Kate. "Opium as a Possible influence upon Alice Books" 22 Mar 2000. The Victorian Web. .
Graham, Eleanor. Lewis Carroll and the Writing of Through The Looking Glass Great Britain: Puffin Books, 1981.
Landow, George P. "Victorian and Victorianism" 23 Mar 2000. The Victorian Web.
Sewell, Elizabeth. The Field of Nonsense London: Chatto and Windus LTD., 1952.
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