February 19, 2014

Lewis Carroll hated fame so much he regretted writing Alice in Wonderland


Lewis Carroll taught JD Salinger everything he knew about avoiding the spotlight.

Lewis Carroll taught JD Salinger everything he knew about avoiding the spotlight.

A previously unseen letter written by Lewis Carroll, the pseudonym of Charles Dodgson, has revealed his strong dislike of fame, and the regret he felt over his Alice in Wonderland books becoming such a success.

Alice in Wonderland was so popular that even Queen Victoria wrote to Carroll in admiration of his series, and suggested he dedicate one of his books to her. But, as the Telegraph reports, an 1891 letter to a friend reveals that Dodgson hated such attention. Explaining why he disliked his letters being added to autograph collections, Dodgson wrote:

“All that sort of publicity leads to hearing of my real name in connection with the books, and to my being pointed out to, and stared at by, strangers, and treated as a ‘lion’.

Dodgson continued to work as a mathematician at Christ Church College Oxford as his children’s books were published, and preferred to shy away from any connection between himself and the author of Alice in Wonderland, which had been published almost accidentally after he wrote down the story for Alice Liddlell, the daughter of his college’s dean.

So distasteful was the attention he received that Dodgson even went so far as to suggest:

“And I hate all that so intensely that sometimes I almost wish I had never written any books at all.”

That fame should come to someone so aggravated by it seems unfair.

And as Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, a critic and English tutor at Oxford University told the Telegraph, Dodgson would go to great lengths to avoid recognition:

“These days he’d be thought of as a publicist’s nightmare, because he did everything he could to avoid attracting attention to himself. He hated being spotted in public, tried to have his pen name removed from library catalogues, and flatly told one journalist ‘You are not speaking to Lewis Carroll'”.

But perhaps Dodgson’s most inventive coup was the “Stranger Circular”, a notice Dodgson would send in response to any letters addressed to CL Dodgson that contained mention of Lewis Carroll. The notice soberly read:

“Mr Dodgson . . . neither claims nor acknowledges any connection with any pseudonym or with any book not published under his own name.”

Yet even in this act Dodgson couldn’t hide. Because the notice of the Stranger Circular is enough of a riddle to feel like it’s come straight out of the pages of Alice in Wonderland.



Zeljka Marosevic is the managing director of Melville House UK.