Lewis Carroll: Later Years & Death
By the early 1870s, Lewis Carroll had endured some personal difficulties as well as professional success. His father died in 1868, causing Carroll to fall into a deep depression. As the eldest surviving male in the family, he was responsible for taking care of his six unmarried sisters, and purchased a home for them in Guildford, England. The year after his father's death Carroll published a book of nonsense poems that appeared under two different titles, Phantasmagoria and Rhyme? And Reason? His last major work of nonsense fiction was The Hunting of the Snark, a long nonsense poem published in 1876. It was about a motley crew of sailors in search of an imaginary creature. Scholars have debated the meaning of Snark, though we suspect Carroll's ghost is giggling over their efforts. "I have received courteous letters from strangers, begging to know whether 'The Hunting of the Snark' is an allegory, or contains some hidden moral, or is a political satire," Carroll wrote. "For all such questions I have but one answer, 'I don't know!'"5 As Charles Dodgson, Carroll also published mathematical works like the 1879 book Euclid and His Modern Rivals.
In the summer of 1880, Carroll abruptly quit photography. No one knows why, though some scholars believe that it may have been a reaction to rumors about his unseemly interest in his girl subjects. It seemed that he was withdrawing from many of the things that once defined him. In 1881, Carroll retired from his lectureship at Christ Church after 25 years on the job. The following year, he took an administrative position as the curator of the Christ Church Common Room, sort of like a club for seniors of the college. He held the job for ten years. He used his semi-retirement to write. He wrote a series of magazine pieces that he called "knots," which were a combination of humor story and mathematical puzzles. In 1885 they were published together in a book called A Tangled Tale. He also kept working on his logic studies. A scholarly book on the subject entitled The Game of Logic appeared in 1887.
Carroll retired from the Common Room in 1892. The following year, he published the second of a two-part novel called Sylvie and Bruno. The novel's confusing plot sailed over the heads of its young readers. Carroll worked on a scholarly book entitled Symbolic Logic, but he did not publish fiction again.
On 14 January 1898, Charles Dodgson died of pneumonia at his sisters' home in Guildford, England. He was buried at Mount Cemetery in Guildford. The local clergyman Dean Paget summarized Carroll's gifts in his sermon: "The brilliant, venturesome imagination, defying forecast with ever fresh surprise; the sense of humour in its finest and most naive form; the power to touch with lightest hand the undercurrent of pathos in the midst of fun; the audacity of creative fancy, and the delicacy of insight--these are rare gifts; and surely they were his."6
Fans of Carroll's are quick to defend his legacy against the charges that sprang up in biographies in the years after his death. "I'm very saddened that [his alleged pedophilia] is now the issue, rather than the quality of his writing and his photography and his mathematics," sad Roger Taylor. "If he knew how he's become a stalking horse for all our fears, he would recoil in horror."7