Study Guide

Lewis Carroll Childhood

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Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born 27 January 1832 in Daresbury, a village in the English county of Cheshire. His parents Charles and Frances Lutwidge Dodgson were first cousins. The younger Charles was the third of their eleven children, all of whom lived at least to middle age - quite a feat in rural Victorian England.

The elder Charles Dodgson was a clergyman with the delightfully English title of Perpetual Curate of Daresbury. He also had a passion for mathematics and a flair for fancy. He wrote imaginative, descriptive letters to his children when he traveled for work. The Dodgson family lived in a quiet rural village where, in the words of one writer, "to see a cart pass down the road was a startling event." To pass the hours, the Dodgson brood entertained one another with puppet shows, plays, mysteries and make-believe. For young Charles Dodgson, the world of imagination was a respite from a difficult world. Dodgson was very shy, partly because of a stammer that afflicted him all his life. He began writing stories and poems as a child.

When he was 14, Charles shipped off to the Rugby School, an elite boys' boarding academy in Warwickshire. He was an excellent student, especially in mathematics, with professors noting his exceptional abilities. He applied and was accepted to his father's alma mater, Christ Church College at the University of Oxford. Overcrowding in campus housing forced him to delay his enrollment by a semester. On 26 January 1851, just two days after he arrived at Christ Church, Dodgson received word that his mother Frances had died of a sudden illness, possibly a stroke.

Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll was involved with Christ Church in some way for the rest of his life. As the Oxford equivalent of a math major, Dodgson was an excellent scholar. In 1852, he was awarded a Studentship at Christ Church, an honor similar to a fellowship. It came with an annual stipend. In 1854, he received his bachelor's degree from Christ Church, earning a First Class Honors in mathematics and Second Class Honors in classics. He remained at Christ Church for graduate studies, and earned his master's degree in mathematics three years later. During this time he continued to publish stories and poems in local and national magazines. In 1856, he began to publish under the pen name Lewis Carroll. In a characteristic game of wordplay, Dodgson derived the name "Lewis Carroll" from the Latinized version of "Charles Lutwidge."

In 1855, the Rev. Henry Liddell was appointed dean of Christ Church College. Liddell was a major figure in Carroll's personal and professional life. He appointed the young graduate student a lecturer in mathematics, effectively giving him tenure when Carroll was only 24 years old. He also introduced the bachelor scholar to his family, which included Liddell's wife and ten children. Carroll's favorite of the Liddell children was three-year-old Alice.

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