The Trial of Lewis Carroll

2015 marks 150 years since the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Last Saturday the BBC looked at the life of its author in ‘The Secret World of Lewis Carroll’, drawing some disturbing, although not surprising, conclusions about the nature of this very private man.  What did they make of it all in Wonderland?

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Who took the Photograph?

Alice had just taken leave of the mock-turtle when she came upon a clearing in a little wood. There, in the centre of the clearing, sat a gentleman at a writing desk.  He was dressed in clerical black, his topcoat buttoned up to the neck and wearing gloves and a top hat – ‘rather like the White Rabbit,’ thought Alice. He was leaning forward slightly, in his chair, his forehead resting in the palm of one hand. ‘Whoever he is,’ thought Alice, ‘he must be very hot indeed, for the weather is quite warm at present, perhaps that’s why he’s dozing at his desk. I seem to remember a riddle about a writing desk; a raven is like a writing desk? Yes I think that’s it, or was it the other way round? Dear me, I’m feeling very muddled today but it was a very peculiar riddle.’  ‘Er hum,’ said Alice in her quietest voice, as she approached the desk, for she did not want to alarm the sleeping figure. The gentleman immediately raised his head and looked towards Alice with eyes that seemed to contain a world of pain. ‘He wasn’t asleep at all,’ thought Alice, ‘and now I suppose I must say something, after all I have disturbed his repose.’  ‘Good afternoon Sir,’ she began,’ my name is Alice and I’ve been wandering around in this strange land for the longest time, without seeing another normal human being, until now that is.’  These words came tumbling out at breakneck speed and Alice realised how lonely she had been until she happened upon this man in the clearing.  ‘I’m so very glad you came to see me Alice,’ the gentleman replied, as though they were the best of friends, and the saddest smile (if such a thing is possible) appeared briefly on his careworn face.  ‘Begging your pardon sir, but I’m sure we’ve never met before,’ said Alice, wondering how this melancholy gentleman should know her name. ‘He looks almost as mournful as the mock-turtle,’ she thought. The gentleman rose to his feet saying: ‘I’m afraid I no longer qualify as a normal human being, I have so many peculiar habits you see.  But we have met before dear one. You and I have shared the same dream for 150 years.’  Suddenly the Gryphon jumped out from behind a tree and ran over to Alice, grabbing her by the hand and shouting ‘Come on, do hurry, the trial is beginning, we must attend the court.’  ‘What trial?’ said Alice, as the trees around the clearing began to spin wildly about her and the insides of a court of justice gradually appeared.

The King of Hearts (who was to be judge) and the Queen of Hearts were seated in the court on their thrones, and the sad gentleman from the clearing was standing before them, in chains, with a soldier on each side to guard him. The White Rabbit was there with a trumpet in one hand and a scroll of parchment in the other.  The court was packed with all kinds of fantastical creatures making quite a racket and, on a table in the very middle of the court, were several photographs of young girls in various stages of undress. These were marked exhibit A, B, C and so on.  Alice could see the photographs quite clearly from her seat in the court. ‘My, my,’ she exclaimed, ‘one of the girls is wearing a very torn and tattered dress indeed.  I would never go out in such a thing, you can be sure.’

white-rabbit

‘Silence in the court,’ the White Rabbit shouted. ‘Read the accusation,’ said the King. The rabbit unrolled the parchment and read as follows:-

In the year 2015 the BBC aired a programme
on Saturday, January 31st
concerning this Oxford mathematician’s
perverted love for little girls.

At this the gentleman in chains winced and lowered his head to gaze at the floor. ‘Poor man,’ thought Alice, ‘I wonder what perverted means. I’ve heard of perverse, which means contrary I think. He doesn’t look very contrary to me, just very shy and quiet.’  ‘What’s a BBC,’ screamed the Queen of Hearts, ‘off with its head, whatever it is.’   ‘I don’t know nothing,’ said the rabbit (which meant he did know something) ‘I’m just reading what it says here your majesty.’  ‘What century is this,’ whispered the King to a guard. ‘The nineteenth,’ the guard whispered back.  ‘Just checking,’ said the King sotto voce.  The rabbit continued: ‘And the future charge is that this gentleman is a…(here the rabbit became quite stuck)…a..Pa-eda-file, I think that’s what it says m’lud.’  ‘Your Pa ate a file?’ screamed the Queen, ‘what’s he gibbering on about, off with his head!’  Here the rabbit made a quick getaway and ran underneath the jury box.

‘What is your name fellow?’  said the King, pointing at the man.  ‘The Reverend Charles L. Do-Do-Do-Dodgson,’ replied the man with some effort. The assembled creatures burst into raucous laughter. ‘Off with their heads,’ screamed the Queen, at which point the noise ceased immediately. ‘What is wrong with you man, can’t you speak properly?’ said the Queen. ‘Forgive me your H-H-Highness, I s-s-stammer,’ the man replied.  ‘Well stop it immediately,’ the Queen cried, or it’s off with your head. Let’s see you attempt to stammer then!’   Alice felt very angry with the Queen and stood up from her seat. ‘All the best people stammer you know,’ she cried, ‘Winston Churchill, King George VI and I’m sure there are others.’  ‘What are you talking about,’ said the Queen, ‘those people haven’t even been born yet. Sit down you insolent child.’  ‘Well, you’re trying a man for a crime 150 years into the future!’  replied Alice and felt quite pleased with herself.  She sat down and began to feel the tingling sensation that meant she was beginning to grow again. ‘I wonder if I’ll be able to stay inside the court room,’ she thought, ‘or if my head will burst out through the ceiling.’   ‘Did you take these photographs?’  asked the King looking at Dodgson, ‘specifically the one of the young girl dressed in, shall we say, nothing.’  ‘I did m’lud’, replied Dodgson and his face became quite red.  ‘Well that’s settled then,’ said the King, ‘trial over. Where’s the Mad Hatter, I think it’s time for tea.’  ‘You can’t just finish there,’  called out the White Rabbit from beneath the jury box, ‘you’ve got to rake the muck over him good and proper.’  ‘Very well, call the first witness,’ said the King.

The Mad Hatter appeared.  ‘I happen to know that this gentleman goes by the alias of Lewis Carroll m’lud, he said. ‘Well that definitely settles it,’ said the King, ‘anyone who goes by an alias is definitely a crook in my book.’  ‘Off with the king’s head,’ shouted the Queen, ‘rhyming is against the Law.’  ‘That’s a little harsh my dear,’ the King placated.’  ‘What do you have to say about this?’  he continued, pointing at the Reverend Dodgson.  ‘Lewis Carroll is my pen name, m’lud,’ Dodgson replied.’  ‘Your pen’s name!’ shouted the Queen, ‘anyone who goes around giving their pen a name is either a fool or GUILTY – off with his head!’  ‘Not so hasty your majesty, there are more witnesses to come,’ shouted the rabbit from underneath the jury box.  ‘Well, this is becoming quite ridiculous,’ said Alice, ‘and I’m not even sure it’s running along legal lines.’  ‘No we’re running along the Waterloo line at present,’ said a flamingo at her elbow.  ‘Call the next witness,’  said the King.

The Cheshire cat appeared floating above the table. ‘The Reverend Dodgson is quite mad,’ said the cat. ‘He regularly believes six impossible things before breakfast, and makes you believe in ’em too. Why, here am I floating above this table as large as life. That’s the work of this strange hybrid person Dodgson-Carroll that is. In fact he brought every mad creature here into being, so he did.’  ‘Did not!’ shouted the Queen.  ‘Did too,’ purred the cat and a malicious grin appeared on his face.  ‘When a person’s got that much madness in their brain,’ he said, ‘it’s bound to come out sooner or later in some very peculiar ways, if you know what I mean.’  Here the cat tapped the side of his nose with his paw and smirked in an alarmingly lascivious manner, before disappearing.  ‘Well that was helpful  –  not,’ sighed the King, the stress causing him to lapse into anachronistic language.

alice-court

Alice meanwhile was growing bigger and bigger and this made her feel quite confident, since the assembled creatures were becoming very small indeed. ‘Let Mr Dodgson speak,’ she said, ‘how can it be a fair trial if we don’t hear from the accused himself.’  At this the Reverend Dodgson raised his head and, in his hesitant manner, began like this:

‘It seems to me that for every one of us, life is really a sort of school, or training time, meant chiefly for the building up of a character, and of disciplining the spirit, so that by its own free choice of good rather than evil, and of god’s will rather than self-will, we may get nearer and nearer to God. The photographs on this table are indeed evidence of my obsessive interest in taking images of young girls undraped, as I call it, but at all times I strove to follow the path of goodness and let no harm or evil come to any of my child-friends. My fictional Alice has brought pleasure to millions around the world and I hope this fact can be balanced against the disturbing tendencies I fought so hard against by means of ardent prayer and an overriding work ethic. I ask the court to consider that the Charles Dodgson, who craved the company of under-age girls, and the beloved author Lewis Carroll are but one and the same. Can we, should we, separate the two?’

‘Cobblers’, squeaked the dormouse from the jury box. ‘He’s obviously a raving paedophile and a religious nut to boot.’  He then promptly fell asleep. Incidentally the dormouse was the only creature present who knew how to properly say the word paedophile and what it meant but, as his voice was barely audible, no one heard him.

Alice’s head had now reached the ceiling and looking down at the tiny creatures in the court room she found herself thinking how insignificant they all looked. ‘It’s all just talk and bluster,’ thought Alice and suddenly she was back in the clearing and the Reverend Dodgson was standing at her side.  A red sun was beginning to set behind the trees.

‘What are you thinking dear one?’  Dodgson said in his hesitant manner, looking straight into her eyes.  ‘That I didn’t know I’ve been wandering around in this Wonderland for 150 years!, exclaimed Alice.  ‘Well, time certainly flies dear thing, when you’re having fun,’  Mr Dodgson replied.  ‘It hasn’t always been fun,’ said Alice, ‘but now I’ve met you I’m sure it will be funner.’  ‘More fun,’ said Dodgson, gently correcting her, and he produced a puzzle game from his pocket.  ‘Shall we find somewhere to play my latest puzzle invention Alice?’   ‘Oh, yes please,’ Alice cried, ‘and may we spend the next 150 years together Mr Dodgson?  ‘Why, of course Alice, I think that would be simply grand.’   ‘Shall I call you Mr Dodgson or Mr Carroll?’  Alice suddenly enquired.  ‘I think that, as we’re here in Wonderland,  Mr Carroll will do just fine.’  And together Alice and the shy Oxford Don walked hand in hand out of the clearing, towards the setting sun.

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