|An Alice from the fabulous pen of Mervyn Peake|
wonderful illustrator and author of the Gormenghast trilogy;
see more of his work at mervynpeake.org
Two in one, three in one
As someone who fell in love with the Alice books at five, I've enjoyed the many articles of late about that precocious young miss, and about those two interesting, contradictory yet identical people, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and Lewis Carroll. I say identical because so many writers suggest that they were two, as they are frequently contradictory in manner and writings. But are we not all one with our reversed image in the mirror? A logician and mathematician who loved to present children with number and "river-crossing" puzzles, Dodgson well knew that 1 x 1 = 1. Most important of all, how big a trick is it to be both Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and Lewis Carroll, when the man is a deacon in the Anglican Church and acknowledges with frequency in public and before God that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one?
An ideal from which we are barred
Let's consider the wholly bizarre-to-us idea that Dodgson could enjoy tea and boating parties with little girls and photographing little Victorian girls, sometimes in the "attire of Eve," without being an incipient pedophile. Is this possible? Is it possible for a Victorian artist to enjoy the beauty of naked form without feeling even a tiny urge to ravage, ravish it?
Our own times are quite odd about the matter of childhood and sex. Our young teen models and actresses with their revealing designer clothing bind together childhood and sexuality. Revelations about the abuse of little children are commonplace. And yet we still live in a world where tiny children love to toss off their clothes and dash about in the freedom of nakedness. I remember an Irish poet telling me that men must bathe their tiny daughters to help their wives, but also because the children's bodies are so radiant--delicious and beautiful. I leave off his name because such sentiments in our post-Freud times have the power to shock many of us. The lyrical family photographs of Sally Munger Mann in her private, rural Eden of river and woods have caused dust-ups and argument in the world of museums and the fine arts.
So can we go back to and enter into an era in which the upper class of the culture held up images of children as unstained innocence and loveliness? Can we ever see through their eyes? Or is there a peculiar angel of time barring our way to that Edenic concept? Of course, things in Victorian times were not sweetness and light for children scrambling up chimneys or living in workhouses; nevertheless, a child world of sweetness and light formed an upper class, educated ideal, one that Carroll photographed.
Our culture, shocked by the celibate
Could it be that what offends the current sensibility of Western minds--our sex-and-youth-exalting media, our worship of movie celebrities and their changing lovers, our insistence on freedom in our pleasures--is the idea that someone could choose to set aside his sexuality, whatever its nature? The mistrust of Dodgson among many critics may, at least in part, be rooted in his distance from our own sensuous culture through his position as a celibate deacon in the Anglican church. Imagine that degree of renunciation and discipline; it's not only quite uncommon in our time, but frowned upon by many educated people, both in and out of the church. Can many critics in our current culture consider Dodgson-Carroll without feeling almost a disgust for his celibacy, a thing that challenges our own culture's values in multiple ways? I think not.