Gillian J on Alice

Alright, so to start off I’d like to define a “blog”. Honestly, when blogs were gaining popularity and I began to hear the word more often, I was usually reminded of a “Blargg”. (for those of you who don’t know, a Blargg is an enemy from the Mario universe that lives in lava and tries to eat you. I’ll attach a link). So for our collective sakes, mostly mine, I’d like to define for you a blog/blog entry. According to a blog is “a website containing a writer’s or group of writers’ own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other websites.” Awesome. Lets move on.

Recently, in class, we had an interesting discussion regarding Lewis Carroll, whose real name was Charles Dodgson. We came to the conclusion that, based solely on his career as an amateur photographer, he was a pedophile in some capacity due to many of his subjects being young girls. [Instructor’s Reply: well, not exactly. I only presented this as conclusion often discussed in Carroll studies]. Granted, some of his photographs were nudes, but they number about 30 out of the surviving 1000 photographs and all were taken with the permission of the parents. In the light of this opinion of Carroll’s sexuality as deviant and perverse, we were asked how it affected our view of his work, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Those who gave their opinion were varied in how their view of Carroll affected their reading. Some were unaffected, some extremely. The question then arises, how should we deal with the issue of the Artist versus the Art, (in this case writer and work)?

Many people, both inside and outside the class, have suggested that the art and the artist are inseparable, others suggest that one certainly effects the opinion of the other, and still another group argues that they have no bearing on one another at all. I feel that it lies in a kind of balance. Does supporting a piece of work support its creator? Yes. Does that necessarily mean that you condone their behavior? Not necessarily. In the end, the question truly becomes, can you forgive the artist’s inherent faults and darknesses of the soul so that you might still find a kind of love for them, if only for the sake of their art? I believe that we not only can, but we must. For anyone engaged in any kind of consumption of art work, be it film, music, photography, architecture, or any other medium, we must remember that the creators, the very souls behind these wonders that we love and hate alternately, are human. Has it not long been accepted that humans are flawed and broken in some way? Then how can we find it in ourselves to condemn those who reach out with the core of their being, pour their souls into their craft, spend the only irreplenishable currency, Time, on their creation, in the hopes of creating joy and understanding in others when we ourselves wish for such an outpouring and long just as they to be understood? Are we not, ourselves, just as broken? You may argue to yourself that you are not a pedophile, nor are you a murderer, nor do you beat your wife, or any other great allegations we may lay on some other person if we believe them guilty. But haven’t you made mistakes, don’t you also have parts of yourself you keep hidden, isn’t there also a hungry dark on your inside that makes you feel anger, pain, hatred, and violence?

We musn’t think of ourselves as better or as worse than another, merely different in our flaws. In this way, I argue that it is not the faults and wrongdoings of the artist or author that taints our love for their work, but out realization they they too are broken just as we are and that we choose to turn away in disgust. In the light of this, I choose to still love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland just as I did before this class.

Also, just for fun, it has been argued that the pedophilic allegations against Carroll, or rather Dodgson, are skewed and false. Dodgson did, in fact, have many friends outside of young girls and many relations with grown unmarried women. Does this completely excuse him from the possibility that he was a pedophile? No, it does, however, force us to do our own research on the subject rather that accepting what may have been taught and believed for too long. I suggest for further reading this page written by Karoline Leach.

Thank you for your attention. I would like to remind you at this time that the former is my opinion and that I have no expectations of anyone holding to the same. I merely hope to offer an alternative to the common and the “vulgar” to use a dated term.

Further Readings:

When Should We Separate the Art from the Artist, Maria Puente;

“Lewis Carroll”: A Myth in the Making, Karoline Leach;

7 thoughts on “Gillian J on Alice

  1. I completely agree with you. Although many people will completely boycott pieces of art judged solely on the artist’s background rather than their art itself, I find them even more fascinating. I suppose in a way I am drawn to the darkness of people’s psyche and their art is often an expression of the darkness inside them. I know you stated that forgiving the darkness of their soul even for the sake of art is a must, but I don’t merely forgive it, but believe that it enhances it. I guess it might just be me being odd and finding the mad/insane/dark extremely alluring. I’m not a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland, but I think Dodgson’s personal life was fascinating and that the work he produced was heightened by that.


  2. Hi all,
    I cannot understand this at all and need additional context. Am I correct in my understanding that Christine, for example, finds the (alleged) pedarasty of Charles Dodgson to not only be “fascinating,” but also provides a depth to his work that makes it more appealing? I wholeheartedly understand the moral dilemma of whether or not one should separate the art from the artist, and if so, how this should be done, but I fear that I am at a loss for words here. This reads rather voyeuristically and I can’t imagine that you had such nefarious intent with your comment. Also the conflation of mental illness with “madness” or “insanity” that is dark and inherently dangerous is, quite frankly, dangerous in and of itself. I fear that some may read my comment as egregiously pedantic but the ideas being explored here necessitate additional context.
    Thank you in advance.


    • I am going to clarify right off the bat that I did not at all mean it in a way condoning the alleged acts of Dodgson. I admit I could have been way more clear in what I meant by my blog reply.
      I find works of art much more fascinating when I know the background of the author. I would never amuse the idea of human pain for arts sake, but the fact that there is a background to Dodgson that was fairly “dark” makes his work more interesting for me to study. Since I was not a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland, it gave me more to his story to find actually interesting. Reading the story with no context was extremely boring for me, as I’m not into the whole nonsense theme. I think that the background of Dodgson gave me more in the story to analyze and therefore made it less boring for me to read.
      I hope this clarifies things. I did not at all mean to sound like a horrible person who celebrates harm…!


  3. Hi Christine,

    I think the question of whether we forgive or overlook the transgressions of artists is predicated on the reason we are all here—to study humanity (i.e. the humanities) through a literary lens.

    I understand striving for some objectivity and I recognize the value in studying art produced by artists with objectionable biographies. Certainly, ongoing critical thought demands a repeated examination of our own biases and social context when considering literature; that ongoing examination produces an understanding of the progression of human thought.

    What I do not understand, however, is the celebration of objectionable actions, particularly ones where someone may have been directly harmed, as a benefit to the quality or value of the work (which may or may not be true to begin with). Considering the work on its own merit, or citing the plausible deniability we enjoy as readers is one thing, but I find the voyeuristic disregard of possible victims as collateral damage—the means by which the artist created the work—to be antithetical to the study of humanities.

    Like Stacey, I am hoping for some clarification of your position, or perhaps some additional context. I think it leads to an important discussion about whether the human cost of art is worthwhile.


  4. There’s another angle here — that of cultural studies, cultural materialism, or new historicism (three inter-related cultural theories that tend to focus on works of literature as part of a larger discursive production of ideas in a given culture). I find my own interests squarely in this broader methodological way of thinking. I’m not actually that interested in the topic of “did he or didn’t he,” but like Christine, I do think the lingering biographical element to Carroll’s novel is compelling, but not from the point of view of his aesthetic or literary interests, but rather from the point of view of Victorian discourses about childhood, gender, and sexuality. In this way of thinking, Carroll’s works are but a few in a field of thousands of published Victorian texts that challenge and unsettle our conventional notions of the Victorians.


  5. Gillian,

    Your blog post made me think of Ronald Barthes’ famous essay, “The Death of the Author.” In it, Barthes argues for separating the author’s identity from the text itself when analyzing the text. He believes that giving a text an author will put a limit on the text itself when it comes to examining and criticizing it. To a certain extent I do agree that the two should be kept separate, but at the same time, if you were to read “Alice in Wonderland” with the belief that Lewis Carroll was a pedophile (I am not saying that he was…), then you would find a completely different meaning in it then if you were simply reading it for pleasure.

    When I read it for the first time in this class, I read it through the lens of Lewis Carroll being a drug addict. That is because all I had ever heard about the book prior to reading it was that Carroll must have been high when writing it, so that is how I read it–as the foolish gibberish of a man who was high all the time. As a result, I did not think that there could be any meaning in it and wrote it off. But as we have all learned in class: Nonsense is not a lack of meaning, but an excess of it.


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