Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born into a large family in 1832 in Daresbury, Cheshire. When he was 11, the family moved to Yorkshire, where his father, a clergyman, had been given the living at Croft-on-Tees. Charles was schooled at Richmond Grammar, and Rugby, before entering Christ Church, Oxford, where he excelled in maths and classics, gaining a degree in the former (in 1854). Thereafter, he stayed at the college, as a librarian and holding a lectureship. From early in life, Dodgson suffered from various ailments: he was deaf in one ear, he had a weak chest, and he had a significant stammer.
Settled in Oxford, Dodgson’s social, artistic and intellectual life began to flourish. He was charming and ambitious, it is said, and began to move in pre-Raphaelite circles, with the likes of John Ruskin and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He took up photography in a serious way, often taking portraits of young girls. Having written poems and short stories since his boyhood days, he now began to publish them - mostly humorous or satirical works - to some acclaim. In 1856, a poem called Solitude appeared in The Train under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll - the first time he used the name. As a condition of residency at Christ Church, he was expected to become ordained as a deacon and then a priest. He delayed becoming a deacon, and, almost uniquely, managed to flout college rules and not take the final step to priesthood.
In the latter half of the 1850s, Dodgson became close friends with Henry Liddell, dean of the college, and his family, including a son and three daughters, one of them named Alice. In July 1862, while out boating with Alice and others, he made up the outline of a story that Alice then begged him to write down. More than two years later, he gave her a hand-written manuscript, with his own illustrations, called Alice's Adventures Under Ground. This is now held by the British Library, and can be viewed online. Other children also loved the story, and so, with support from the publisher Macmillan, Dodgson developed the manuscript into a book for publication. He commissioned John Tenniel for the illustrations, and it was published under Dodgson’s pseudonym. It enjoyed huge commercial success and made Lewis Carroll famous.
Dodgson published a sequel to Wonderland in 1871, Alice Through the Looking Glass, and, five years later, his other famous work, The Hunting of the Snark, a fantastical nonsense poem. He also continued to publish books on mathematical subjects; and he was keen on inventing gadgets and games and tricks. Dodgson never married, but he is known to have had several relationships, some thought to be scandalous, with adult women. He retired from his Christ Church lectureship in 1881, but was appointed Curator of Common Room. He died in Guildford in 1898. Further information is readily available online, at Wikipedia, The Lewis Carroll Society, The Victorian Web, an online exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center, an article in The Smithsonian, St Andrew’s University MacTutor archive, CliffsNotes etc.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland - currently the focus of many 150th anniversary events - is also readily available online in different formats, at Internet Archive, for example, or as an ebook from the University of Adelaide website. And the internet is awash with information about, and articles on, the book, at Wikipedia, The New York Times, The Independent, The Guardian, for example, or Lenny’s Alice in Wonderland website.
However, it is worth noting that most copies of the book’s first print run, in July 1865, were withdrawn by Carroll because Tenniel thought his illustrations had been reproduced poorly. A new printer was commissioned and the first books available for the public appeared in late 1865 (though dated 1866). Only 23 copies of the original print run are known to exist (called ‘the 1865 Alice’) and remain among the rarest and most sought after books in publishing history. In mid-1866, Carroll sold some of the unbound first print run to Appleton’s in New York which replaced the title page before selling them (these are called ‘the Appleton Alice’).
Dodgson kept a fairly detailed diary throughout his adult life. Nine volumes are extant (with a few missing pages), the first is numbered 2, and the last 13 (covering the years 1855 to 1897), but four are considered missing (i.e. nos. 1, 3, 6 and 7). Following his death, the manuscript diaries were kept by members of the Dodgson family, and then by his estate until purchased by the British Library in 1969.
In 1953, Dodgson’s trustees commissioned Roger Lancelyn Green to edit sections of the journals. About two-thirds of the entire journal was included in this edition - The Diaries of Lewis Carroll (two volumes, Cassell, 1953) - with selections designed to emphasise Dodgson’s literary exploits. Much more recently, between 1993 and 2007, the full text of all nine surviving volumes has been edited by Edward Wakeling and published by The Lewis Carroll Society in 10 volumes (with many annotations and index). A full description and breakdown of these volumes’ contents can be found on the Lewis Carroll Society website.
The fifth volume of this modern edition consists of Dodgson’s ninth journal, from September 1864 to January 1868 (and includes the so-called Russian Journal - which had, in fact been published as early as 1935, by Dutton, New York). The Society provides this description of its contents: ‘The period covered by this ninth volume of Dodgson’s private journal covers the publication of the book which made him internationally famous. The journal begins with an entry for 13 September 1864 in which Dodgson records the completion of the illustrations drawn into his manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, prepared as a gift for Alice Liddell. Already, Dodgson’s decision to publish the book had been taken. He anticipated that its publication would be a significant event in his life, and he left space in his journal to record the chronological development of the book, adding subsequent entries to show the progress from manuscript to the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865.’
The Society’s description continues: ‘Dodgson, now in his early thirties, is revealed in his journal as a confident member of society, at ease in travelling around the country, enjoying the opportunities that life has for a young adult making his way in the world. He is now established as a senior member of Christ Church in the important position of mathematical lecturer with a string of mathematical publications to his name. He makes regular visits to London taking advantage of the art galleries and theatrical productions in which he is greatly interested. His photography, of which he has become very proficient, opens doors to the famous celebrities of his day. Yet there is a thread which runs through his journals which shows a man who is not entirely at ease with himself. The prayers grow in intensity. Self-doubts and his lack of ability to maintain the very high standards he has set for himself return to trouble him.’
Here are several entries from Dodgson’s diary number nine (to be found in the modern edition’s fifth volume) which refer specifically to the story/book that would bring him such fame.
13 September 1864
‘At Croft. Finished drawing the pictures in the MS copy of “Alice’s Adventures.” It was first told July 4, 1862. Headings written out (on my way to London) July 5, 1862. MS copy begun Nov 13, 1862. Text finished before Feb 10, 1864 [. . .]’
12 October 1864
‘Help me, oh God, to serve Thee better. For Jesus Christ’s sake.
Called on Macmillan, and had some talk about the book, but settled little. Then to Terry’s, to say that I have given up photographing in town this time. I found Mr. Terry (whom I had not seen before), Charlie and Tom. Florence is pretty, but not so fascinating as Polly: both will probably grow up beautiful. Thence I went to Tenniel’s who showed me one drawing on wood, the only thing he had, of Alice sitting by the pool of tears, and the rabbit hurrying away. We discussed the book, and agreed on about 34 pictures.’
8 April 1865
‘University Boat Race (it always is on the day before Palm Sunday, according to the Evening Herald), which Oxford won by 10 lengths. I did not go to it, but gave the day to Macmillan, Tenniel (who is doing the 30th picture), Holman Hunt, whom I found working at a very large picture (life size or nearly so) of Mrs. Fairbairn and children. Thence I went to the MacDonalds, and had a game of croquet with them.’
26 May 1865
‘Received from Macmillan a copy (blank all but the first sheet) of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, bound in red cloth as specimen.’
15 July 1865
‘Went to Macmillan’s and wrote in 20 or more copies of Alice to go as presents to various friends. This took so long that I did not get to Terry’s till 12½, where I photographed till about 4½, and took a large one of Miss Terry in fancy costume, Tom, a Miss Martin, a friend of theirs, and finally a family group of all but the baby.
Then I had a game of “Castle Croquet’ with Miss Terry, Mrs. Watts, and Polly. I made a sort of dinner at their tea, and ended by escorting Polly to the Olympic to see The Serf. We had Miss Terry’s season-ticket, and got good places in the dress-circle. After The Serf I took Polly round to the stage-door to join her sister and went back to see Glaucus, a very pretty burlesque. I mark these last three days with a white stone.’ [See Contrariwise for a detailed discussion of Dodgson’s ‘white stone’ references.]
20 July 1865
‘Called on Macmillan, and showed him Tenniel’s letter about the fairy-tale, he is entirely dissatisfied with the printing of the pictures, and I suppose we shall have to do it all again. (Millais recommends keeping back the 2000 printed at Oxford for future edition). Thence to Thomas’, the man there thinks the lamp is the cause, as I found when I tried yellow calico round it and got some first-rate negatives of Mrs. Millais, Effie, and Mary. Spent the evening again at Putney.’
2 August 1865
‘Finally decided on the re-print of Alice, and that the first 2000 shall be sold as waste paper. Wrote about it to Macmillan, Combe and Tenniel. The total cost will be: drawing pictures 138; cutting pictures 142; printing (by Clay) 240; binding & advertising (say) 89 = 600, i.e. 6/- a copy on the 2000. If I make £500 by sale, this will be a loss of £100, and the loss on the first 2000 will probably be £100 leaving me £200 out of pocket.
But if a second 2000 could be sold it would cost £300, and bring in £500, thus squaring accounts: and any further sale would be a gain: but that I can hardly hope for.’
9 November 1865
‘Received from Macmillan a copy of the impression of Alice, very far superior to the old, and in fact a perfect piece of artistic printing.’
An intriguing diary-related snippet about Dodgson is that he kept a short diary for and about Isa Bowman, 14 years old at the time. They had met when she was performing in a stage version of Alice in 1886, and then reprised the role in 1888 (when the diary was written). For a few years, she continued to visit and stay with him. His last novel - Sylvie and Bruno - was dedicated to her in 1889. A year or so after his death, Bowman published The Story of Lewis Carroll told for young people by The Real Alice in Wonderland (J. M. Dent, London, 1899). And in this book, Bowman includes a facsimile of the diary Carroll wrote for her. It is freely available to read online at Internet Archive.