Maiden Voyages: October 2015

Halloween is Pip’s favorite holiday so I expect he has a few special things planned for us this month.  I tend to be less sentimental about such things, but I do plan to complete a post on Nan Goldin.  She just came out with an amazing new book and I know Pigtails readers would like a peek.

Ionesco Revelations: A reader has been updating me on a new book by Simon Liberati (Eva Ionesco’s husband since 2013) about Eva’s childhood.  The timeliness of this release has pressured me to put together a post on Irina Ionesco (the photographer) and her daughter (the model).  According to interviews and press releases (in French), Irina’s use of Eva was coerced and there remains a lot of bad feelings.  Because the book puts Irina in a bad light, she attempted, unsuccessfully, to prevent its publication through the courts. These circumstances puts Pigtails in an ethical dilemma.  Our journalistic obligations compel us to offer an overview which would necessarily include some of the photographs in question.  But it is also our wish to respect the feelings and reputation of Eva and avoid causing her distress needlessly.  After some deliberation, I have decided to postpone the Ionesco post until I can more clearly ascertain the model’s position about how this story should be told.

Alice’s Anniversary: As mentioned before, this is the sesquicentennial of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  One project is to publish a special edition of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, the basis of the final Wonderland story.

Lewis Carroll, Photographer?  While trawling the internet, Pip found a site with some interesting photographs.  The weird thing is that two of them are attributed to Lewis Carroll. First of all, photographs by this artist should properly be attributed to Charles Dodgson, not “Lewis Carroll”.  More importantly, a quick look at these scans indicates a classic Edwardian style and methodology.  Take a look for yourself at these red herrings and I wouldn’t mind someone coming forward with the name of the real artist.

Lewis Carroll...not! (1)

Lewis Carroll…not! (1)

Lewis Carroll...not! (2)

Lewis Carroll…not! (2)

Wearing Nothing but a Tiara: There is no shortage of cute photos on the internet.  Here’s one called ‘La Princesse aux Escargots’ (The Princess of Snails).

The Virtues of Monsters: Although the purpose of this site is to cover the arts and media, it would be naive not to recognize that pedophiles visit this site and I felt it would be of service to mention something that came across my desk.  It seems there is a schism between two groups of pedophiles who disagree over the ethics of sexual contact between adults and children.  To keep the loud-mouthed extremists from dominating the debate, a more moderate group started their own forum that strikes a balance between acknowledging this kind of sexual orientation—if that is the proper expression for it—while respecting the rights of children not to be molested.

Alice: A Personal View

It was my intent after publishing the Graham Ovenden post to then move on to his other relevant work. However, while considering his book, Illustrators of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” (1972), I was urged to cover a much more comprehensive volume recently published, Illustrating Alice: An international selection of illustrated editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass published by Artists’ Choice Editions in 2013.

I wanted to call this post ‘The Definitive Alice’ but the book itself admonishes its readers from regarding it that way. It is a fair argument because, after all, it only covers illustration despite including a lot of discussion about the stories and their interpretation. And instead of trying to be thorough in covering all views, we get a wonderful spectrum of personal anecdotes and revelations from artists, collectors and other lovers of Alice lore including the more prominent members of Lewis Carroll societies around the world.

Given that a definitive book on Lewis Carroll’s two stories, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871), would require a multi-volume encyclopedia, Illustrating Alice does remarkably well, bringing out many imaginative key points. The Alice stories (and their ethnic adaptations) have been published in over 100 languages and, in proportion to total word count, are more often quoted in published works than the plays of Shakespeare. Illustrating Alice has an interesting organization. First, some discussion of Alice in different countries is offered, then numerous living illustrators were asked to discuss their experiences and views. There is also some discussion of film adaptations. For serious Alice lovers, this book is an important reference and I offer a more detailed outline of the contents of the book at the end of this post.

With respect to offering fresh interpretations of Alice, it should be recognized how challenging it has been to see past Sir John Tenniel’s iconic illustrations in the original books and to fruitfully psychoanalyze Carroll’s original intent.

Lewis Carroll - Alice's Adventures Under Ground (1864)

Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (1864)

Sir John Tenniel - Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871)

Sir John Tenniel – Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871)

Due to copyright rules, new versions of Wonderland could not be produced by other publishers until 1907 (and Looking-Glass until 1946). In the U.K. there were already 30 new editions by the end of 1908. Millicent Sowerby had the distinction of being the first to have her illustrations published. Publishers would gradually compete to produce the most opulent editions. W.H. Walker was the first to include scenes not given in the original Tenniel and Harry Rountree had the record for the most color images published, 92. Two of the most popular editions were by Raphael Tuck: one based on early Mabel Lucie Attwell work in 1910 and then a more innovative approach in 1921 based on the work of A.L. Bowley giving us the first examples of pop-ups and a panorama scene with slots to place each of the supplied cut-out characters.

Arthur Rackham - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1907)

Arthur Rackham – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1907)

During World War II, there was a dearth of publishing because of paper rationing. One notable exception was the work of Mervyn Peake. He produced illustrations for both Alice books which were first published in Sweden in 1946, then in the U.K. in 1954. His images, considered among the best by many experts, were modeled after a neighbor girl named Caroline Lucas who, he believed, had just the right qualities. The high regard for his work is exemplified by a quote from Graham Greene, “You are the first person who has been able to illustrate the book since Tenniel.” This is even more remarkable when one considers that Greene was generally opposed to the idea of illustrating great literature at all. The work has since appeared in many editions while the original art deteriorated from neglect.

Libanus Press was later commissioned by Bloomsbury Publishing to take up the challenge of scanning the original drawings and putting in about 240 hours of computer work to restore them. The results were published in 2001 and shortly thereafter Libanus published them with the title Peake’s Alice in actual size each accompanied by an appropriate quote. One of the first artists to break through the Tenniel paradigm was Ralph Steadman in 1967, with a freer and highly political take on the story. In the 1970s, Alice became a kind of poster child for the Ruralists, symbolizing an appeal to nature. The most notable of those were by Peter Blake and Graham Ovenden—the Ovenden works being bound into a volume with only 10 copies in existence. This incredible range of production is indicative of the fact that illustration seems to be the last art form that can be produced without need of government grants or powerful patronage.

Mervyn Peake - Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1946)

Mervyn Peake – Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1946)

In the early days in France only the images of Tenniel and Arthur Rackham were seen. In 1930, the first native illustrator, Marie Laurencin, was published in a limited edition (790) with six colored lithographs. As Alice was assimilated into other cultures, her character would change. Henry Morin (1935) drew an Alice who seemed ill at ease while André Pécoud (1935) portrayed a more mischievous Alice who took delight in her adventures. Nicole Claveloux’s (1974) work is considered a watershed of modern French illustration offering a non-conformist Alice and a special affinity for the animal characters in the story. Her plate with the flamingos became so iconic that it was the basis of a postage stamp in Czechoslovakia. Jean-Claude Silbermann (2002) gives a highly surreal interpretation while Pat Andrea (2006), a noted artist of erotic women, necessarily makes Alice a young woman.

Marie Laurencin - Alice in Wonderland (1930)

Marie Laurencin – Alice in Wonderland (1930)

The first Alice stories in Italy were adapted by Teodorico Pietrocòla-Rossetti—nephew of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and a friend of Carroll—in 1872. This edition was not well-received. The first book featuring an Italian illustrator, Riccardo Salvadori, came out in 1913. Because there was not an established culture of children’s literature in Italy yet, Salvadori’s work, imitating that of Arthur Rackham, meant that this genre was strongly influenced by the Anglo-Saxon imagination. In 1938, under fascism, Carroll’s Alice books were banned. Any publisher wishing to publish had to follow certain guidelines. Perhaps the most famous version was illustrated by Enrico Mercatali (1938) who introduced an older dark-haired girl consistent with the appearance of local girls. In the 1950s, the blond Alice reappeared, partly as a backlash to fascist rules and partly because of the popularity of Disney’s animated film in 1951. In the 1970s, Gianni Celati (1978) used Alice as a symbol of counter-culture and Antonio D’Agostini (c1975) gave a psychedelic interpretation which fits well with Carroll’s fantastical imagery.

Enrico Mercatali - (Exact title unknown) (1938)

Enrico Mercatali – (Exact title unknown) (1938)

During the publishing of the Alice stories, the United States was generally regarded as an ugly stepchild of Britain and something of a rogue nation when it came to respecting copyright. A print run regarded as unsatisfactory by Carroll was sent to the U.S. in 1865. At least half a dozen companies sold pirated editions between 1892 and 1907 before the official expiration of copyright. They all used the Tenniel illustrations but would hire an illustrator for the cover and maybe a frontispiece. Interestingly, the Thomas Crowell edition in 1893 included the first instance of an Alice in a blue frock which became established as her signature color; all images and merchandise approved by Carroll had required the girl to be in a corn-yellow dress. A few publishers did use original work by American illustrators. Blanche McManus was distinguished as the first in 1899 for her husband’s company and Peter Newell in 1901, whose characters display an amusing array of facial expressions and interactions. M.L. Kirk’s rendition in 1904 is somewhat conventional but uses the correct color for Alice’s dress.

After the copyright expired, the floodgates opened and a number of notable American illustrators had their work published including Bessie Pease Gutmann (1907), a single illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith (1923) and Willy Pogány (1929). Walt Disney was obsessed with the story of Alice for a long time, experimenting with various treatments and designs until finally producing the somewhat unsatisfactory film in 1951. The film’s popularity had a stifling effect on innovation in the following decades. David Hall’s paintings and drawings for Disney in the 1930s did finally see the light of day in 1986 and Mary Blair’s concept art for the original film was the basis for a 2008 book.

Perhaps the first satisfactory book after this stagnant period was published in 1982, illustrated by Barry Moser and intended for adult readers. He may have been a bit gun shy of portraying the now iconic Alice and she appears only in the first and last pages as though the reader were observing things from her point of view. A number of prolific and imaginative artists have worked on Alice since then and are really too numerous to name here. An interesting historical note is that the first comic book, a distinctly American art form, was published in 1929 by George Delacorte whose fortune was later used to fund the statue in Central Park. To date, the only edition to be illustrated by a Canadian, George Walker, was produced in 1988 and may also have the distinction of being the last to be set by hand.

Bessie Pease Gutmann - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1907)

Bessie Pease Gutmann – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1907)

Camille Rose Garcia - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (2010)

Camille Rose Garcia – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (2010)

U.S. fans and collectors of Lewis Carroll paraphernalia contributed substantially to the scholarship and preservation of the author’s work. Lessing J. Rosenwald donated a handwritten and self-illustrated manuscript of Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures under Ground to the Library of the British Museum in 1948 which can now be viewed in its entirety online.  A copy of ‘The Wasp in a Wig’, a lost chapter to Looking-Glass, was discovered and published in 1972 and Morton Cohen’s biographical research on Carroll is considered to be definitive.

Alice was first introduced to Brazil by Monterio Lobato in the early 1930s using original illustrators (Tenniel and Bowley). He started with an illustration of a fantasy world including Wonderland, Neverland etc. and one from his own stories which translates as “Yellow Woodpecker Ranch”. A number of artists have used collages made from everyday materials to add cultural texture to their work. An example is Helena de Barros (Helenbar) who sewed her own dress and incorporated herself in her images.

Helenbar - A Quadrilha da Lagosta (c2003)

Helenbar – A Quadrilha da Lagosta (c2003)

The popularity of Alice in Japan cannot be understated. In fact, the Alice books and associated merchandise are now so popular that it could be said to be an industry in and of itself. The first Japanese illustrator was Shotaro Kawabata (1908). Kawabata imitated Tenniel somewhat but substituted Japanese everyday articles for Europeans ones. Often these treatments were introduced in magazine form rather than stand-alone books. The benefit seems to be that new artists, both writers and illustrators, have an easier way to become established and recognized.

Tsubakibana “Chinka” Yoshimura (1911) was probably the first to illustrate Alice using strictly Japanese patterns, techniques and composition principles. The early portrayal of Alice had a curious character. Because, in Japanese culture, girls have no real transition from childhood to adulthood, girls were portrayed as very young or very mature. Girl children were expected to act very dependent until a certain age and then suddenly expected to be responsible. The idea of a transitional coming-of-age girl was new and explored seriously only in post-war interpretations. Takashi Saida (1925) was perhaps the first to create a middle class Alice with the right balance of sophistication and uncertainty seen in the English versions. In the 1930s, the rising tide of nationalism and militarism influenced the expression in children’s books and there was a decline in sweet and innocent portrayals until after the war when all constraints on style and interpretation were obliterated. The first expression of Alice as a nymphet was in 1974 by Kuniyoshi Kaneko and many have carried on this theme, exploring Alice’s emerging sexuality.

Takashi Saida - ふしぎなお庭:まりちゃんの夢の国旅行 (1925)

Takashi Saida – ふしぎなお庭:まりちゃんの夢の国旅行 (1925)

Mainland China had a strange ordinance in 1930 which banned Alice on the silly notion that because the animals talked, it put them on the same level as human beings. Also mentioned in the text is the mystery of a strange edition produced in a short run in Inner Mongolia that seems to defy Chinese convention. Writers and artists are not usually credited in Chinese Communist publications. However, this adaptation not only gives this Taiwanese illustrator credit, but seems to be observing a more international form of copyright law.

Shi Huimin - 爱丽丝梦遊奇境 (c2000)

Shi Huimin – 爱丽丝梦遊奇境 (c2000)

In 1879, the first translation of Alice into Russian appeared featuring the art of Tenniel. There was a great deal of enthusiasm for this new literature and a number of editions were produced before the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Under Soviet domination and particularly under Stalin, artists were regarded as engineers of utopian society rather than challengers of societal norms. Carroll’s works were banned outright simply because they emphasized fantasy and nonsense rather than serving a moral purpose—expressing Socialist Realism. Artistic institutions were integrated as government unions so no rogue artist could ever hope to get a commission or be published without state sanction. The principles of Soviet Communism continued to have a hold on the artistic process even after Stalin’s death.

There seemed always to be an attempt to bring a kind of order to chaos, either literally as in Aleksandr Dodon’s (2001) framing of the text with his illustrations or in some metaphorical way, making Alice the arbiter of morality in Wonderland and the Looking-Glass worlds. The fact that both stories take place in a template of game playing (cards and chess) gave Russian artists the comfort of structure and the application of rules. Julia Gukova’s illustrations break through this convention by making Alice more an integral part of Wonderland, undermining her ability to pass judgment on these dream worlds. The Russian truism that there is no absolute truth in narrative is perhaps the unifying theme of work in the region.

V.S. Alfeevsky - Алисa в Стране Чудес (1958)

V.S. Alfeevsky – Алисa в Стране Чудес (1958)

Aleksandr Dodon - Приключения Алисы в Стране Чудес (2001)

Aleksandr Dodon – Приключения Алисы в Стране Чудес (2001)

The first translation of Wonderland into Polish was in 1910 which included images by Tenniel mixed with an anonymous artist. The effect was confusing since the artist made no effort to match Tenniel’s design or style. It had only one edition and was quickly forgotten. Two later translations/illustrations that did have a lasting impact were by Kamil Mackiewicz (1927) and Olga Siemaszko (1955). As a caricaturist, Mackiewicz’s illustrations predictably exaggerated distinguishing traits of its characters.

A 1955 version was written by Antoni Marianowicz adhering to Communist cultural policy; any reference to class distinctions had to be toned down or reinterpreted. The particular genius of this work is that the English cultural references and poems were replaced outright by Polish ones that readers could relate to. And since Marianowicz was a humorist, this version was certainly more humorous than the original. Siemaszko also illustrated a 1969 version and there is a noticeable refinement in her technique. Most later Polish editions used mostly foreign illustrators and so there appears to be no distinctive Polish style. Only after the fall of Communism did native artists start to come to the fore. Ironically, some of the most recent editions again make use of the Tenniel drawings and so the younger generation is likely to have the same visual associations with the Alice books as their grandparents.

Olga Siemaszko - Alicja w Krainie Czarów (1955)

Olga Siemaszko – Alicja w Krainie Czarów (1955)

After discussing illustrations, the book covers film treatments of Alice. The most interesting is an essay by Jan Švankmajer who describes his relationship to Alice and how, in combination with his own childhood, it inspired the production of an independent film. His first foray into Carroll’s world was a 1971 film based on the poem Jabberwocky. He describes it as an imaginative history of his childhood up to the point when he rebelled against his father. The film opens with a child’s voice (his own daughter, Veronika, then aged 9 in the Czech version) quoting from Looking-Glass. Because the censors saw the film as containing political allegories, it was banned in Czecholslovakia and he made an English version in 1973 which traveled the globe. Only in 1989, was the original film finally seen in his home country.

Another film, inspired somewhat by Alice, was Down in the Cellar (Do pivnice, 1983) about a girl sent to the cellar to fetch potatoes and what happens to her there. Although the film was completed, it did not see the light of day for a number of years due again to censorship. Švankmajer emphasizes the importance of the dream imagery in our human development, a trait that has been long neglected because it served “no moral purpose”.

Finally, he decided to attempt Alice (Něco z Alenky ,1988). The filmmaker wanted to emphasize dream imagery but reminds us that dreams are also filled with familiar objects. All the voices, appropriately altered, would be done by the same child actress consistent with the theory that we are all the characters in our dreams. The idea is that Alice is the only live person in the film and there are no intrusions of adults in voice or body. The other characters were constructed from everyday objects from Alice’s world. The Czech studios took no interest in his work, so he got financing from foreign companies and enlisted the support of art institutions to give his work credibility. The filming was done using old discarded cameras and editing equipment and in 1986, the first Czech independent film saw the light of day. Then in 2006, a Japanese publisher asked him to illustrate both Alice books and he leapt at the chance.

“Lewis Carroll’s Alice is one of the basic books of this civilization, one of those we should take with us to a desert island, just in order to survive.” –Jan Švankmajer (2011, translated by David Short)

Jan Švankmajer - Alice (1988)

Jan Švankmajer – Alice (1988)

Another essay discusses how Alice lends itself so well to animation. Considering the fantastical nature of the stories, it seems that only this medium would have any hope of effectively portraying these magical worlds. Kamilla Elliott, in her book Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate (2003), has identified over 50 film and television adaptations. As mentioned before, Walt Disney was obsessed with producing Alice very early on and in the 1920s, he experimented with a combination of live action and animation for Alice in Cartoonland. The 1951 film distinguishes itself by featuring an actual child’s voice—that of Kathryn Beaumont who also did Wendy in Peter Pan—as opposed to young women used in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty.

A number of living artists shared their experiences illustrating Alice and the philosophy behind their approach. Michael Foreman, for example, noticed how few illustrators tried to make Alice look like the original Alice (Liddell). He also made a deliberate effort to distinguish reality (sepia) from dream (color) and insists that the real background for Wonderland must be his native Cornwall. Barry Moser muses how the story is really about loneliness because of how often the words “alone” and “lonely” appear in the text. John Vernon Lord is a stickler and points out that in the actual text, “Mad” is not applied to any particular character but rather all characters in general. Over the years, we have inherited certain assumptions because of past illustrators: the Hatter is mad, the Hatter wears a hat with a price tag on it and that, at the Mad Tea Party, things other than tea are served. Tatiana Ianovskaia observes a lightly etched eroticism implied by the various metaphors of two things being one: most notably, how playing cards are a kind of marriage of two bodies sharing one space. The other artists featured were John Bradley, Chiara Carrer, Emma Chichester Clark, Gavin O’Keefe, DeLoss McGraw, Helen Oxenbury, Ralph Steadman and Justin Todd.

Tatiana Ianovskaia - Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (2005)

Tatiana Ianovskaia – Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (2005)

A short afterword, written by Graham Ovenden, comments on the modern estrangement between adults and children and that we are often deprived of the full potential of illustrators’ talent and imagination because of economic considerations.

Some of the contributors have observed some developments in the evolution of children’s books. First of all, they feel that there is a lack of charming little details. There is an assumption that children’s books should have simple illustrations. There also seems to be no adult market for illustrated books except in France and Russia. And one final observation is that with the onset of the digital age, Illustrating Alice may distinguish itself as the last time we see this kind of compilation in hard copy.

This post is quite timely as this year is the sesquicentennial anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Illustrating Alice was published in a run of 500 for the Standard edition (68 for the Special edition which comes with signed prints) and can be purchased through the Inky Parrot Press. This publisher also sells other Alice volumes including a version where each illustration is from a different artist. For those wanting a more comprehensive analysis of the Alice texts and history should read one the editions referred to as The Annotated Alice.

Illustrating Alice summary of contents:

  • Foreword by Marina Vaizey
  • Alice in different countries: Brazil by Adriana Peliano, China by Richard Newnham, England, 1865–1939 by Selwyn Goodacre, England, 1940 to today by Dennis Hall, France by Michèle Noret, Italy by Caterina Morelli, Japan by Mikiko Chimori, Poland by Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska, Russia by Ella Parry-Davies, United States and Canada by Mark Burnstein
  • Alice in Film: ‘Alice’ by Jan Švankmajer, ‘Animating Alice’ by Karen Lury
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (artists credited above)
  • Alice Through the Looking-Glass (collected illustrations only, organized by chapter
  • Alice: as through a Glass Darkly (afterword) by Graham Ovenden
  • Alphabetical Checklist of English Language Editions from the lists compiled by Selwyn Goodacre and Edward Wakeling
  • Index of Artists of non-English Language Editions and individual paintings

The Short Life and Long Afterlife of Penelope Boothby (1785–1791)

Penelope Boothby was the daughter (and only child) of Sir Brooke Boothby (1743–1824), seventh Baronet (sixth, says Wikipedia) and of his wife Susanna (1755–1822). For her biography and cultural afterlife, I follow mainly Rosemary Mitchell’s article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Penelope was born at Lichfield, Staffordshire (UK) on 11 April 1785. Her education was probably influenced by the theories of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose works her father translated into English. In July 1788, her portrait was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. According to Rosemary Mitchell, “Allegedly a warm relationship developed between the artist and the sitter, who disappeared from her home one day and was found at Reynolds’s house.” Her oversized bonnet earned the painting the epithet of the “Mob-Cap”. I show the scan given in the article by Roy Flukinger in Cultural Compass:

Joshua Reynolds – Penelope Boothby (1788)

Joshua Reynolds – Penelope Boothby (1788)

Penelope died on 13 March 1791 (on the 19th, says Wikipedia) at Ashbourne Hall, the family estate in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, after an illness of about a month. She was buried on the 20th at St. Oswald’s Church in Ashbourne. Mitchell says: “according to local legend her coffin was carried by six little girls, accompanied by six little boys holding umbrellas over them to keep off the rain. Her parents’ grief was life-long and devastating, and appears to have resulted in the collapse of their marriage.

Boothby devoted several years to paying a posthumous tribute to his beloved daughter. He “commissioned the artist Henry Fuseli to memorialize his daughter in a painting entitled The Apotheosis of Penelope Boothby (1792).

Henry Fuseli -The Apotheosis of Penelope Boothby (1792)

Henry Fuseli – The Apotheosis of Penelope Boothby (1792)

Mitchell notes: “With its strong resemblance to an altarpiece, Fuseli’s work depicts a winged and elegantly clad angel sweeping down from heaven to receive an elongated Penelope, while a figure representing the daystar indicates the way upwards. On the ground, an urn and an oversized butterfly or moth serve to symbolize death, the fleeting character of human life, and the resurrection of the dead.

And that was not all: “A monument to Penelope was commissioned in 1793 from the prominent sculptor Thomas Banks. Made of Carrara marble, it depicted the little girl apparently sleeping, and carried inscriptions in English, Italian, Latin, and French, culled from the Bible, Catullus, Petrarch, and (unsurprisingly) Rousseau.” This monument lies in St. Oswald’s Church, Ashbourne.

Here is the photograph taken in 2009 by Pasquale Apone for Panoramio:

Thomas Banks - monument to Penelope Boothby (1793) (1)

Thomas Banks – monument to Penelope Boothby (1793) (1)

In the following photograph from Wikimedia Commons, one sees in the background the Memorial to John and Anne Bradbourne:

Thomas Banks - monument to Penelope Boothby (1793) (2)

Thomas Banks – monument to Penelope Boothby (1793) (2)

Here is a close-up 2006 photograph by user ‘JR P UGArdener’ on Flickr:

Thomas Banks - monument to Penelope Boothby (1793) (3)

Thomas Banks – monument to Penelope Boothby (1793) (3)

Two old-fashioned argentic black & white photographs by F. H. Crossley are available on the website of the The Courtauld Institute of Art, London, see references B47/2057 and B47/3058.

In 1796, Brooke Boothby published a collection of sonnets expressing his grief: Sorrows. Sacred to the Memory of Penelope. According to Mitchell, some reviews were “measured but sympathetic”, but another stressed the “sameness and insipidity of sound” of the sonnets. Indeed, eight of these poems are reproduced on Sonnet Central, and I find them moving, but far from exceptional.

Sir Brooke Boothby lived in an extravagant way and finally became ruined. Ashbourne Hall was leased in 1814, then Boothby settled in Boulogne in 1815 and died there in 1824.

As says Mitchell: “Penelope Boothby’s cultural afterlife did not end with her father’s poetical tribute.” Several artists emulated Penelope’s portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds. I show two 19th century mezzotint prints downloaded from the National Portrait Gallery (references NPG D21649 and NPG D31993, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0):

James Scott, after Joshua Reynolds - Penelope Boothby (1850-1880)

James Scott, after Joshua Reynolds – Penelope Boothby (1850-1880)

Samuel Cousins, after Joshua Reynolds - Penelope Boothby (1874)

Samuel Cousins, after Joshua Reynolds – Penelope Boothby (1874)

Then “Reynolds’s portrait served as the inspiration for John Everett Millais’s Cherry Ripe (1879), which was a portrait of Edie Ramage, who had attended a fancy-dress ball in that year dressed as Penelope.” I show here the reproduction given in Pip’s article Cherry Ripe! Pt. 1:

John Everett Millais – Cherry Ripe (1879)

John Everett Millais – Cherry Ripe (1879)

Mitchell continues: “Three years earlier the photographer and writer Lewis Carroll had taken two pictures of his favourite model, Xie (Alexandria) Kitchin, dressed as Penelope Boothby—one in which she is sitting down and one with her standing against a minimalist background.” I reproduce these two photographs from the article by Roy Flukinger in Cultural Compass; as one sees, Xie wears the same mittens and “Mob-Cap” as Penelope in Reynolds’s painting:

Charles L. Dodgson - Xie Kitchin as Penelope Boothby, seated (1875-1876)

Charles L. Dodgson – Xie Kitchin as Penelope Boothby, seated (1875-1876)

Charles L. Dodgson - Xie Kitchin as Penelope Boothby, standing (1875-1876)

Charles L. Dodgson – Xie Kitchin as Penelope Boothby, standing (1875-1876)

Rosemary Mitchell concludes:

“The parental and artistic response in the 1790s to Penelope Boothby’s untimely death reveals the impact of Romantic ideas on constructions of childhood as a period separate from adulthood, and blessed with innocence and openness to natural and spiritual truths. It also illustrates the effect of Romanticism on perceptions of death, as the memorials to Penelope reflect an increasingly individualized and partially secularized response to the experience of loss. The later Victorian appropriation of Reynolds’s image of the living Penelope reveals both the intensification of the cult of childhood in the nineteenth century and a nostalgia for the apparently simple and rural world of pre-industrial Georgian England.”


  • Rosemary Mitchell: ‘Boothby, Penelope (1785–1791)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, May 2010; online edition, Jan 2011. (The online version is available only to registered users or subscribing institutions.)
  • Roy Flukinger: ‘For his most famous child portrait, Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) drew inspiration from an eighteenth-century painting’, Cultural Compass, The Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.

Update: a new transcription of three other sonnets from Boothby’s Sorrows.

Sensationalism, the Two Camps and the Eternal Child

In a passing conversation, I got a tip that there was a photograph attributed to Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) that had been floating around since at least the 1970s. It is purported to be a photograph of Lorina Liddell, the eldest of the Liddell children with whom Dodgson spent a lot of time and took photographs. When I looked into it, I realized this was not an off-hand remark. BBC2 had just aired a documentary entitled The Secret World of Lewis Carroll on January 31st in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Hosted by Martha Kearney, the film mostly honors the literary achievement of this artist, but in a bizarre twist, the producers claimed a last minute discovery of a photograph suggesting a more sinister interest in children by Dodgson.

I was told that the image could be found on the internet, however I was only able to find this very small one. I would appreciate someone coming forward with a better copy. Two or three versions of this reproduction were available.

Lorina photo cleanSuch a “discovery” is undoubtedly an irresistible bit of sensationalism for filmmakers and would inevitably, and quite incongruously, be included. Taking into account the overall structure of the film, it really seemed tacked on. Anyone who is an expert on the photographic work of Dodgson would recognize this as a forgery (or misidentified) and Edward Wakeling and many others have said so. The real mystery in my mind is why it was produced in the first place. Was it a forgery to discredit Dodgson? Was it a lark by another photographer who noticed the resemblance between a model and the real Lorina Liddell? Or were the identifying marks on the back just a guess by some art dealer who thought he recognized the model and period?

Before delving into historical, psychological and personality issues, it is important to notice that the producers focused only on the forensic evidence and only fleetingly mentioned that real experts on the man considered it a fake. After being in a private gallery in the Paris area, the image was inherited by Musée Cantini in Marseilles. That is where it was subjected to tests by Nicholas Burnett. According to him, the paper stock, albumen residue and probable type of camera—requiring a wet collodion process—was consistent with it having been produced when Lorina was a young teen. He also commented that the mold damage was consistent with that age and would have been difficult to fake. David Anley subjected it to further analysis in the hopes of determining if the model could have been Lorina. After some equivocation by both experts, they each admitted leaning toward the conclusion that the photo was genuine. Particularly disturbing about this is that in a court of law, such experts’ conclusions are compelling testimony in convicting defendants.


This seems to have offered the tantalizing possibility that Dodgson was a repressed pedophile. Given his status as a member of the clergy, repressed is certainly an accurate adjective, but the problem with the term pedophile is that it is far from satisfactorily defined. Kenneth Clark noted that institutional authorities hate dictionaries and encyclopedias because they clearly define things and powerful people and institutions need an environment of ambiguity to thrive. For the purposes of this essay—and the proper definition in my mind—I am defining it as the selfish exploitation (in person) of a child for sexual gratification—and presumably having some deleterious effect on the child’s mental and/or physical well-being. By that definition, Dodgson was certainly not a pedophile and it is unfortunate that his nieces, probably out of a sense of propriety, saw fit to remove pages from his diaries that may have offered clues to his thoughts and mental state.

He often scolded himself for deviations from his personal standard of honor. Being a clergyman, it is likely that these “failings” had at least some sexual component. Although I could personally relate to the man in most ways, we do diverge on the point of sexual repression. I don’t mean to validate Freudian theory, but the sex drive is a powerful force and cannot be dismissed easily. In fact, it was the Catholic Church’s political maneuver to have its priests and bishops be celibate that was key to centuries of sexual misconduct and abuse of children by these celibates. The other factor—given the doctrine of original sin—is the appalling lack of education priests get about the realities of human sexuality. The propensity for this behavior in this demographic is remarkable considering how rare sexual child abuse generally is. The documentary notes that Dodgson did take a similar oath and would, at the very least, have been confused by his own impulses. Despite protestations to the contrary, thought and action do not amount to the same thing. And regardless of whatever confusing distractions he may have experienced, there can be no doubt that his regard for children was worshipful. This would have been consistent with Rousseau’s philosophy that children represented a state of grace that would be corrupted only as they grew up.

The biggest error made by the amateur historian is not accounting for how the context of behavior changes over time and in different cultures. I am constantly (almost ad nauseum) reminded by colleagues of this when analyzing the actions of people living in the Victorian Era or the Hippie Generation. Even if there can be some objective humanist standard of ethical behavior, it is far from easy to disentangle oneself from the biases of one’s own culture. Most people are not even aware of the effect that their culture’s propaganda has on them personally. When taking this all into account, it behooves us to regard Dodgson’s quirks with a compassionate eye and commend him for his personal and public accomplishments and the way he enriched the lives of his child friends, despite the constraints of his society.

With all due respect to academic experts, I am not privy to the sound bites we are supposed to use when discussing the personal lives of celebrities. In the case of Dodgson, I see very little that reflects a deep understanding of his relationship with children. I am peridocially reminded how certain people have an excellent rapport with children; the Kye Tanson post is a recent case in point. The remarkable thing about such people is not so much that they do not fit into adult society which is often a dreadful bore, but because children are treated with respect as real human beings in their own right, these children would naturally gravitate toward such adults, expressing a remarkable confidence. One should not underestimate the capacity of little girls to pursue—perhaps for largely selfish reasons—these relationships and ingratiate themselves to such providers of stories, games, boat rides, tea parties and doting attention. In the case of Alice Liddell, there is evidence that she had a kind of pushy personality that was nonetheless charming—demanding stories, presents and other favors. Acknowledgment of the personal agency of Alice is hardly mentioned in historical accounts. It is therefore conceivable (and I think, likely) that whether or not Alice was Dodgson’s favorite, he was certainly hers up to a certain age. The fact that these girls grow up and change their personalities and priorities was an ongoing source of distress for Dodgson and he would, half jokingly, plead for them not to grow any further. With regards to his personal interest in Lorina, let’s suppose that he had some airy romantic notions about her at one time, I believe if he had actually seen her as a naked young teen, he would have been somewhat revolted. The visual cues for sexual desire (principally pubic hair, breasts and fat deposition) are quite different from the kind of pristine beauty of a child’s body.

Finally, some thought should be given to the personality of people who genuinely enjoy spending time with children. For them, it is almost as if they were promised a magical transformation into adulthood that never happened and they remained eternally children. They are physically adult and have adult libidos, but they seem to have a stronger desire for engaging in non-competitive (sometimes nonsensical) play, an infectious enthusiasm for hobbies, less patience for social niceties and a somewhat refreshing bluntness that may seem odd coming out of an adult’s mouth. These people provide an invaluable service to the next generation and, when endowed with wit and intelligence, an immutable impact on culture as the tales of Alice did.

In the decades that followed Helmut Gernsheim’s rediscovery that the man known as Lewis Carroll was also a skilled photographer of children, Morton Norton Cohen—who appeared on the documentary—discovered that some nudes did still exist. And those scholars who were not rigorously versed in the peculiarities of Victorian culture inevitably applied their own cultural standards of decency. In a defensive reaction to the proposition that Dodgson might have had unhealthy relationships with his little subjects, other scholars may have overcompensated—even denying that Dodgson had any special affinity and bond with children. The result has been a polarization in Lewis Carroll scholarship that, although sensational in our time, is a cynical and irrelevant distraction from the real character of the artist and his contribution to society. This “Two Camps” phenomenon makes the artist—unable to defend himself—a political pawn of grandstanding academics. Scholarship should be used to illuminate the public about our society’s history, not a tool to gain public notoriety. Shame goes to those who, out of expediency, do sloppy research and cater to the lowest common denominator of mainstream culture. BBC2 has certainly come a long way from its landmark days of productions like the Civilisation series.

What’s in a Name? Charles Dodgson

When I first made this post, I had only begun my foray into the scholarship of Lewis Carroll.  I simply wanted readers to realize that even a personality as noted as Carroll engaged in some nude photography of little girls.  I did not realize that some of my sources—most especially Cohen—would be regarded as manipulated and biased.  I may not have the time in the foreseeable future to update this post and remedy things so I strongly suggest after looking at this post, you read the scholarly comment offered by one of our readers and my reply to get a more balanced perspective.  

Also, I have been informed that images of the original photograph used to produce the third image below appeared in Anne Higonnet’s Pictures of Innocence: The History of and Crisis of Ideal Childhood (1998).  I think it is worth a look.  -Ron

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898) is better known to most people as Lewis Carroll, the creator of the Alice stories and the inspiration for a plethora of imagery and stories ever since. What is less well-known was his affinity for the company of children and his mastery in photographing them.

He received his first camera in 1856 and in short order, demonstrated his skill with the technology culminating in a public exhibition with the Photographic Society of London in 1858. This is even more impressive given the messy wet collodion process that was common at the time. He did shoot a number of portraits and adult groups which would have been sufficient to secure his place in history never mind his work with children.

When I was invited to co-host this blog, I knew it was important that this be my first post containing images. Not only is this artist historically important, but after I read Lewis Carroll, Photographer of Children: Four Nude Studies and Lewis Carroll: A Biography both written by Morton N. Cohen, I was shocked by the almost identical intellectual, social and aesthetic sensibility we both had. Perhaps some may find it presumptuous, but I feel especially qualified to discuss Dodgson’s motivations and attitudes. The reader will notice I express a greater certitude and less objective detachment than when I discuss any other artist or work.

Although he may have subconsciously registered the natural beauty of children early on, particularly the prettiness of girls, he was first drawn to children because of their minds. They express an exuberant freedom and an openness that Rousseau would have termed their “natural animal spirits”. Even a 6 to 8-year-old girl can have a surprisingly well-developed intellect, facility with language and social skill to make them charming enough companions. Dodgson took the time to lavish attention on his child friends in the form of elaborate tea parties and other diversions. So, it is natural that he should want to preserve forever their images and in the course of that endeavor, begin to consciously notice their physical beauty as well.

Dodgson kept extensive diaries during his life and the first mention of shooting a subject nude was in 1867. His sensitivity about the comfort level of the parents and children is quite touching and his obsession with only shooting girls with “good figures” clearly demonstrate that his work in this area was legitimately aesthetic. His best work were tableaux with staged backgrounds, costumes and situations to build up a scene with the child(ren) center stage. Many good examples can be found online and here in this blog.

Dodgson was quite conflicted about his pursuits: between his desire to produce compelling images for his own enjoyment, concern about how others might regard his unorthodox work and possible ridicule his friends might receive once they grew up. Sound familiar? It is hard to speculate on how many nudes were originally produced, but only 4 are known to survive today. All sitters were children of people he knew personally very well and many plates were sent out to be colorized which is also quite telling. Ben Maddox called these images saccharine, but this perfunctory assessment was unfair given the almost obsessive labor of love these images must have entailed. Dodgson pulled out all the stops in his attempt to enhance the natural beauty of each image. It seems from his diaries that he intended to continue his photography after this prolific burst but he simply could not manage the time to learn the newest techniques after that.

Dodgson secured a mathematical lectureship at Oxford, specializing in logic. The position required that he pursue his religious education as well and eventually he became a deacon of the Church. He must have realized he could not get far because of his stammer but he managed as a kind of substitute minister when needed. Henry Liddell, who became a Dean at Oxford, became Dodgson’s boss and brought with him a young family. Early on, he befriended the oldest girls: Lorina, Alice and Edith. His bond with Alice was especially strong and he would entertain the girls with his vivid nonsensical stories during their outings together and the girls were incorporated as characters in his stories. He finally wrote down some of the stories and bound them as a gift for Alice. Encouragement from friends then compelled him to have them published. The use of the pen name Lewis Carroll was an attempt to keep his popular writings from interfering with his private life. Also contrary to speculation, Dodgson’s fantasies were not hallucination-induced rantings, but creative musings about the bizarre discoveries being made in the mathematics of the period.


Charles Dodgson – Beatrice Seated Before the White Cliffs

Charles Dodgson – Evelyn Hatch (c 1879) (1)

Charles Dodgson – Evelyn Hatch (c 1879) (1)

Charles Dodgson – Evelyn Hatch (c 1879) (2)

Charles Dodgson – Evelyn Hatch (c 1879) (2)

Charles Dodgson – Annie and Frances Henderson (c 1879)

Charles Dodgson – Annie and Frances Henderson (c 1879)

Wikipedia: Lewis Carroll

Cherry Ripe!

There is a garden in her face
Where roses and white lilies grow;
A heav’nly paradise is that place
Wherein all pleasant fruits do flow.
There cherries grow which none may buy,
Till “Cherry-ripe” themselves do cry.

The above is the first stanza of Thomas Campion’s poem “There is a Garden in Her Face,” a paean to a beautiful virginal girl. How do we know this? We must first put it into historical context. Cherry vendors in England traditionally used the call “Cherry ripe!” to let people know that cherries were ready to buy. If we apply this fact to the poem, we see that the man is describing a girl that, while beautiful, is not yet ready to be “bought”—that is, she hasn’t quite reached sexual maturity. Campion admires this girl for her sexual purity, which he acquaints with spiritual purity. Here we have a basic explanation for the Victorian cult of the girl (which followed Campion by a couple hundred years): girls, because of their perceived innocence and sweetness, were considered above all other natural human groups to be the closest to God, so long as they maintained their virginity, hence British society’s horror of the underground culture of girls being kidnapped and deflowered—brought to light by W. T. Stead’s series The Maiden Tribute to Modern Babylon, and likely highly exaggerated therein—which compelled Britain’s Parliament to raise the age of consent from 13 to 16.

In terms of cherries being associated with young girls and virginity, many people seem to be under the impression that slang terms like cherry, in reference to the hymen, was invented by their generation, or at least the generation before theirs. In fact, this is not so:

cherry […] Meaning “maidenhead, virginity” is from 1889, U.S. slang, from supposed resemblance to the hymen, but perhaps also from the long-time use of cherries as a symbol of the fleeting quality of life’s pleasures.”

There we have it. The slang term dates at least to 1889, but I suspect the association of this particular fruit with virginity dates further back than even Campion’s poem, which was first published in 1617. And we are also given another, older, symbolism for cherries in the above etymology: they stand for the fleeting quality of physical pleasure. This too can be tied into sex, but also to childhood, which is itself fleeting. This symbolism is the Western tradition, but even in the East the cherry (and more specifically the cherry blossom) are also associated with maidenhood/virginity. We are more concerned with the Western mode here, but I do find it interesting that such disparate cultures can arrive at a similar symbolic representation, don’t you?

Back to the poem. We get the impression from the final stanza not of a full-grown woman—worldly and self-assured—but of a nervous girl being approached by potential mates, as if she is a wary doe being stalked by wolves on the hunt.

Why am I bringing all of this up? It is to lay the foundation of context for one very interesting painting, that painting being Sir John Everett Millais’s “Cherry Ripe”, a deceptively simple portrait of a little girl in a white dress with pink highlights sitting on a log in the forest . . .

John Everett Millais – Cherry Ripe (1879)

Wikipedia: John Everett Millais

Millais was a Pre-Raphaelite painter, and like most of the Pre-Raphaelites, he loaded his art with symbolism. First, the semiotics of color. White was of course the color of purity. Children, particularly little girls, were often dressed in white for formal portraits. Moreover, the child is placed against a dark and shadowy forest from which any wild beast could emerge and snatch her from her perch; unlike most portraits, which are set safely indoors or illuminated spaces, this one is actually a bit edgy. More likely than not this was intentional on Millais’s part. I have mentioned before that semiotically a white figure against black backdrop stresses the figure’s vulnerability or purity—or, in this case, both—in a morally nebulous world. Pale pink, which is traditionally associated with young girls, is also the color of cherry blossoms, and the child’s flesh is also pinkish. Here we have a figure composed almost entirely of white and pink. The lone exceptions are her eyes and hair and the black gloves, but as they were a conscious choice, it is the gloves that draw our attention.

The gloves are black. The color black has many symbolic interpretations, but here it screams sexuality. Look closely at the girl’s hands: they are placed in her lap and closed together prayer-style, only inverted. The gloves are fingerless, V-shaped and adjacent to her hands, inevitably funneling one’s attention right to the girl’s fleshy, exposed fingers, and (as more than one art critic has pointed out) those fingers happen to resemble a vulva.

Now some questions arise. Was this accidental or deliberate on the part of Millais? I suspect the answer is somewhere in between. And what exactly is Millais saying with this painting? Perhaps he is wrestling with the Victorian notion of the asexual girl-child, and suggesting that it may be a tad more complicated than that. Maybe he’s being ironic. After all, despite the title of the piece, the little girl is clearly nowhere near being “ripe”, and indeed some of the cherries lying at her side belie the title as well. Then again, maybe it is entirely coincidental, but I doubt it.

There is one other possibility I can think of. Millais was a friend of culture/art critic John Ruskin, who was married to Effie Gray at the time they met and became friends. But Ruskin had been married to Effie for several years and had yet to consummate the marriage, owing to, it was rumored, his mortal dread of pubic hair. Ruskin, like Lewis Carroll, had written a book for his beloved when she was still a child. The book was The King of the Golden River. Unlike Carroll, however, Ruskin was eventually able to marry the girl he had eyes for, although Ruskin and Effie were only nine years apart in age whereas Carroll and Alice Liddell were twenty years apart and of different social classes from one another. Anyway, Millais and Effie eventually fell in love, the marriage between Ruskin and Effie was annulled, and Effie remarried Millais, with whom she had eight children. (Side note: The oldest Millais daughter—also called Effie—was even one of Lewis Carroll’s photographic subjects.) Now, Ruskin was a fan of the Pre-Raphaelites, but given the embarrassing situation between Ruskin, Millais and Effie, it is little wonder that Ruskin began to condemn Millais’s post-marriage work, ostensibly because it was of lower quality according to Ruskin, but in reality it is more likely that Ruskin felt slighted and used his power as a critic to avenge the loss of his mate to Millais the best way he knew how. Is it possible, then, that Millais, with the painting “Cherry Ripe,” was publicly mocking Ruskin and his supposed pubic hair phobia? Probably not, but it is worth considering.

And speaking of Lewis Carroll, perhaps the next most famous artwork featuring little girls and cherries after the Millais piece is Carroll’s photo of the Liddell sisters (Edith, Lorina and Alice) in which the oldest girl, Lorina, is feeding Alice a cherry. Alice stands with her head cocked and mouth slightly agape, like a baby bird waiting to be fed by its mother. And, of course, Alice would be the one to be fed, given Carroll’s ongoing fascination with her.

Lewis Carroll – The Three Liddell Sisters (“Open Your Mouth”) (1860)

Wikipedia: Lewis Carroll

The above was one of several Carroll works that Polixeni Papapetrou created a tribute to.

Polixeni Papapetrou – Cherry Group

Polixeni Papapetrou (Official Site)

One step removed from this, cherries—really any fruit, but apples and cherries in particular—can represent transgression, as in the story of Adam and Eve, in which children stand in for the first humans and the crime that brings on their downfall is theft.

Fritz Zuber-Bühler – The Cherry Thieves

Wikipedia: Fritz Zuber-Bühler

Carl Larsson – Forbidden Fruit

Wikipedia: Carl Larsson

Frederick Morgan – Cherry Pickers

Wikipedia: Frederick Morgan (painter)

Note the coy and mischievous expression on this girl’s face:

Charles Amable Lenoir – The Cherrypicker (1900)

Wikipedia: Charles Amable Lenoir

Cherries can also represent intimacy, both romantic and familial.

Paul Hermann Wagner – Idylle mit Atelier (1889)

Lord Frederick Leighton – Mother and Child (1865)

Lord Frederic Leighton: The Complete Works

Wikipedia: Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton

Franz von Defregger – Kinder beim Kirschenessen (1869)

Wikipedia: Franz Defregger

Cherries can become an amusement for little girls playing at being women.

Frederick Morgan – Cherry Earrings (1)

Frederick Morgan – Cherry Earrings (2)

Frederick Morgan – The Cherry Gatherers

Georg Rössler – Mädchen mit Kirschen (1901)

But mostly cherries were just colorful eye-catchers that helped to emphasize the vibrancy and ruddy healthiness of youth . . .

Emile Vernon – The Cherry Bonnet (1919)

John Russell – Little Girl with Cherries (1780)

Wikipedia: John Russell (painter)

Friedrich von Kaulbach – Kirschen (Cherries)

Wikipedia: Friedrich Kaulbach

Fritz Zuber-Bühler – The First Cherries

Finally, a couple of curious contemporary artworks in which girl meets fruit; to be honest, I’m not sure exactly what to make of these.

Rene Lynch – Wonderland: Cherry Picking (2005)

Rene Lynch (Official Site)

I will say one thing about this final piece: Pay attention to how the little nude girl unwittingly mimics the lithe erotically posed woman in the magazine her mother is holding.

Tatiana Deriy – Little Cherry

(Editor’s update, 2015/11/06: There is a larger image of Little Cherry on Tatiana Deriy’s website.)

Eye on Alice: The Muse

So, this post will be kicking off a series that will focus exclusively on the theme of Alice in Wonderland, the most famous–and most published–children’s book ever.  The book, the full title of which is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There were the brainchild of Oxford professor and clergyman Rev. Charles Dodgson, better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll.  Carroll was not only a mathematics professor and scholar, an author and a church leader (as if those things weren’t enough), he was also a brilliant photographer–one of the best of his day.  Carroll’s favorite subject–in life and in art–was the little girl, and many of his extant photographic works are of young girls, including the one who inspired him to write his famous book.  That girl, Alice Pleasance Liddell, is this month’s ‘Eye on Alice’ topic, and why not?  After all, she was the one who started it all.  Helen of Troy’s face may have launched a thousand ships, but Alice’s face has launched millions, maybe billions, of adventures into those realms dreamt up by Carroll over a century ago, and inspired some of the most amazing art by thousands of artists since its initial publication.  That Carroll may have been in love with little Alice (and fraught with sexual feelings for young girls in general) has been surmised by many a scholar, and I’m inclined to agree.  What I don’t believe is that Carroll was ever anything but a proper Victorian gentleman in the presence of the girls he adored, including Alice.  Nevertheless, he did manage to capture for posterity several images of his infantine muse and her sisters, the girls who accompanied him and a friend of his on a boat trip on the day that the story was born.

(Note: before I launch into this proper, I would like to point out that there is simply so much subject matter about Alice in Wonderland that I cannot even come close to doing it justice here.  It deserves its own blog, and indeed there are several I’ve encountered in my own journey across this digital wonderland called the Internet, though ultimately none have captured the full breadth and depth of artistic styles, incarnations and visions inspired by the literary source.)

As I’ve already mentioned, Carroll took several photos of Alice Liddell, though the best known one is “Portrait of Alice Liddell as the Beggar Child.”  Francine Prose describes it in her book The Lives of the Muses:

“The child is exceptionally beautiful.  The bright black coins of her eyes, the unblemished pale flesh ever so lightly grazing the rough, mossy stone, the perfect ankles and feet, the slightly prehensile toes curled among the nasturtiums, the ragged costume nearly comical in its carnal suggestiveness, the crisp regularity of her features, the gleam of her hair, the naturalness of her posture, the confidence of that crooked elbow and the hand at her hip, the artistry of this composition, the graceful pose that seems so integral and ideally suited to the photograph–the cupped hand, the beggar child’s supplication, not extended toward us but staying within the picture plane, more ironic, knowing, and withholding than importuning–a pose so apparently effortless that we take its elegance for granted until we compare it with another photo of Alice in the same beggar’s rags, a more frontal and literal-minded shot in which the girl’s hands, joined before her, resemble a baby seal’s flippers.”


“Finally its the gaze that holds us and makes the photo seem so unlike any other portrait of a child–or an adult.  It’s the subtlety and complexity of Alice’s expression, the paradoxical mixture of the sly and straightforward, the saucy and serious: the intense concentration that Alice brought to Dodgson’s portrayals of her as a child, the boldness that singled her out of family groupings and then disappeared, subsumed by self-conscious melancholy, as Alice passed the age at which the child-friends ceased to interest their attentive adult companion.” (Prose, pp. 66-67)



Charles Dodgson – Alice in a Verdant Setting (1860)





Wikipedia: Lewis Carroll

Wikipedia: Alice Liddell

Some excellent Alice in Wonderland and Lewis Carroll web resources:

Lenny’s Alice in Wonderland Site

Lewis Carroll Society of North America

The Hunting of the Snark

Victorian Web: Lewis Carroll

The entire original version of the book can be read here.