Rabbit Holes, Literary Nonsense, and the Victorian Child Cult

Twas bryllg, and the slythy toves

Did gyre and gymble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves;

And the mome rahts outgrabe1

– Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll)

I went down a rabbit hole recently. It started simple enough: I Googled “Lewis Carroll” and “paedophile.” An hour later I found myself reading about “literary nonsense”2 and the “Victorian Child Cult.” I thought digital music digging was exasperating; digital pervert digging is even more so. To get myself out of this rabbit hole, I am going to start at the bottom and crawl backwards.

Here is the bottom:

Inky tinky pobblebockle abblesquabs?–Flosky! Beebul trimble flosky!–Okul scratchabibblebongibo, viddle squibble tog-a-tog, ferrymoyassity amsky flamsky damsky crocklefether squiggs3

– Edward Lear (Gentlemen Artist)4

This is a prime example of “literary nonsense” at its purest form. Literary nonsense is a broad category of literature that uses sensical and nonsensical elements to defy language conventions or logical reasoning. Historically, literary nonsense is divided into two branches. The older form is traced to folk traditions, tales, songs, and games. The nursery rhyme “Hey Diddle Diddle” is a prime example. The other branch has its origins in the “intellectual absurdities” of court poets, jesters, and scholars. Latin parodies, religious travesties, and political satire are examples.5

Charles Dodgson wrote literary nonsense. Charles Dodgson was better known as Lewis Carroll. Charles was supposedly an awkward child and adult, which may be the result of him having a “stammer” when he spoke. He was a Tory who was “awed by lords and inclined to be snobbish towards inferiors” during the Victorian Age. Charles liked the sensical and the nonsensical.

Charles was extremely smart. He invented such things as a postage stamp case, an early version of Scrabble, a “means for justifying right margins on a typewriter,” a tricycle steering device, and a set of “fair” elimination rules for a tennis tournament. Needless to say there were a lot of marbles rolling around inside his head. With all of this, he was also worked in the mathematical fields of geometry, matrix algebra, and logic.

When he wasn’t busy figuring out new rules for tennis, he was taking pictures of nude children.6 Seems it was quite common for the Victorian Era intelligentsia to photograph naked kids. The Victorian Era was supposedly a time defined as “… a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence for Britain” from 1837 to 1901. These “refined sensibilities” also included dismal child labor practices, rampant prostitution, and taking pictures of children sans clothes.

These child nudity pictures were a manifestation of what has been called the Victorian Child Cult. Children were seen as innocent and symbols of freedom. Adults who wished to capture this innocence took pictures of nude children. Charles Dodgson was one of these Victorian Child Cult members, or at least, that is what his present-day apologist say.

Lenny de Rooy is one of these apologists. Lenny is a Dutch woman who works in the professional field of web design, and she as an esthetically pleasing website dedicated to Alice in Wonderland. Lenny has been frequently asked if Lewis Carroll was a paedophile, and she responds with:

No, probably not. He certainly liked little girls at a level that was more than normal. However, there is no evidence at all that he was sexually attracted to them. He did photograph them in the nude, but only with permission from their mothers, and only if the children were completely at ease with it. He made sure that after his death those pictures were destroyed or returned to the children to prevent them from getting embarrassed.

In his time making nude photographs of children wasn’t uncommon; all Victorian artists did studies of child-nudes, it was a trendy subject for the time. When his child-friends grew up, they told only positive stories about their warm friendship. It is suggested that Carroll loved little girls so much because he had many sisters which he loved to entertain when he was a young boy.

Fortunately for Lenny, there is some actual scholarly work that supports her (somewhat) emphatic “no, probably not.” In the Shadow of the Dreamchild is a 1999 book that discusses the “Carroll Myth” and states that Charles Dodgson may have been the victim of inaccurate biographies, stories, wishful thinking. This book uses a large amount of evidence from his diaries and the letters he exchanged with friends, family, and photography subjects.

Now, I am about out of this hole. Here at the top of this moist and earthy rabbit heaven I find the real Alice. Her name was Alice Liddell. She was born in 1852 and died in 1934. At the age of 10, she asked Charles Dodgson (a family friend) to entertain her and her sisters with a story. He told them about Alice and her adventures in a wonderland. This was not the first time he had told them about Alice’s adventures, but following this encounter he wrote the story down. He originally called it Alice’s Adventures Under Ground and presented the manuscript to Alice in 1864. It was retitled Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and commercially published in 1865.

Alice Liddell was Charles Dodgson’s muse. We don’t know what sexual feelings Charles may have felt for Alice, but we do know that she posed for him. Sensical or not, Charles Dodgson gave us a story that amazes and entertains. I am out of the rabbit hole. The Victorian Child Cult may have been about the innocence of childhood, but it may have been part of the Victorian Era exploitation of children… they probably go hand-in-hand. By the way the following picture is what made me fall in:

 *this is Alice Liddell at age 6 as photographed by Charles Dodgson.

1. “it was evening, and the smooth active badgers were scratching and boring holes in the hillside; all unhappy were the parrots; and the grave turtles squeaked out.”

2. See the quote at the beginning of this post and note 1.

3. Okay, A) do you have any idea how hard it is to type words that are completely made up? I’m a damn good keyboard striker, but trying to spell those words without looking at the screen nearly made my brain explode; and B) there is no fucking way spellcheck is going to confirm or deny if I correctly spelled those words as originally written.

4. The source for this “poem” states that this was written by Edward Lear, and described him as a “Gentlemen Artist”… I have no clue what a gentlemen artist is. Additionally, I did not read further to get the translation for this “poem.” My brain can’t dig any deeper.

5. Thanks Wikipedia for educating me on literary nonsense.

6. Yeah, nude kids.


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