We are moving

•October 17, 2010 • Comments Off on We are moving

Contrariwise the Blog has graduated to its own website at:


No more posts here – so update your bookmarks.



•September 1, 2010 • Comments Off on Addendum

Well, we’ve been told those changes to Wiki we talked about were actually made by one of the authors mentioned – who has now taken down the reference to the other author mentioned (at his request we understand), and modified the entry in other small ways. We have to say we originally thought it had been done by some random troll – because the wording and the sentiments just didn’t seem like something that would have come from the author herself. If we’d known, despite all outward appearance, it had been written by the author named we would have approached it in a less satirical way, and we’re sorry for that.

But we have to admit we are if anything even more baffled by the whole business! What purpose is there in creating imaginary divisions between us? In quibbling between ‘myth’ and ‘comprehensive misrepresentation’? If we agree then let’s celebrate it, not pretend we don’t.

Oh – we’ve closed the poll too, as it’s probably a little insensitive now we know the true provenance of the Wiki comments. Though, even though intended it as a little joke, it’s yielded some interesting results we might share later.

Time for a vote

•August 29, 2010 • Comments Off on Time for a vote

Just a bit of fun, ‘Charles1832’, don’t burst anything.(And please don’t post multiple replies we just have to delete). We just think it’s time for people to stand up and be counted!

wiki-weird II

•August 27, 2010 • 32 Comments

We’ve been fatally distracted from this blog by our Other Lives, but someone (thank you JedO) just told us about a little something  on Wiki we had to pass on.

Of course  Lewis Carroll’s  Wikipedia   page is prone to outbursts of Tourette’s at the best of times, with whole sections being replaced with pithy legends such as ‘he was a wanker‘, and  ‘his family were all donuts‘ ,  but here’s a recent addition a little more literate that doesn’t seem to be aiming at Absurdism, but still has me slightly bewildered:

Edward Wakeling, editor of the 10-volume “Lewis Carroll’s Diaries” has always maintained that there is no “myth” and Jenny Woolf, while agreeing that Carroll’s image has been comprehensively misrepresented in the past, believes that this can be attributed to Carroll’s own behaviour and in particular his tendency to self-caricature in later life

Okay.  Couple of things to ponder –

1. Edward Wakeling does not maintain there is  ‘no myth’, in fact he  has a link on his own  website entitled ‘Myths About Lewis Carroll’, with a  long list of  said myths, many of which are identical with those we examine.

2. Anyone have any idea  what the difference is between a life that is mythic and one that has been ‘comprehensively misrepresented’? Or what “this can be attributed to Carroll’s own behaviour and in particular his tendency to self-caricature in later lifeactually means?  That  poor Carroll was responsible for all the lies and nonsense said about him  for a hundred years and  more after his death? And that means, somehow (how?) that there’s no myth? Just a ‘comprehensive misrepresentation’ that is all Carroll’s own fault?

Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t this semantic gibberish?

We have no idea who wrote this, but we think Mr W and Ms W should probably be informed in case they want to make changes.

Best Search term to hit us ever II

•June 26, 2010 • 6 Comments

The last of these we picked out was  “Alice in Wonderland garden gnomes”,  which really just opens up a  vista in the mind’s eye  doesn’t it. ( They never told us if they found what they were looking for, but I know they have their gnomes nestled safe in the garden by the goldfish pond,  and they look over at them happily while having afternoon tea in the Conservatory. –  I want to be there. )

The latest ‘best search term’ is nothing like as  sweet, but every bit as image-rich. It’s just this –


Did they really think it had its own website?

Please tell me they were wrong!

Your comments on the Wasp

•June 24, 2010 • 9 Comments

A lot of responses to the Wasp post, so  we thought we’d add a  small follow-up looking at some of the points raised.

Jack Bradshaw said :

I do not believe it has never been scrutinized. I think I read somewhere the type had been examined and it was genuine, can anyone confirm that?

The original document has never been examined. We think a photocopy was looked at by someone qualified, who pronounced the typeface to be the same, but we’re not sure how much value can be attached to that under the circs.  Back in 2003 I (KL)  talked to the now late Melvin Harris, arch fraud-buster, who said the typeface would have to be examined under magnification for any worthwhile results. Any typeface experts out there who can confirm or refute that?

Deb Caputo said –

Martin Gardner suggests that Carroll kept the galley proof because he may have wanted to do something else with it. That doesn’t make much sense, why would Carroll keep something of inferior quality? One thing we do know about Carroll is that he was very pernickety about the quality of the writing or photos he produced. And why keep this galley when no others were?

Yes, this is one of the things that feels a bit ‘off’. If the rest of the Looking-Glass galleys had survived it might seem less strange.  Why just this specific portion? You’d think LC would be more likely to preserve his original MS version rather than the galleys.  But of course it’d be much harder to fake a handwritten MS. From the POV of a forger the galleys, with their small amounts of handwritten corrections would be ideal.  Which of course doesn’t make them fake, but it does add to that slick of doubt.

And Deb again-

I have been reading the facsimile edition of Wasp in the Wig… Martin Gardner certainly seemed to have no shadow of a doubt about its authenticity. Something struck me as odd about the document; according to Gardner the Wasp was not a distinct chapter but occurs towards the end of chapter six, just before Alice becomes queen.
If this is so why do the galley proofs only contain the apparently missing fragment without the links to the existing Looking-Glass chapter? Wouldn’t there be linking sentences to show where the chapter joined with the rest of the book?

Ah, interesting. Anyone know of a reason why this point isn’t valid?

Lastly, Hermione, who has written a thesis on art fraud:

You mentioned ‘Oath of a Freeman,’ is it worth mentioning then that Mark Hofmann arrived in the UK in 1973, a matter of months before the Wasp in the Wig made its first appearance?

Goodness yes. Wonderful coincidence of timing.  But he would have been too young, no?

The Curious Case of the Wasp in the Wig

•June 16, 2010 • 16 Comments

Just realised today – there’s an anniversary coming, and it’s a weird one.

36 years ago next month  a startling announcement appeared quietly in the sales catalogue of Sotheby’s London auction room:

The Property of a Gentleman.
76. DODGSON (C.L.) “Lewis Carroll”. GALLEY PROOFS FOR A SUPPRESSED PORTION OF “THROUGH THE LOOKING-GLASS”, slip 64-67 and portions of 63 and 68, with autograph revisions in black ink and note in the author’s purple ink that the extensive passage is to be omitted.

*** The present portion contains an incident in which Alice meets a bad-tempered wasp, incorporating a poem of five stanzas, beginning “When I was young my ringlets waved”. It was to have appeared following “A very few steps brought her to the edge of the brook” on page 183 of the first edition. The proofs were bought at the sale of the author’s furniture, personal effects, and library, Oxford, 1898, and are apparently unrecorded and unpublished.

This was a major event.  For more than seventy years it had been known that a portion of Alice Through the Looking-Glass known as ‘the Wasp chapter’ had been cut before the book was published, because of a somewhat cryptic and tantalising reference in a letter from ‘Alice’ illustrator John Tenniel to Charles Dodgson dated June 1, 1870:

“My Dear Dodgson: …Don’t think me brutal, but I am bound to say that the ‘wasp’ chapter does not interest me in the least, and I can’t see my way to a picture. If you want to shorten the book, I can’t help thinking – with all submission – that this is your opportunity. In an agony of haste, Yours sincerely,
J. Tenniel”

Nothing further was known about this episode, beyond the fact that Dodgson apparently  gave in to Tenniel’s pleading and removed the undrawable creature, since the ‘wasp in a wig’ never appeared in the finished book.  It was assumed that the text was lost, leaving a litter of unanswered and unanswerable questions trailing. — Where had this mysterious insect originally been located ? How had it fitted into the story? And what sort of creature had this wasp in a wig been? For years scholars speculated on these things, with many suggestions being made.

Then, in 1974, the above announcement appeared in Sotheby’s catalogue and the world learned that what purported to be the galley proofs of this long lost chapter of ‘Looking-Glass’ was suddenly being sold in a London auction room.

As can be imagined this caused a sensation in the literary world. Carrollians collected from many corners of the globe for the sale  on July 3 1974.  Some just wanted to catch a sight of the treasure trove of original Lewis Carroll galleys, others were there to try and get the treasure for themselves.  The galleys were eventually sold to a New York book dealer called John Fleming, for £1700. It later developed that Fleming was acting as an agent for Norman Armour Jr. of New York.

People hoped the new owner might put the galleys on display, or allow scholars to examine them, but sadly this didn’t happen. After the sale the Wasp was whisked  into a vault,    locked away from the eager attention of Carrollians and literary scholars. There was some speculation this might have been because the new owner was a little less than confident about his new acqusition’s bona fides. After all,  there were obvious problems with this foundling, most notably the fact that the alleged provenance claimed in the sales catalogue – “the proofs were bought at the sale of the author’s furniture, personal effects, and library”, was pretty obviously untrue, since no record of such a sale existed, and Dodgson’s nephew and first biographer, Stuart Collingwood, who had full access to his uncle’s papers had no knowledge of any Wasp galleys at all.  Initially this, and other problems, provoked a lot of understandable suspicion, and this was possibly why the sales price had been rather on the low side.  In January 1978, Evert Gherardts published the following commentary in the Dutch magazine Furore:

“it must be a deception…it was not known who had owned the proofs…neither was the name known of the person who had offered those ‘galley proofs’ at Sotheby’s…”

In the same year the Lewis Carroll Society of Great Britain held a special Symposium to discuss ‘Wasp’ and Gherhardts’ doubts were echoed and added to by several leading members, most notably Selwyn Goodacre, who pointed out some significant problems with the apparent location of the new material. Objections and questions were raised on numerous aspects from the poor quality of the writing, to the identification of the handwriting and –repeatedly – the assigned provenance, all of which were found to be at least dubious, and calls were made for serious testing of the paper, the ink and the type to be done.

But  despite all this,  nothing happened.  No expert examination of the galleys was done at all. It’s probably not that surprising in some ways. The new owner had little incentive to have tests done that might show his investment was a dud.  But the behaviour of the literary and Carroll communities is less easy to explain.  Not only did they stop calling for the Wasp to be examined more thoroughly, but many of  the leading Carroll experts of the day began to behave as if  such tests were simply not needed. As if the Wasp was proved to be genuine simply by being there.

Not long after the sale the new owner granted permission for a facsimile to be published by the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, and this was the beginning of a pretty high profile and celebrated literary career for our Wasp. It appeared in several editions  of Through the Looking-Glass, ‘reinstated’ in its presumed original position. It was  included in a prestigious TV dramatization in 1998, and was the subject of several critical analyses  by high profile Carrollians such as Martin Gardner and  Morton Cohen, and illustrated – beautifully – by Ralph Steadman.None of  these publications  questioned for a moment that the  ‘ Wasp in the Wig’ was anything but genuine.  Few even discussed the question of its authenticity, let alone suggested there might be  doubts.

And gradually, it seems,  people have forgotten there ever were such doubts at all.

Google ‘Wasp in the Wig’ today (go on – do it now), and you’ll find very little reason to think it’s anything but the real deal.  You’ll turn up hits for its several publications, and for numerous articles detailing how the ‘lost’ galleys came to be found, all telling the Sotheby’s provenance story as if it was an established fact.  You’ll find the details of the re-sale at Christie’s in 2005, again putting across the same provenance – though qualifying it with a ‘presumably’. But if you’re like me, you’ll find only two sites even acknowledging the fact this thing has never been proved to be real.

In 2005 I managed to persuade the then-owner  -Norman Armour Jr’s daughter  –  to agree to a collection of tests to establish authenticity. We  had a team of experts ready to begin the work in London once we had managed to figure how to transport the precious cargo from the United States.  Things were looking promising. But, at the last minute, the lady decided the time wasn’t right. The tests remained  un-performed.

A few months later the Wasp was put up for sale again, this time at Christie’s.  The estimated sale-price was $60-70,000 .

So, today, 36 years after it first emerged from oblivion, the Wasp in the Wig remains an unknown quantity.   Not a single expert has ever examined the original artefact. No one has tested  the paper, compared magnifications of the type face with authentic Looking-Glass first editions, compared the handwriting with Dodgson’s own, dated and analysed the ink.

Which raises the question – is it real, as almost everyone seems to assume? Or is it a superficially clever fraud?

The two major areas of concern are, as we’ve seen  –

1.The lack of any provenance prior to its appearance in the Sotheby’s sale room in 1974. As we said above, this is a major problem.  The story of its origin offered in the Sotheby’s catalogue  was at best an error, and at worst a lie.  So, where had  the Wasp actually spent the previous 76 years before turning up for sale, courtesy of a ‘gentleman’ who preferred not to be identified?

2. Its quality. Frankly, it’s just bad.  The language is clunky, and in some places gives an unnerving impression of being a sort of Alice-pastiche. The poem barely scans, and this is significant, because even at his worst, even in the depths of his most cloying poetic banality,  Carroll knew how to turn a graceful bit of metre, so if he wrote this he was not just being bad he was being bad in a pretty uncharacteristic way.

Other issues are open to debate. Does this ‘lost chapter’ fit with Carroll’s ‘illustration plan’ for Looking-Glass discovered some while ago? Some argue it does, some that it doesn’t. Does the handwriting resemble Carroll’s? The examples are so small it’s hard to say, especially as no handwriting expert has yet been allowed to examine the text.  Until they are, and until the whole document can be given over to long-overdue scientific analysis, it remains horribly possible this much-vaunted, published and critiqued ‘lost chapter’ is a Carrollian  Oath of a Freeman.

Understandably, there are now a lot of people with an investment in not stirring this particular pond. The current owner doesn’t want to see his investment turn to dust (I mean who would?). The various experts who have endorsed it don’t want to risk looking silly if it turns out to be a fake.  The various collectors don’t want their limited editions ‘Wasp’ facsimiles etc to be nothing but careful copies of a  faker’s art.  Thirty-six years on, is there any motive left for investigating this orphaned insect? Is it better just to let it d be what everyone already says it is?  I mean, in a world of oil spills and psyops what does it matter?

Well, yes, you can argue that. But I think it does matter. Because it’s a  question of truth. And truth matters for its own sake, even in small ways.  I think we should be grown up enough to find out for sure if this thing is what we’ve all said it is for so long. And grown up enough to risk finding out it actually isn’t.

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