Wilful Myth-Blindness II: “What on earth is Robert McCrum On about?”

Well, didn’t think we’d be doing two of these in a week, but how can we pass this one up.

The respected journo Robert McCrum reviews Jenny Woolf’s book The Mystery of Lewis Carroll in the Guardian, and concludes…what exactly? That Carroll has been misunderstood and somewhat abused, as Ms Woolf suggests? That a re-assessment is overdue, as Ms Woolf suggests? That, at last, we’re getting a clearer picture of a complex man?

Nope. He concludes Dodgson was either (sigh, not again) in love with little Alice Liddell , or – this is the best bit – with her ‘ten-year old brother’!?

Here it is in his own words:

More than either of these, it is a poignant love story: the repressed yearning of a solitary man for a resolution to his inner frustrations. Was he in love with Alice’s 10-year-old brother or, with Alice Liddell herself? No one will ever know the truth of that mystery .


Well, ‘solitary man’, ‘repressed yearnings’, this is all the standard vocab of anyone writing about Carroll for the past sixty years, but not even the most myth-bound commentator has ever suggested Carroll was gay (well, apart from Richard Wallace, but he also thought Carroll was Jack the Ripper, so, you know, enough said), and Jenny Woolf’s book does not (I know for a fact), contain any insane riffs about possible pederasty involving young male Liddells.

So, the truth of that particular ‘mystery’, Mr McC, is that you just made it up.

The introduction of predatory homosexuality aside, McCrum’s review is pretty much a standard summary of the mythic image, which would hardly be remarkable at all if it didn’t occur in a review of a book that should have made him realise all that stuff has been largely discredited. So, has he read Ms Woolf’s admirable myth-challenging book and somehow come away unaware he’s done so?  Or did he just flip through and then regurgitate all the tired old nonsense about latent pedo-ism and ‘ooh-aah we know what was really going on’ nose-tapping, he assumed he’d find in there?

Good question.

Maybe it’s just the awesome power of the Myth. But maybe also Dodgson-as-pedo is an easy way for lazy commentators to feel as if they’re being deep, without the effort of actually being so. Maybe you buy quick journo-cool-points that way, I don’t know, it’s not my area. But, whatever the reason, this is pretty poor isn’t it? Ms Woolf devoted a lot of time and honesty to her book, and both she and Dodgson deserve a lot better than this foolish, cliche nonsense masquerading as Deep Insight, don’t you all think?

Well, anyhow, let’s strike up the music and …..

Robert McCrum, respected journalist, please step up and receive your La-La I’m Not Listening Wilful Myth-Blindness Award. Stand here beside Melanie B, writer of fiction.

Don’t you feel just proud?


~ by Contrariwise on March 15, 2010.

2 Responses to “Wilful Myth-Blindness II: “What on earth is Robert McCrum On about?””

  1. Well said. It was a lazy, sloppy piece.

  2. Just found a rather apposite quote from our man on Wikipedia.

    Quoting Robert McCrum, literary editor of The Observer newspaper, about The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail:

    “ There is something called historical evidence – there is something called the historical method – and if you look around the shelves of bookshops there is a lot of history being published, and people mistake this type of history for the real thing. These kinds of books do appeal to an enormous audience who believe them to be ‘history’, but actually they aren’t history, they are a kind of parody of history. Alas, though, I think that one has to say that this is the direction that history is going today…”
    It does seem to be, doesn’t it Mr McC?

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