The Lewis Carroll Society of North America’s newest blog entry is all about Contrariwise!
This blog doesn’t regularly deal with certain questions (italics mine, as was the rest of that sentence.) And the new LewisCarroll.org’s FAQs don’t go there. Contrariwise, Mark Burstein usually starts his question-and-answer sessions with: “The answers to the first two questions are ‘No, he wasn’t’ and ‘No, he didn’t.’”
The LCSNA doesn’t shy away from these bothersome issues even if they’re occasionally bothered by them. However, there are reputable places on the internet specializing in debunking Carroll myths. For instance CarrollMyth.com, which offers various levels of depth depending on how long your myths want to spend being debunked. That user-friendly and aesthetically-pleasing website is run by Karoline Leach, author of In the Shadow of the Dreamchild: The Myth and Reality of Lewis Carroll (Peter Owen Ltd., 1999, $29.95). There’s also a new blog: carrollmyth.wordpress.com.
Well, that’s praise indeed, and we send our sincere thanks to the LCSNA bloggers for so generously giving us the space. We have also linked to you.
Tangentially though, in conjunction with something a commenter here said the other day, the reference to ‘certain questions’ has got Contrariwise thinking.
Suppose you give a false alibi to a man in order to get him acquitted of a crime you know he probably commited – if it later turns out he didn’t do it after all, does that make what you did right?
I don’t think it does, does it? And that’s the weird problem at the heart of Carrollianism right now, that I think needs to be looked at.
People have been denying Carroll was a pedophile, either in thought or action, for as long as other people have been saying he was. They were the Apologists (Hudson, Green et al) , as opposed to the Freudians (Florence Becker Lennon, Taylor Potter etc). They firmly asserted Carroll’s innocence whenever and whereve they could, but does this mean they were necessarily right to do so?
Thing is, if we’re honest we have to admit that, prior to the release of Carroll’s MS diaries in 1969, the only rational, objective thing to think about him, based on the fragmentary evidence available, was that he was a desperately disturbed incipient sexual deviant. Yes, we now know it was a simplistic, even entirely false image, but the point is no one knew it then. In fact Green, Hudson, Reed and others had all written books that described – even actively invented – a man who was a blatant deviant in all but name. So when they and all the other Apologists denied Carroll’s pedophilia, they were effectively saying “yes this man avoided adult life and adult women, yes he lost interest in girls after the age of puberty, yes, he took dodgy nude pics of children that would have shocked his society, and umm…yeees, he may have sort of fallen a bit in love with at least one 11-year old child, and been banished from her presence by her family, but, oh, come on, he was nice, he wrote a lovely story, so, y’know, let’s just ignore all that stuff which probably wasn’t as bad as it seems.’
That isn’t defence, it’s evasion. Ok, it wasn’t their fault that, due to the unavailability of so much major evidence, this was the best they could do, they were still offering a queasy sort of alibi for a man they were forced to assume was probably guilty, and just because we now know he probably was not guilty at all, doesn’t change the fact that this is what they were doing.
It’s not that surprising that so many people were totally unconvinced, is it? They saw it for what it was – a well-meaning pretence.
The LCSNA blog that features us is headed “Special Report: Was Lewis Carroll a gay Mormon and were the Alice books written by J.D. Salinger?”, referencing some of the many stupid things that have been said about Carroll over the years. It’s a joke, but in its way it makes exactly the point Contrariwise is trying to make. Because those things aren’t ‘myths’ are they? They’re just loony ideas no one has ever taken seriously. The point about the myths we are concerned with (his child-obsession, his avoidance of adult society, his passion for Alice Liddell), is that they were promulgated by serious Carroll scholars and believed by everyone until very recently. The notion of the man as a pedophile arose out of these myths as an inevitable, and very reasonable conclusion. It couldn’t, and can’t be just laughed off as ridiculous, and taking that line is just Apology again. No one will take you seriously if you sell the image that has been sold for so long and simply ask people to take your word that – honestly – he wasn’t what you are obviously painting him to have been.
If we really want to clear his reputation, or at least get closer to the truth about him, then we first have to accept this uncomfortable truth, that it was Carroll scholarship itself that created the myth, and Carroll scholarship that has to acknowledge what it unintentionally did before any real progress can be made. We think it’s important for Carrollianism to differentiate between those past and inappropriate Apologists and today’s attempt at rehabilitation. Because they are fundamentally different. Hudson, Green et al were not debunking myth when they declared Carroll ‘innocent’, they were just offering an emotional plea for forgiveness or understanding, or at any rate silence, or alternatively trying to use ridicule to obscure the uncomfortable reality of their position. Their stance was at best questionable. They offered no data because they had none. But now we do. It’s evidence that is being adduced to clear the man’s reputation, not dubious special pleading, and we think it’s in the interest of Carrollianism and Lewis Carroll himself to make that much clear.
So, we suggest, the major Carroll-sites should start a ‘Myth’ section – not for the age-old knee-jerk rejection of the all-too-plausible but nasty, but for a serious rebuttal and reassessment based on the new data unearthed by recent writers. One that makes it clear there’s no whitewash or evasion, but a simple statement of facts that can lead people to their own conclusions. We suggest dealing anew with those ‘certain questions’, because now you actually have the solid evidence to answer them as truthfully as will ever be possible.
Above all, we think Carrollianism needs to never again find itself saying anything that translates as “gosh can’t a guy use little girls as substitutes for women without being a pervert?”
Because, no. He can’t. Not even if he is nice. Not even if he is Lewis Carroll and wrote a wonderful story.
We have to realise that would-be ‘child-lovers’ look to the image of Lewis Carroll for affirmation and when anyone who writes about Carroll seems to be in any way condoning, eliding, excusing his supposed romantic ‘child-love’ they see us offering just exactly that affirmation. None of us want to be Apologising for pedophilia, but unless we firmly face up to what we are dealing with, that is what we can end up doing.