Rejecting Apology

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’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, 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:

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.


~ by Contrariwise on March 25, 2010.

29 Responses to “Rejecting Apology”

  1. There are so many problems implicit in the claim to Carroll’s purported pedophilia. These problems can best be dealt with through re-contextualization, rather than appeals to tradition, either-or arguments or apologetics. Nineteenth century Oxford was alive with significant intellectual currents (neo-Platonic Revival, Cult of the Child, etc.) that are not being adequately integrated into party-line Carrollian research. We at Contrariwise are advocating a re-integration of these psycho-social elements into any serious reconstruction of Carroll’s life.

  2. In respect of the ‘apologists’ — surely the burden of proof was always (and remains) on the accusers of Carroll, not on his supporters? It is impossible to prove a negative. In any event, why should one need to defend anyone against a slander that has not one iota of solid evidence to back it up? Perhaps if people had ignored the ‘myths’ from the outset rather than engaging with them, this vile association with Carroll might have died out instead of growing so strong that it is now impossible to ignore.

    • I do appreciate what you say, Michael, but you know, they pretty much did ignore the myths, or try to as much as possible, simply because they had no real rebuttal. It just made them look even more evasive.

      The point is, though, it isn’t about defending or attacking, or isn’t supposed to be, it’s about trying to tell the truth as far as we can. The problem with the Apologists was they were not trying to tell the truth as they thought they knew it,they were trying to avoid it, and using spurious arguments to do so. That did no justice to Carroll or themselves in our view. And the true irony is that if they had been able to see the documentation they would have found out that they didn’t need to dodge the truth at all.

      That’s the point, there’s no need to prove a negative, or show Carroll WASN’T something – all that’s needed is to show as honestly as possible what he was. And if Carrollianism can get rid of the tradition of nervous defensiveness, it can only help

  3. I often wonder how we, as Lewis Carroll fans and scholars collectively, have allowed this appalling injustice against Charles Dodgson to perpetuate. However well meaning and protective the authors of the myth might have been, they really created a monster that has overshadowed the real man. A man who is really more interesting and more human than the myth.

    A very wise man said the truth will set you free, and I believe that only the truth will allow the real Charles Dodgson to step forward as a real live man, and not as a mythical deviant Santa Claus figure.

    I hope that genuine Carrollian scholars will see Leach’s challenge to re-examine the evidence regarding our beloved author as an opportunity to finally (if at all possible) exonerate him from all charges of pedophilia and associated evils. We should not see her writings as a threat and try to whitewash or defend the indefencible.

    For the record I did not think that I could tolerate Leach’s “smashing of idols” either but in a way the real human Charles Dodgson is a much easier person to read about and have sympathy for than the split personality weird deviant that I had encountered before. Let the real Lewis Carroll live on.

  4. Well said Deb. Well said indeed.

  5. If certain lovers of the great Lewis might happen also to be lovers of children is that of any account? Why beat about with the stick of so-called ‘reason’ until all is flat? Shadows have their season.

    • I sincerely hope the last comment was a joke, as to the blog, I wasn’t even familiar that there was a so-called myth until I was directed here searching for information on Carol’s relationship with the real Alice so if theres any truth in it then you do need mpore exposeure let me say

    • Do you mean “lover of children” in the sense of one who genuinely cares for children, or do you mean a pedophile which is really a misnomer- they abuse children they don’t love them.

      It DOES matter that Lewis Carroll’s name is associated with one of the most hateful crimes, it IS a problem if criminals justify hurting children use Carroll as an apparent role model.

  6. No joke at all (not even on April Fool’s Day). The scholarship of Contrarwise ( centers around exploring “the Myth” from various perspectives. You will get a lot of information on the Site to launch your studies of this particular viewpoint.

  7. If Geoff had been posting two days later I’d suspect it was an eloquent troll. Maybe that is still just what it is. Let’s hope so.

  8. Well I was half thinking of posting an April Fools Day joke myself but it was more along the lines of the missing Lewis Carroll diaries being discovered somewhere in Australia and that they had revealed a previously unknown journey Down Under. Next year…

  9. Did “Carrollianism” really find itself saying anything that translates as“gosh cant a guy use little girls as substitutes for women without being a pervert?”?

    • Who is “Carrollianism”?

      • As for how “Carrollianism” is used in this page, also was curious, who “Carrollianism” might be.

    • To answer G’s question a few steps back up there: “Did “Carrollianism” really find itself saying anything that translates as“gosh cant a guy use little girls as substitutes for women without being a pervert?”?”

      Well, G, my best answer is – read the opening chapters of ‘In the Shadow of the Dreamchild‘. Then pop back and tell us what you think. Far preferable to me regurgitating the whole story once more (as all our readers would agree!) 🙂

      • Glad you understood the question, I think I need more training in understanding impossible things.

      • Thanks. Your answer is “yes” and the book would tell my why. Please correct me, if I am wrong.

  10. Goetz – yes, in essence that is what I’m saying, but it’s not a brush-off, we’ll be happy to debate it with you if you don’t think the case is made.

    Deb – it gets easier with time 😉

  11. Goetz-I think I have worked out your question… There are a number of controversial statements in Karoline’s book but the one you quoted isn’t one of them.

    I agree that you should read the book first then comment, it should challenge you to rethink the evidence even if you don’t agree with every inference drawn.

  12. Hi Deb – The statement which triggered my question is in the beginning of the blog article above. I did not refer to the book, so I can neither comment on the book nor is there a view of the book, which I would need to rethink. I just was interested, whether I really understood Contrariwise’s quite open statement (with regard to what it implies) on “Carrollianism” well.

  13. This is a well balanced article on the subject of Carroll as pedophile.

  14. “Do you mean “lover of children” in the sense of one who genuinely cares for children, or do you mean a pedophile which is really a misnomer- they abuse children they don’t love them.

    It DOES matter that Lewis Carroll’s name is associated with one of the most hateful crimes, it IS a problem if criminals justify hurting children use Carroll as an apparent role model.”

    That was extremely offensive. Pedophiles don’t hurt children. You are making an extremely broad an offensive generalization. Most pedophiles do not have sex with children and truly love them. It’s very infuriating to read that ALL pedophiles hurt children because it is not true, it’s simply false. Saying that pedophiles don’t love children is not only false (because is a generalization, and therefore false), but we have a clear example on Carroll, who was a pedophile and loved children.

    Pedophiles see Carroll as an example of LOVE, not harm towards little girls. He never done any harm to any child. THAT’S a model for all (true) pedophiles. How can someone who hurts children be a model for ANYONE?

    Pedophilia is not a crime, is a sexual attraction. Please don’t confuse pedophilia (the attraction) with the crime.

    (When I’m talking about pedophiles about talking about people whose sexual attraction is towards children, not child molesters or abusers)

  15. I find it “curiouser and curiouser” that, after all of the scholarship and literature that Charles L. Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, gave the world, his posterity is wrapped up in his purported sexual attractions. This is a sad commentary on contemporary culture’s lack of depth and scope. Karoline Leach offers a compelling closure to these questions, in _Dreamchild_, as do I, in _Behind the Looking Glass_. The scholarship simply does not support his alleged pedophilia. It is strictly conjecture. Are we so shallow–and bored–that we idle our time away debating the sexual psychology of Lewis Carroll? Absurd.

  16. No doubt the distinction to be made between a paedophile and a child abuser – between the desire and its consummation – is a valid one (though one not drawn by the nauseating websites such as ‘Fresh Petals’, which brandish Charles Dodgson as a flagship Famous Paedophile, and which seem to regard both desire and consummation as equally natural and desirable).

    Undoubtedly a paedophile who recognises that his feelings (which, after all, he cannot help) are inappropriate and potentially disastrous if acted on, and who has the self-discipline to refrain from ever acting on them, would be well deserving of compassion and respect. Presumably a responsible approach would mean avoiding as far as possible the company of children, or at least being left alone with them, and in particular any situation involving an usually high degree of temptation.

    Dodgson, however, actively sought the company of children (though nothing like as constantly or exclusively as the Myth would have us believe), importuned their mothers (at certain times of his life) to leave them with him unchaperoned, and even photographed them naked.
    If this photography was, as he presented it (and as no-one would have doubted at the time), a purely aesthetic activity and a response to the cultural mores of his time, as harmless and asexual as photographing cute fluffy kittens, well and good. To me the evidence as a whole suggests this may genuinely have been the case.
    However, IF his feelings were as you would have us believe – if he was arranging the sessions, taking the photographs, and contemplating them afterwards, in a state of sexual arousal, and misleading the girls’ mothers as to his true motives – then I’m afraid Charles Dodgson was not the self-denying saint you present but an unsavoury, irresponsible and potentially dangerous hypocrite.

  17. As one who has worked with children for many years I have a real problem with the concept that pedophilia is not harmful to children. I even have trouble with the notion that pedophilia and child abuse are different things. Words fail me, how can such evil be condoned? The difference between thought and deed is in degree not kind.

  18. mike: Dodgson sought the company of children because he couln’t live without them. Read Cohen’s biography. Little girls were his life. He liked them more than anything in the world. We cannot judge him for that. Is unfair. But even more unfair is judging him for what he didn’t do. That’s plain ridiculous.

    Besides, victorian mothers didn’t care a little bit about their kids. And there was Carroll who make them happy and be their friend.

  19. I entirely agree with Deb Caputo on this. Sexual attraction towards children is unequivocally wrong, and anyone who experiences it has a moral duty to separate him or herself from the company of children at all times and to seek psychiatric treatment. I am sure Carroll would have done at least the former if he had ever felt the slightest inappropriate physical attraction, and the fact that he did not do so is one of the many proofs for me that he was not a paedophile.

  20. Please don’t patronise me. I have read Cohen’s book, several times, and am well aware of its strengths and weaknesses. It’s a work of massive and authoritative scholarship which is fatally flawed by the author’s inability to see the true significance of his own research (such as the fact that many of the ‘little girls’ he cites were actually women in their twenties).
    I have, unlike you, also researched the first-hand evidence of Dodgson’s life and am aware what cliche-ridden nonsense it is to say ‘little girls were his life’. He lived quite successfully without them for long periods. You read his diary, his letters (“child society is delightful to me, but grown-up society is much more interesting”, “my favourite age for children is about twenty-five”), the footnotes to the letters which give the correspondents’ ages.
    Oh, and read a few Victorian mothers’ letters while you’re about it – Frances Jane Dodgson’s for example, or Lorina Liddell’s for that matter. Victorian mothers didn’t care about their kids? None of them? Ever? What fatuous, agenda-driven nonsense.
    You don’t deal with my point about the photographs. Just how admirable, or self-controlled, is a paedophile who lures children up to his room to strip off for his sexual enjoyment, having obtained their mothers’ agreement under false pretences? Do you suppose he never touched the children while arranging them for photographing? What do you suppose he did with the photos afterwards? Does all this fall within your definition of what makes a paedophile nice?

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