> I hadn't a clue that the provenance was questioned. Someone took the time
> do a lot of work if it were.
>have seen what appear to be proofs of the Wasp in the Wig
>corrected in Carroll's hand - so although it is not up to the
>standard of the rest of the book, I am inclined to think it may
Okay, I' ll try and map out the position as it now stands (to the best of my
knowledge) re. this document that is alleged to be the 'missing' portion of
(ALWAYS ready to be corrected, since it isn't my area of expertise)
In 1974 an artefact described as slips (numbered 64 - 67) of TLG arrived in
Sotheby's auction room.
It was alleged to be the galley proofs of the missing segment, known as 'The
Wasp in the Wig', referred to in the famous Tenniel letter and long thought
It was described as the property of a 'gentleman', but no name was given for
This is not in itself suspicious, since it's fairly common practise for the
identities of sellers and buyers to be kept secret. However it does mean we
have no way of checking on the item's provenance before 1974.
Sotheby's claimed that these slips had originally been sold in the auction
of CLD's effects, by Brooks of Oxford, in May 1898.
However the catalogues of that sale are still extant - and they make no
of the slips of 'Wasp'.
Now Brooks was sloppy at his job, and did not record all items that went
under the hammer - lumping many together in large job lots. But it seems
slightly unlikely he would have been THAT sloppy. A previously unknown
chapter of 'Looking-Glass' would be a potentially valuable item; it would
seem probable that even a sloppy auctioneer would be able to recognise this
and make a feature of it in the catalogue.
In fact Brooks _does_ carefully list a large collection of
illustration-proofs - including those for Wonderland, Looking-Glass, Sylvie
and Bruno, and many others.
But he lists not one text-proof of anything at all.
Not a whisper of a 'Wasp'.
This suggests strongly that it wasn't there, and this in turn means Sotheby's
claimed provenance becomes wide open to question.
In addition we have the fact that Collingwood had apparently never seen or
heard of this 'lost' chapter. Yet he and his uncle Wilfred were the two
people most closely involved in handling CLD's estate. We have to wonder how
Collingwood could have contrived not to notice a whole forgotten chapter of
'Looking-Glass', or to recognise its potential commercial value.
So, we have an artefact turning up for auction, from an anonymous source,
with a provenance that seems to be at odds with the known facts.
To the best of my knowledge, these 'Wasp' proofs have never been subjected to
ink, paper or other scientific tests. A photocopy has been examined and the
font size, spacing etc. has been stated to correlate with the rest of
Several of the Carrollians who examined the original at the time of the sale
expressed strong reservations about its authenticity - Selwyn Goodacre (an
acknowledged biliographical expert on Carroll), Raphael Shaberman, Denis
Crutch, Peter Walker and others.
Dr. Goodacre was concerned at apparent discrepancies between the handwriting
of the written corrections on the proofs, and CLD's own writing. He also
pointed out that the corrections were not made in CLD's usual style.
Mr. Crutch was worried about the lack of verifiable provenance.
Peter Walker thought it was just too poor to be genuine 'Carroll'
There were other doubts and problems expressed too, which I won't go into
here, although other carrollians (Like Edward Wakeling) thought the text was
just as good as anything Carroll wrote and likely to be genuine.
(for those who are interested in reading a full account of these views, see
the 'Special Wasp Symposium issue' of the LCS mag, 'Jabberwocky', summer 1978)
Several people were and continue to be even more doubtful about the nature
and quality of the writing.
Basically, it does not fit with the overall plan of the book:
Alice asks the Wasp to tell her a story in verse - when she has spent the
rest of the book trying to get away from recitations.
The Wasp's poem isn't about fish - when, as Alice herself remarks, almost
every poem in Looking-Glass IS.
Also, TLG is laid out with mathematical precision, to correspond to a
chess-game.Each chapter is a square and a move in the game. Alice as the
White Queen's pawn obeys in a very fixed and purposeful fashion, the moves of
a real pawn in a real game.
And real pawns don't go backwards- as Alice is described as doing in 'Wasp'.
This also raises the question of what chess-piece the wasp would be supposed
to represent, since the part of the action into which the 'Wasp' appears to
have been inserted - involving the two knights, Alice and the two queens -
is the most detailed and finely worked part of the game.
The story corresponds to several specific moves: pawn-Alice being threatened
by the Red Knight, which is taken by the White Knight, who in turn guards her
square until she takes her last move and become a queen.
We have to wonder - Iif the chapter is genuine, what function CLD had in
mind for this Wasp? What piece is he? What is his function in the game?
His presence seems to be totally extraneous to the carefully-worked plan.
And beyond all this - there is the staring and undeniable fact that the
writing itself is very very bad.
Okay an author isn't always at his best. But a talented writer is always a
talented writer, even if uninspired. There is a vast difference between the
bad writing of a talented author having an off-day, and the bad-writing of
someone with no talent.
And it has to be admitted that 'Wasp' looks much more like the second than
Even at his very very worst (even in 'Morning Clouds'), CLD always wrote
with instinctive sensitivity for the flow and beat and rhythm of his words.
He had a light bright delicacy of touch, that never deserted him, even when
he was writing garbage.
There is no such lightness, no delicacy in 'Wasp'. It seems like the plodding
amateurish work of someone with no inborn feel for language
So, if CLD DID write it, he must have been having the off-day of all off-days
ever since the beginning of time.
None of this proves these galleys are a forgery. Indeed, they may one day be
proved to be genuine - stranger things have happened.
But I'd say it does add up to a very very questionable status for this
This alone is sufficient reason for leaving it out of 'Looking-Glass'.
But Matt, even if CLD did write it, it is so fiendishly and terribly bad, he
would probably rather have eaten it in sections with salt and pepper than
ever allow it to be seen in public.
If I'D written it I'd burn the damn thing.
Personally, I think putting this chunk of barbarously mediocre trash between
the same covers as the perfectly measured and effortless genius of
'Looking_Glass', is not simply unwarranted it's a crime against literature.
I'd feel tempted to say to those publishers thinking of doing so: - maybe
YOU can't tell the difference between talent and mediocrity, but Lewis
Carroll probably could - so leave the editing to him.