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Carroll as Victorian "intellectual"

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  • pgrosbras@aol.com
    This discussion on Carroll s relationship with Maurice s thinking is fascinating, all the more so because it tends to question the traditional (or mythic)
    Message 1 of 6 , Apr 2 10:13 AM
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      This discussion on Carroll's relationship with Maurice's thinking is
      fascinating, all the more so because it tends to question the traditional (or
      mythic) image of the author. I have had to deal with much resistance towards
      this in my work.

      I have often wondered what triggered such hostility to viewing Carroll as an
      intellectual steeped in the debates of his time. I have come to the
      conclusion that it is rather comfortable to view him as the innocent
      man-child who has no idea of his own genius. It is an interesting image. It
      has fed generations of Carrollian critics and biographers. Yet, understanding
      Carroll as "a man of his time", and a critical one at that, is a lot more
      interesting in terms of literary criticism. It allows readers to reach deeper
      into the subtleties of the author’s works.

      I takes a conceptual revolution to build a new image of an author. Literary
      history teaches us that such evolution is more often than not made of
      successive revolutions, rather than a smooth travel towards truth, truth
      being defined here as a discourse as close to "historical reality" as
      possible. In Carroll's case, reaching a stage where we could understand his
      writings in the light of his own philosophy towards society and religion
      would ennable us to understand such underestimated texts as S&B (my pet
      subject, as everybody gathered by now!).

      I wonder if anyone on the list has a comment on this?

      Pascale
    • markisrael2
      ... Perhaps we can reconcile the two views. Carroll was an intellectual in the sense that he took an interest in intellectual subjects, definitely! That
      Message 2 of 6 , Apr 2 11:08 AM
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        Pascale wrote:

        > I have often wondered what triggered such
        > hostility to viewing Carroll as an
        > intellectual steeped in the debates of his
        > time. I have come to the conclusion that it
        > is rather comfortable to view him as the innocent
        > man-child who has no idea of his own genius.

        Perhaps we can reconcile the two views.

        Carroll was an "intellectual" in the sense that
        he took an interest in intellectual subjects,
        definitely!

        That Carroll had no idea of his own genius, I
        deduce from the following paragraph in his
        preface to _Sylvie and Bruno_:

        # Perhaps the hardest thing in all literature --
        # at least I have found it so: by no voluntary
        # effort can I accomplish it: I have to take it
        # as it come's is to write anything original.
        # And perhaps the easiest is, when once an
        # original line has been struck out, to follow
        # it up, and to write any amount more to the
        # same tune. I do not know if 'Alice in
        # Wonderland' was an original story -- I was,
        # at least, no conscious imitator in writing
        # it -- but I do know that, since it came out,
        # something like a dozen story-books have
        # appeared, on identically the same pattern.
        # The path I timidly explored believing myself
        # to be 'the first that ever burst into that
        # silent sea' -- is now a beaten high-road: all
        # the way-side flowers have long ago been
        # trampled into the dust: and it would be
        # courting disaster for me to attempt that
        # style again.

        Now, I've read excerpts from those story-books
        (in the anthology _Alternative Alices_). Carroll
        seems to have thought that all they lacked was
        originality. But they lack much more than that:
        simply put, they are *boring*, and Carroll's work
        isn't. Now, if Carroll were aware of his own
        genius, he'd have been able to see that, wouldn't
        he?
      • pgrosbras@aol.com
        Mark wrote, about Sylvie & Bruno:
        Message 3 of 6 , Apr 2 1:30 PM
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          Mark wrote, about Sylvie & Bruno:

          << But they lack much more than that:
          simply put, they are *boring*, and Carroll's work
          isn't. Now, if Carroll were aware of his own
          genius, he'd have been able to see that, wouldn't
          he? >>

          You are raising a very interesting point with this remark. The key, I think,
          is in the very paradox Carroll articulates in the preface you quote, which is
          the preface to the first volume.

          He starts by mocking authors who have to produce a huge amount of writing on
          schedule (in the tradition, for example, of authors whose work was first
          published in magazines ('serialized'), like Dickens or Wilkie Collins, or as
          'three-deckers', the three volume novels lended by circulating libraries). He
          calls them 'slaves', which indeed they were if you consider their degree of
          economic dependence on their production. He concludes by waving this
          technique aside for himself: 'one thing, at any rate I could guarantee as to
          the story so produced - that it should be utterly commonplace, should contain
          no new ideas whatever, and should be very weary reading!'. This, he calls
          'padding', 'that which all can write and none can read', and admits to
          letting some padding into his narrative in S&B, letting the reader guess
          where (and why).

          The paradox itself is thus: he says that he cannot write anything original by
          volontary effort and that in the Alice books he never (consciously) imitated
          anyone; yet he attempted a new path with Sylvie and Bruno. It is impossible
          to be original, and yet he meant to be. Quid of the effort then?

          The key, I think, is in the 'another path': [in S&B] 'I have striven - with I
          know not what success - to strike out yet another path'. Neither volontary
          effort, nor a copy of others' or his own style. This is something entirely
          new, not only in intention but also in execution. Remember his own rendition
          of his narrative technique: he accumulated bits and pieces over the years,
          and threaded a story from this accumulation. 'Clothes' or 'cloths' as John
          called it. Demonstrably, these were his own, barely conscious, production,
          and that of others: there are many quotes and references in both volumes.

          The difficulty then is not so much to write something new than to find the
          new configuration which will allow him to do something new, which he will
          then have to follow to its logical end to get to complete his literary
          project. This paradox is very subtly articulated. He is thus a conscious
          genius!

          But, and this is the beauty of the whole enterprise, a genius conscious of
          the very limitations of literary genius. There is a lot of work in this last
          opus, but also the consciousness that what he is doing goes further than his
          own intuition. He is following a path that leads him from an accumulation of
          un-literary material, chaotic as he calls it, to the tight weaving of a
          coherent structure. A cosmos.

          This is where his project is also a religious one. He creates a cosmos
          composed of universes and people. In this paradigm he articulates deep
          metaphysical questions and insights. As I remarked earlier, for Carroll
          philosophy also included religious, political, social and aesthetical
          questions. In this way, it is no surprise to see in the same work comments on
          society and religion beside apparently lighter passages dedicated to
          teetotalism or blue stocking women. And I certainly wouldn't call those
          passages 'vicious diatribes and snide commentaries' as Mike does. They are
          too well articulated and argumented for that.

          I'm not perfectly sure why Carroll chose to explain his project in such a
          twisted and shadowy way. I have a feeling it has something to do with his
          interest in esoteric questions, coupled with his deep mistrust of Mrs Grundy
          in all her guises.

          There is a passage from Wilkie Collins' Hide and Seek I particularly like:
          'From a great proposal for reform, to a small eccentricity in costume, the
          English are the most intolerant people in the world, in their perception of
          anything which presents itself to them under the form of perfect novelty.
          [They will resent novelty] as an unwarrantable intrusion, for no other
          discernible reason than that people in general are not used to it.'

          Carroll offered novelty in the least intrusive way possible. No need to say
          he did it so well that it passed practically unnoticed.

          Pascale
        • jenny2write
          What interesting stuff and what an interesting subject. My view is a bit different, cos I don t think CLD considered himself to be a writer in the sense of
          Message 4 of 6 , Apr 2 2:30 PM
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            What interesting stuff and what an interesting subject. My view is a
            bit different, cos I don't think CLD considered himself to be "a
            writer" in the sense of one who was defined by his writing. He
            greatly appreciated literature, loved words, enjoyed parody, but he
            did not study writing as a professional writer would. He did not for
            instance wrestle with his inability to construct a plot - he merely
            shrugged and said "can't do that"! Yet, if he'd truly seen himself as
            a writer, (as for instance he saw himself as an artistic
            photographer) I bet he would never have rested till he'd mastered
            making plots. Perhaps he saw writing as a kind of fun sideline which
            with any luck would make money and ensure that people kept listening
            to what he had to say on issues he felt strongly about. After all, he
            WAS a mathematician by profession!

            Anyhow, if his writing was a form of spontaneous personal expression
            (as that quote from S & B also suggests) then it is likely to have
            reflected in a completely straightforward way what was preoccupying
            him at the time. And because it lacked artifice and "spin" there is
            no reason to assume he would always have produced the same kind of
            stuff. It just depended what feelings were preoccupying him, the
            general direction of his thoughts, and whatever inner "muse" he
            happened to be addressing as he wrote.

            So the "genius" bits in his writing, I believe, do reflect the bits
            of him that were genius-like - but only if he happened to feel like
            deploying them at the time! And some of those extraordinary gifts
            are:

            1. The ability to communicate very clearly and interestingly. You
            see it in his Collected Letters in which he was reaching out to amuse
            and entertain and get a reaction from the people he was addressing.
            YOu see it in "Feeding the Mind" "Eight or Nine Wise Words..etc" even
            in the intro to "The Lost Plum Cake" He wanted to say something and
            he had the ability to lay his metaphorical hand on your metaphorical
            arm and just make you listen.

            2. An inbuilt sense of playful fun. Even his letter to his dentist
            was fun.

            3. Genuinely original and interesting responses to things, putting
            ordinary topics in a different light.

            4. Most important of all: the rare and wonderful gift of being able
            to create things that other people want to "own". It's the one rare,
            essential, inimitable gift that the writer of a classic needs to
            have. And it's why Alice is so often used as a basis for other
            peoples' creative work: it's because all those artists and writers
            and composers and film makers want to "have" Alice, somehow, in their
            own way. Why do people want to quote his poetry - or even learn it by
            heart? Because they want to own it, and have it there in their heads.
            They quote endlessly from "Alice" because they want the glory of
            having said these clever things which always seem relevant to
            everyone. I sometimes imagine Carroll now, aged 18 - he would
            probably have wanted to have a band, cos they all do - writing songs
            to communicate with the big world. (Is that how he'd have found fame
            in our time, I wonder?)

            But he didn't even think of producing these qualities to order, cos i
            don't think he realised particularly that he had them. He certainly
            had all kinds of other ideas and thoughts - which point dovetails
            into Pascale's interesting comments. Jenny.
          • Chloe Nichols
            Regarding this: Potential genius can never become actual until it finds or makes the form for which it was intended. -- C. S. Lewis ...
            Message 5 of 6 , Apr 2 4:31 PM
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              Regarding this: "Potential genius can never become actual until it finds
              or makes the form for which it was intended." -- C. S. Lewis


              >From: pgrosbras@...
              >Reply-To: lewiscarroll@yahoogroups.com
              >To: lewiscarroll@yahoogroups.com
              >Subject: Re: [lewiscarroll] Re: Carroll as Victorian "intellectual"
              >Date: Tue, 2 Apr 2002 16:30:08 EST
              >
              >Mark wrote, about Sylvie & Bruno:
              >
              ><< But they lack much more than that:
              > simply put, they are *boring*, and Carroll's work
              > isn't. Now, if Carroll were aware of his own
              > genius, he'd have been able to see that, wouldn't
              > he? >>
              >
              >You are raising a very interesting point with this remark. The key, I
              >think,
              >is in the very paradox Carroll articulates in the preface you quote, which
              >is
              >the preface to the first volume.
              >
              >He starts by mocking authors who have to produce a huge amount of writing
              >on
              >schedule (in the tradition, for example, of authors whose work was first
              >published in magazines ('serialized'), like Dickens or Wilkie Collins, or
              >as
              >'three-deckers', the three volume novels lended by circulating libraries).
              >He
              >calls them 'slaves', which indeed they were if you consider their degree of
              >economic dependence on their production. He concludes by waving this
              >technique aside for himself: 'one thing, at any rate I could guarantee as
              >to
              >the story so produced - that it should be utterly commonplace, should
              >contain
              >no new ideas whatever, and should be very weary reading!'. This, he calls
              >'padding', 'that which all can write and none can read', and admits to
              >letting some padding into his narrative in S&B, letting the reader guess
              >where (and why).
              >
              >The paradox itself is thus: he says that he cannot write anything original
              >by
              >volontary effort and that in the Alice books he never (consciously)
              >imitated
              >anyone; yet he attempted a new path with Sylvie and Bruno. It is impossible
              >to be original, and yet he meant to be. Quid of the effort then?
              >
              >The key, I think, is in the 'another path': [in S&B] 'I have striven - with
              >I
              >know not what success - to strike out yet another path'. Neither volontary
              >effort, nor a copy of others' or his own style. This is something entirely
              >new, not only in intention but also in execution. Remember his own
              >rendition
              >of his narrative technique: he accumulated bits and pieces over the years,
              >and threaded a story from this accumulation. 'Clothes' or 'cloths' as John
              >called it. Demonstrably, these were his own, barely conscious, production,
              >and that of others: there are many quotes and references in both volumes.
              >
              >The difficulty then is not so much to write something new than to find the
              >new configuration which will allow him to do something new, which he will
              >then have to follow to its logical end to get to complete his literary
              >project. This paradox is very subtly articulated. He is thus a conscious
              >genius!
              >
              >But, and this is the beauty of the whole enterprise, a genius conscious of
              >the very limitations of literary genius. There is a lot of work in this
              >last
              >opus, but also the consciousness that what he is doing goes further than
              >his
              >own intuition. He is following a path that leads him from an accumulation
              >of
              >un-literary material, chaotic as he calls it, to the tight weaving of a
              >coherent structure. A cosmos.
              >
              >This is where his project is also a religious one. He creates a cosmos
              >composed of universes and people. In this paradigm he articulates deep
              >metaphysical questions and insights. As I remarked earlier, for Carroll
              >philosophy also included religious, political, social and aesthetical
              >questions. In this way, it is no surprise to see in the same work comments
              >on
              >society and religion beside apparently lighter passages dedicated to
              >teetotalism or blue stocking women. And I certainly wouldn't call those
              >passages 'vicious diatribes and snide commentaries' as Mike does. They are
              >too well articulated and argumented for that.
              >
              >I'm not perfectly sure why Carroll chose to explain his project in such a
              >twisted and shadowy way. I have a feeling it has something to do with his
              >interest in esoteric questions, coupled with his deep mistrust of Mrs
              >Grundy
              >in all her guises.
              >
              >There is a passage from Wilkie Collins' Hide and Seek I particularly like:
              >'From a great proposal for reform, to a small eccentricity in costume, the
              >English are the most intolerant people in the world, in their perception of
              >anything which presents itself to them under the form of perfect novelty.
              >[They will resent novelty] as an unwarrantable intrusion, for no other
              >discernible reason than that people in general are not used to it.'
              >
              >Carroll offered novelty in the least intrusive way possible. No need to say
              >he did it so well that it passed practically unnoticed.
              >
              >Pascale




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            • Chloe Nichols
              Jenny, you wrote: He did not for instance wrestle with his inability to construct a plot - he merely shrugged and said can t do that ! Yet, if he d truly seen
              Message 6 of 6 , Apr 2 4:56 PM
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                Jenny, you wrote:

                He did not for
                instance wrestle with his inability to construct a plot - he merely
                shrugged and said "can't do that"! Yet, if he'd truly seen himself as
                a writer, (as for instance he saw himself as an artistic
                photographer) I bet he would never have rested till he'd mastered
                making plots. Perhaps he saw writing as a kind of fun sideline which
                with any luck would make money and ensure that people kept listening
                to what he had to say on issues he felt strongly about. After all, he
                WAS a mathematician by profession!

                My question is: Do you really feel this steadily--that as far as plots go,
                he just settled for amateur status in a skill not terribly important to
                him--that he could have done "real" plots if he tried? If I can ask, which
                of his works would you say do have completed and finished plots?


                >From: "jenny2write" <woolf@...>
                >Reply-To: lewiscarroll@yahoogroups.com
                >To: lewiscarroll@yahoogroups.com
                >Subject: [lewiscarroll] Re: Carroll as Victorian "intellectual"
                >Date: Tue, 02 Apr 2002 22:30:47 -0000
                >
                >What interesting stuff and what an interesting subject. My view is a
                >bit different, cos I don't think CLD considered himself to be "a
                >writer" in the sense of one who was defined by his writing. He
                >greatly appreciated literature, loved words, enjoyed parody, but he
                >did not study writing as a professional writer would. He did not for
                >instance wrestle with his inability to construct a plot - he merely
                >shrugged and said "can't do that"! Yet, if he'd truly seen himself as
                >a writer, (as for instance he saw himself as an artistic
                >photographer) I bet he would never have rested till he'd mastered
                >making plots. Perhaps he saw writing as a kind of fun sideline which
                >with any luck would make money and ensure that people kept listening
                >to what he had to say on issues he felt strongly about. After all, he
                >WAS a mathematician by profession!
                >
                >Anyhow, if his writing was a form of spontaneous personal expression
                >(as that quote from S & B also suggests) then it is likely to have
                >reflected in a completely straightforward way what was preoccupying
                >him at the time. And because it lacked artifice and "spin" there is
                >no reason to assume he would always have produced the same kind of
                >stuff. It just depended what feelings were preoccupying him, the
                >general direction of his thoughts, and whatever inner "muse" he
                >happened to be addressing as he wrote.
                >
                >So the "genius" bits in his writing, I believe, do reflect the bits
                >of him that were genius-like - but only if he happened to feel like
                >deploying them at the time! And some of those extraordinary gifts
                >are:
                >
                >1. The ability to communicate very clearly and interestingly. You
                >see it in his Collected Letters in which he was reaching out to amuse
                >and entertain and get a reaction from the people he was addressing.
                >YOu see it in "Feeding the Mind" "Eight or Nine Wise Words..etc" even
                >in the intro to "The Lost Plum Cake" He wanted to say something and
                >he had the ability to lay his metaphorical hand on your metaphorical
                >arm and just make you listen.
                >
                >2. An inbuilt sense of playful fun. Even his letter to his dentist
                >was fun.
                >
                >3. Genuinely original and interesting responses to things, putting
                >ordinary topics in a different light.
                >
                >4. Most important of all: the rare and wonderful gift of being able
                >to create things that other people want to "own". It's the one rare,
                >essential, inimitable gift that the writer of a classic needs to
                >have. And it's why Alice is so often used as a basis for other
                >peoples' creative work: it's because all those artists and writers
                >and composers and film makers want to "have" Alice, somehow, in their
                >own way. Why do people want to quote his poetry - or even learn it by
                >heart? Because they want to own it, and have it there in their heads.
                >They quote endlessly from "Alice" because they want the glory of
                >having said these clever things which always seem relevant to
                >everyone. I sometimes imagine Carroll now, aged 18 - he would
                >probably have wanted to have a band, cos they all do - writing songs
                >to communicate with the big world. (Is that how he'd have found fame
                >in our time, I wonder?)
                >
                >But he didn't even think of producing these qualities to order, cos i
                >don't think he realised particularly that he had them. He certainly
                >had all kinds of other ideas and thoughts - which point dovetails
                >into Pascale's interesting comments. Jenny.
                >




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