01Nov02b Fwd: BBC on Lewis Carroll book
Wednesday, 31 October, 2001,
'Alice' author exposed
Alice Liddell posed for Lewis Carroll
US feminist Katie Roiphe has written a novel based on the relationship between Alice In Wonderland author Lewis Carroll and his child muse.
It is well known that Carroll, whose real name was Charles Dodgson, admired Alice Liddell, the inspiration for his famous book.
But Roiphe's novel portrays the relationship in sexual terms, with Carroll struggling with feelings about 11-year-old Alice, which tormented him because he was determined not to act on his physical urges.
Roiphe: Known for an explosive book on date rape Still She Haunts Me includes explicit scenes between Carroll and Alice, who he met when she was seven.
"I'm fascinated by a relationship that led to the creation of Alice In Wonderland, which is such a great classic," Roiphe, a well-known writer of feminist non-fiction, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"But (I'm also interested in) the relationship that existed purely in the mind, this kind of impossible tormented love that he lived with for so many years."
In a previous article in The Guardian, she said feminist critics have "darkly suggested that Dodgson was a paedophile".
Carroll : Met Alice Liddell in 1855
But Roiphe said the relationship was far more complicated and that there is no evidence he ever abused any child.
She argues that although Carroll was attracted by and loved children he never acted on those feelings.
"We tend to think of things in a very crude 21st Century terms; either he's a paedophile or a child molester or he's this innocent reverend," she says.
"And in fact the truth is so much more complicated and subtle than that and I think its best captured in the novel form."
The attempt to explore the mind of a man attracted to young children yet who does not act on his feelings has been welcomed by ChildLine Chief Executive Carole Easton.
The title is a line from Through The Looking Glass
"We need to understand why some people go on to abuse children and there are other people who are attracted to children and yet manage not to act it out," she told the BBC.
Ms Easton said that unless society talks about this "we will not understand why very sadly some people abuse children".
Carroll's books are universally praised as having revolutionised children's literature and are among the most widely and frequently translated works.
But it is likely that the novel, which has a charged scene in which Carroll takes a naked photograph of eleven year Alice, will generate more controversy.
It is not a documented event, though Caroll did take photographs of little girls and Roiphe defends it as a look at Alice's feelings toward Carroll.
"Alice is not totally oblivious to his attention that even at the age of seven she is seeking out the attention appreciation and admiration of adults around her," says Roiphe.
This may prove a step too far for many readers, according to Ms Easton.
"It's important that we understand that eight-year-olds are not in a position to make informed decisions whether to take part in the activities described," she said.
WATCH/LISTEN ON THIS STORY Katie Roiphe, discusses the issues surrounding her new book 'Still She Haunts Me'