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Author Topic: Lewis Carroll's best works inspired by opium?
Lackwit
The Red and the Green Stamps


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I've heard most of my life about how Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Dodgson), author of Alice in Wonderland et al., wrote these beloved works under the influence of opium. The problem is, everytime I try to find out whether this is true or not, the source always says either, "Lewis Carroll was an opium addict," or "Lewis Carroll wrote these stories to delight his young friends." ALthough I suppose these two statements aren't mutually exclusive, I was wondering if anyone could find anything a little more definative (or at least expansive).

As I see it, there are facts supporting each side of the question:

Pro-opium: Carroll's stories and poetry were very dreamlike in nature, e.g. in "Alice's Adventure's Through the Looking-Glass," the size of the characters is not constant, and in one particularly psychedelic scene the White Queen is suddenly a sheep in a shop, which is suddenly a boat on the water, and then back to a shop. The nonsense poem "Jabberwocky."

Anti-opium: Carroll's writings were very coherent, and developed many English colloquialisms and metaphors, such as "Mad Hatter," "March Hare," and "Cheshire Cat" into characters in such a way as seems to indicate that his mind was not clouded by opium. Alice's adventures are supposed to actually be her dream. The glossary (provided by Humpty Dumpty) of the nonsense poem "Jabberwocky."

Can anyone help decide the question once and for all? Was this charming classic for children of all ages simply an English writer's opium dream?

Lackwit

------------------
He sits, and he watches and waits,
The Lord of Fighting in the House of Blood.
The Farmer of Death crawls amid the furrows.
He sings the note of discord.


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ROBERT.BAK
The Red and the Green Stamps


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quote:
Originally posted by Lackwit:
I've heard most of my life about how Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Dodgson), author of Alice in Wonderland et al., wrote these beloved works under the influence of opium. The problem is, everytime I try to find out whether this is true or not, the source always says either, "Lewis Carroll was an opium addict," or "Lewis Carroll wrote these stories to delight his young friends." ALthough I suppose these two statements aren't mutually exclusive, I was wondering if anyone could find anything a little more definative (or at least expansive).

I've heard this before -- in one version, the drug in question was supposed to be lysergide (LSD); which is rather strange, given that Dodgson died over thirty yeaars before lysergide was discovered!

I think the "Carroll was a junkie" myth is nothing more than idiots reading their own late-20th-century perspective into a 19th-century work, like the equally bogus "Carroll was a pervert" myth which has recently arisen because of Carroll's innocuous-at-the-time experiments in photography.

As Lackwit says, AiW is a dream sequence and is thus supposed to have a dreamlike quality; this was quite deliberate...


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Dr. Winston O'Boogie
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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Considering the fact that he liked to take pictures of girls in the nude, I wouldn't exactly call "Carroll was a pervert" a myth. Four pictures survived, and were published in 95 in a biography of Lewis Carroll. As for the drugs, Opium was common in that time, so it is certainly possible, if not probable. Unka Cecil talked about the pictures. See this article for the full text.

PT "frumious" Vroman

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The Large Print Givith, and the Small Print taketh away
Tom Waites, Step Right Up


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KeithB
The Red and the Green Stamps


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I have read the '95 biography and Gardners _Annotated Alice_, and there is no mention at all about opium use.

As far as being a, um, pervert, Cecil has this to say: http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a5_185.html

As far as those pictures go, none of the original pictures survived. Carroll was very carefull to destroy them all. What survived were some paintings that were copied from the pictures. The prurient are referred to the bio, they are reprinted there.


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Brad from Georgia
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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I've read a couple of biographies of Dodgson, and neither mentioned opium. Aside from his fondness of photographing young girls in the nude, he seems to have been pretty prudish. Didn't drink, didn't fool around.

Of course, during the nineteenth century laudanum, a tincture of opium in alcohol, was a standard painkiller. And Thomas De Quincey wrote the notorious "Confessions of an English Opium Eater" in 1821. Another famous laudanum user was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who wrote "Kubla Khan" as an attempt to recover dream-imagery that arose under the influence of opium. It's possible, I suppose, though the Alice books seem to me to be fantasies arising largely from Carroll's mathematical bent.


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Zenman
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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As far as opium is concerned, opium in a number of forms was widely and easily available in Dodgson's time and locale. It is entirely possible for him to have taken it, as so many of his contemporaries did. However, it's very hard to say, as little record of this exists. Alice and Looking Glass do seem to have drugs, changes of conciousness, and what could be construed as hallucinations in them, but that could be how we look at the book from our time's perspective. I have also heard theories that it is a big mathematical in-joke, that it is a parody of the Royal Family, that it features thinly-veiled characatures of his contemporaries. Who can know at this remove?
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JenniePye
The Red and the Green Stamps


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I think that the Alice books are pretty high on the list of "Most Interpreted Books".

At this site, the author writes:

quote:
It is doubtful if any two people have ever read quite the same version of these {the Alice books}- I certainly never have. They are a constantly shifting, paradoxical mirror of an alien land, one that lays so close to ours as to share a surface (much as the sides of a cube share an edge) whose layers of meaning are revealed as we live, laugh, and grow wise. Upon every reading, at the very least some hitherto undiscovered phrase will leap from the page, rich in symbolism or suggestion. Sometimes the entire work will be seen in a new light.

One of my college professors wrote a philosophical interpretation of Alice in Wonderland as it relates to the field of feminist bioethics.

I've also read the Annotated Alice and find the story to be much less "strange" now that I have some context for many of the events. (Sorry, never published on anything more advanced than the Philosophy department's mimeograph - and my copy has long since been trashed -, so I can't share a cite.)

I, personally, have never bought the written-while-in-an-altered-state story. On the whole, I find the Alice books much easier to understand than, say, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

The stories were written for children. My father read the books to me as a child, and I had no problem at the time believing that one could literally cry a river or that a baby could turn into a pig.

Jennie "I still don't understand what feminist bioethics are." Pye


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