Books: Great Eccentric

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VICTORIA THROUGH THE LOOKINGGLASS: The Life of Lewis Carroll—Florence Becker Lennon — Simon & Schuster ($3.50).

"In that direction," the Cat said, waving its right paw round, "lives a Hatter: and in that direction," waving the other paw, "'lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they're both mad."

"But I don't want to go among mad People," Alice remarked.

"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."

"How d'you know I'm mad?" said Alice.

"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."

How Did It Happen? In 1865 a Lon don Athenaeum critic was vexed by a new book called Alice in Wonderland — "a stiff, overwrought story," he complained, which would make "any real child more puzzled than enchanted." In 1932, when Alice invaded the Chinese province of Hunan, the sensitive provincial war lord was even more shocked. "Bears, lions, and other beasts cannot use a human language," he barked, and banned Alice as "an insult to the human race." In 1936, an eminent Austrian psychiatrist recoiled, shuddering, before Alice's "oral sadistic traits of cannibalism" and "continuous threat to the integrity of the body."

Meanwhile, the general public, unabashed, continues to read Alice by the millions. Distinguished mathematicians revel in the "logic" of its nonsense; psychologists acclaim it as a brilliant Freudian freak; politicians, editors and divines habitually use it to score points against their opponents; earnest translators bend to the task of rendering it into foreign nonsense.*

In 1928, the MS. of Alice fetched £15,400 at auction, and to date, in its 80 years of life, Alice has sold uncounted millions of copies. "How did it happen." asks Florence Becker Lennon, "that the Reverend Charles Dodgson, 30 years of age, lecturer on mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford . . . gave birth to one of the most famous stories of all time?"

Mousetraps and Notepaper. In the 387 pages of Victoria Through the Looking-Glass, Author Lennon, a minor U.S. poet and a student of anthropology, tries to answer her own question. To the tantalizing riddle of literary genius she has no answer, but she has brought together a fascinating collection of facts that show clearly the fantastically divided nature of the deacon who was equally a rigid, exemplary don and perhaps the most brilliant eccentric of his era.

Christ Church students, to whom Charles Lutwidge Dodgson lectured for 40 years, knew him only as a gawky, dull professor who could not utter the letter "p" and who left the room if he overheard a single indecent or irreverent remark. But visitors to his rooms were bowled over by what they found. Rugs and coats were stuffed against cracks in the door (Dodgson had a horror of draughts). Instructions for lighting an amazingly complicated gas lamp were pasted to the door—though no one was ever allowed to light the lamp.

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