Thursday, 14 June 2007

Of academic interest

Current reading: The Annotated Alice, Martin Gardner's classic concordance to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass: a compilation of both books, with Gardner's detailed annotations on Carroll's contemporary references to mathematical, poetic and scientific topics.
      The Annotated Alice is a fascinating insight into the books. This excerpt at Norton Books gives a taster of the annotations. The book is 47 years on from its first publication, and has seen continuing updates. A recent development has been the discovery of a lost chapter, The Wasp in the Wig that appears to have been deleted because Tenniel, the illustrator, wasn't keen on it. The Alice Project quotes this chapter along with theories about what Tenniel disliked. I especially like the explanations of the parodies. Carroll's nonsense verse in funny in itself, but more so when compared to the pious improving poetry that it quite viciously satirises (see The poems in Alice in Wonderland for comparisons such as How doth the little crocodile vs. How doth the little busy bee).
      The Annotated Alice isn't to everyone's taste: Will Self's New Statesman review of the new Definitive Edition, Dirty old man, takes a hostile view of its avoidance of the always fraught question of Carroll's sexual orientation. This is by no means a clear issue. For instance, nowadays we are highly cautious, paranoid even, about the motives for child photography and tend to view Carroll's interest in this as automatically suspect; but it was a highly mainstream genre in Victorian times. Furthermore, the predominant view that Carroll was some flavour of repressed paedophile was heavily shaken in 1999 by Karoline Leach's book In the Shadow of the Dreamchild, which argued that much of the accepted view of Carroll is a stereotypical myth created in the vacuum left by his family's destruction and suppression of biographical material. Recently published letters and his diary (see "Lewis Carroll": A Myth in the Making) present a picture of a man who was neither shy nor reclusive, and whose female friends were mainly adult, these relationships in some cases skating on the edge of scandal. It's hard to assess whether this view will prevail, but the evidence coming from the increasing flow of primary sources looks at least likely to modify the traditional assessment. More on this evidence at Looking for Lewis Carroll and Contrariwise.

Not terribly related, except as an academic pursuit: this morning a customer asked - perhaps having seen the recent Times article, Nocturnal missions - about a book we didn't have, The Night Climbers of Cambridge, by the pseudonymous 'Whipplesnaith'. It's an underground classic in Cambridge, a book written in the 1930s about the illicit ascent of colleges and other buildings. I admit it rather takes me back. Many Cambridge undergraduates need to do at least some climbing due to the older colleges' archaic practice of locking the gates at night, and I remember those terrifying revolving spikes that topped some walls.

Night Climbers is online at InsectNation: interesting reading, akin to the accounts of present-day urban explorers. Andy Buckley, the site creator, admits that the copyright is a bit 'grey', but risked it given that all persons and companies related to the book are defunct.

Addendum: The Night Climbers of Cambridge was reprinted in 2007 by Oleander Press, Cambridge, to mark the 70th anniversary of the original edition.

- Ray

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