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Lewis Carroll et les mythologies de l'enfance

 | 
Pascale Renaud-Grosbras
, 
Lawrence Gasquet
, 
Sophie Marret

Quatrième partie. À travers les arts

Lewis Carroll writer & photographer: clearing up a few myths

Lawrence Gasquet

Texte intégral

  • 1 For a detailed study, see Lawrence Gasquet, “De l’esprit à la lettre: forme et graphisme dans l’œu (...)
  • 2 See Jean-Jacques Lecercle, Le Dictionnaire et le cri, Presses Universitaires de Nancy, 1995, Philo (...)

1If the works of Lewis Carroll are still celebrated today by scholars all over the world, it is precisely because they possess the rare ability to make their readers think about the functions and limits of the media involved in oral and written language. A lot of energy has been devoted to the study of the linguistic and philosophic depth of works such as the Alices, The Hunting of the Snark, and to a lesser extent Sylvie and Bruno; however, he who looks at these works a little closer is also assured to find similar treasures as far as the aesthetic dimension is concerned. Carroll’s text deals constantly with the visual, either at a purely material level of organisation, or at a more abstract level of reference. The study of the structures that make reality intelligible in Carroll’s writings is indeed rewarding, because of his ability to turn what is mainly surface into depth, whether it be the surface of the mirror, chessboard, Euclidian plane or photographic plate. We will not have time here to detail aspects of this study; let it be sufficient for the moment to state that Carrollian Nonsense is synonymous with order, and that this orderly dimension is achieved through the combined use of image and text1. What characterises Carroll’s writing is the constant and direct interplay with the pictural. It has been shown that Nonsense thrives on structure, and takes advantages of overstructuration to reveal the flaws of our language system2. Denouncing in various ways the polysemous dimension of linguistic signs, which according to him stands in the way of accurate thought, Carroll reminds us that we indulge in approximations whenever we deal with a sign system that is complete enough to be exact. The hunting of the sign is similar to the The Hunting of the Snark, insofar as they both try to eradicate the informal and the irrepresentable, in other words, that which cannot form a valid system, and which consequently generates entropy. Thus, Lewis Carroll resorts to graphic malleability to denounce (or celebrate, depending on the point of view adopted) the inexactitude of language. Dodgson’s keen concern for form, and his mixing of the textual and the visual in order to achieve better understanding, makes him appear as extremely modern, for indeed it is relatively recently that the debate on the status of the graphic sign has led to a kind of middle-ground, acknowledging the validity of WJ.T. Mitchell’s statement:

  • 3 W.J.T. Mitchell, Picture Theory, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1995, p. 95.

The image/text problem is not just something constructed “between” the arts, the media, or different forms of representation, but an unavoidable issue within the individual arts and media. In short, all arts are “composite” arts (both text and image); all media are mixed media, combining different codes, discursive conventions, channels, sensory and cognitive modes3.

  • 4 On this subject, see Bernard Vouilloux, La peinture dans le texte: xviiie-xxe siècles, Paris, CNRS (...)
  • 5 See Marie Carani, ed., De l'histoire de l’art à la sémiotique visuelle, Sillery (Québec), Septentr (...)
  • 6 See Sophie Marret, Lewis Carroll: De l’autre côté de la logique, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, (...)
  • 7 The reference edition is The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1982.
  • 8 See Abraham Moles, L'image, communication fonctionnelle, Paris, Casterman, 1981, p. 107.
  • 9 Douglas Nickel, Dreaming in Pictures: The Photography of Lewis Carroll, San Francisco, San Francis (...)
  • 10 Ibidem, p. 12.
  • 11 See Hugues Lebailly, “Charles Lutwidge Dodgson et la pédolâtrie victorienne: ébauche de contextual (...)

2The reception of a work of art thus presupposes aesthetic and linguistic interdependence4. From a pragmatic point of view, it seems that image and language are linked by common goals: both function rather similarly as regards reference, expression of intention, and production of effects on the reader/spectator (hence the birth of a new discipline called visual semiotics)5. Pragmatically, then, there is no essential difference between text and image, since both obey similar strategies. The image is caught in language, and language is bound to the image; their intertwining is precisely what fascinates Carroll, and his writings make the reader experience the plenitude of the graphic sign. Jean-François Lyotard declares that the best form possible is the one that remains at an intersection between two contradictory requirements, that of the “articulate meaning” and that of the “plastic sense”: Carroll understood this perfectly when he composed rebus-letters, preferred schemas to words, varied the font-size of his texts, or attempted to create a new mathematical sign system6, in which the shape of symbols would suggest their meaning, just like Humpty-Dumpty’s name suggests his roundness (“My name means the shape I am—and a good handsome shape it is, too7” 192). Mathematical symbols, belonging to the category of signs situated at the highest level of schematic abstraction8, are then conceived as formally motivated. These attempts at improving the impact of the sign confirm the Carrollian will to control signification, to eliminate possible interferences between sign and meaning; they also testify to the ability of the visual to complete some deficiencies of the written language. In general, Carroll’s writings try to circumscribe polysemous meaning, preferring exactitude to semantic range and overdetermination to vagueness. Carrollian language looks for semantic limpidity, revealing a mistrust of the ambiguous nature of words, and the natural porosity of the sign. In Dodgson’s eyes, language cannot compete with visual sensations; both media are complementary, but they do not generate the same emotion. The visual takes you unawares and overwhelms you in one second, whereas language, caught in its own linearity, cannot possibly possess so instantaneous and powerful an impact. Both language and image are complementary, but one can detect in all of Dodgson’s works a particular sensitiveness towards the visual; visual sensations trigger his strongest emotions. This of course is palpable in his passion for photography, and his extreme frustration for not being much of a painter. Dealing with Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s art of photography proves painstaking indeed, because of the apparent difficulty in abstracting ourselves from the influence of his literary productions, and because his photographs get inserted into the standard biographies to illustrate what then becomes “the writer’s ‘hobby’”. Yet, whoever becomes interested in the history of photography, or in the history of photographic practices, knows that although Dodgson first took up photography as a diversion from his mathematical work, it evolved into something much more meaningful, both to him and to the scholar. As Douglas Nickel underlines in the recent exhibition catalogue of the San Francisco MOMA9, the camera immediately became a passport for Dodgson, allowing him a particular kind of circulation and an excuse for meeting persons of high station. He exchanged information with the leading practitioners of photography in Victorian England (including Rejlander, Cameron, Peach Robinson), published a review of one photographic exhibition, and by 1860 was distributing his own list of 159 photographs for sale (no doubt to cover the cost of what was still an extremely expensive activity). His diaries also testify to the expense and difficulty of the undertaking and the sincerity of his ambitions for it. The impromptu success of the Alices afforded him a financial independence that enabled him to return to photography, allowing him to indulge in a more private vision, without as much concern for market opinion as before. In a period of 24 years, Dodgson generated about 3000 negatives, preserving his best images in a set of circulating albums. He became a renowned figure in photographic circles; therefore, Douglas Nickel is certainly right to claim that if we wish to make a case for Dodgson as a visual artist, we first have to engage his images as if they were not known to be the production of a household name—to show, paradoxically enough, that the photographs have artistic merit in spite of the renown of their maker: “They must not be prejudged as keepsakes, the by-products of a writer’s hobby, but as the serious expression of an innovator demonstrably committed to his medium and the world of pictures10.” The most slippery path is obviously the approach focalising exclusively on his alleged predilection for little girls, forgetting that to entertain a special interest in young females was at the time very ordinary indeed, as some colleagues have shown in illuminating articles11. It seems rather unfair that posterity should have focused on the same aspect that appealed to Nabokov for example, contributing to the building of the myth denouncing Carroll as a vile Humbert Humbert:

  • 12 Interview by Alfred Appel, sept. 1966, in Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature 8, n° 2, (S (...)

I have always been very fond of Carroll... He has a pathetic affinity with Humbert Humbert but some odd scruple prevented me from alluding in Lolita to his perversion and to those ambiguous photographs he took in dim rooms. He got away with it, as so many other Victorians got away with pederasty or nympholepsy.
His were sad scrawny little nymphets, bedraggled and half-dressed, or rather semiundraped, as if participating in some dusty and dreadful charade12.

3I think that there is more to his photographs than mere voyeurism and fetishism; I prefer to leave the bedraggled nymphets to psychoanalysts, and I will try to concentrate on a much less controversial aspect of his pictures, since I am going to focus on their composition.

  • 13 Lewis Carroll, “St. George and the Dragon”, 1875; see also “The Fair Rosamond”, 1863.
  • 14 Lewis Carroll, “The Dream”, ca. 1860.
  • 15 Lewis Carroll, “The Dream: Mary MacDonald Dreaming of her Father and Brother”, 1863.
  • 16 Lewis Carroll, “Little Red Riding Hood”, 1857.
  • 17 Henry Peach Robinson, 1858.
  • 18 Susan Sontag, On Photography, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1973, p. 16.
  • 19 Edward Wakeling and Roger Taylor, Lewis Carroll Photographer, Princeton UP, 2002.
  • 20 Ibidem, p. 6. “Alice Liddell as a Beggar-Maid” and “Alice Liddell dressed in her Best Outfit”, 185 (...)
  • 21 Let us remember for example the extraordinary amount of energy he invested in the architectural mo (...)

4Let us briefly state that Dodgson was first and foremost a portraitist; he never really indulged in the Victorian craze of serious tableaux-vivants, with the exception of a handful of pictures which are quite remarkable in that they can be considered as mock tableaux-vivants, mere sketches of them enacted for fun. These embryonic tableaux do possess an irresistible charm for their very lack of perfection, for their auto-referential dimension I should say: Dodgson’s St. George hasn’t slain much of a dragon, in spite of the impressive size of his sword13; the ghosts which people some of his dreams seem indeed congenial14, and the rare special effects he uses in his pictures appear so obvious that they become all the more charming. These odd and sketchy pictures are quite interesting in Carroll’s practice because they reveal his differences as regards a majority of his Victorian fellow-photographers: his aim is not to make his spectators guess the intended subject from schematic props and perfect costumes, as was the point of tableaux-vivants, but to approximate theatrical living pictures without ever masking the personality of his models. “St. George and the Dragon” does not represent the slaughter of a dragon, it is a portrait of Xie Kitchin as a princess, just as “The Dream” is a simple pretext for representing Mary MacDonald in the act of sleeping15. The originality of Dodgson’s portraits stems precisely from their ability to depart from the norm, thereby underlining the idiosyncrasies of each sitter, and perhaps illustrating his own fantasies as well. This deviance from the norm is palpable for instance in Xie Kitchin’s portrait as Penelope Boothby, after Reynold’s painting and Millais’ Cherry Ripe. Xie Kitchin’s face has lost much of the innocence that characterized the painted girls, as she is now almost a woman, her provocative eyes challenging those of the spectator. Thus, it seems to me that Dodgson is always able to retain the personality of his sitter, by refusing to submerge her under props and by favoring some imperfections. We can also remember the picture of Agnes Grace Weld as Little Red Riding Hood16; if you compare it to the series of pictures created by Henry Peach Robinson for his Little Red Riding Hood series17, it becomes obvious that Dodgson is not in the least interested in recreating a seemingly perfect fiction. Robinson’s Riding Hood finds herself glued, so to speak, in a “narration” which weight is underlined by the profusion and exactitude of details. These pictures can hardly be deemed portraits, unlike Dodgson’s. Peach Robinson and his fellow photographers illustrate literary works, but Dodgson never illustrates anything but his own imaginary fictions. Dodgson’s photographs confirm the truthfulness of Susan Sontag’s claim that “photographs [...] are attempts to contact or lay claim to another reality18”. I would say that, in the example of tableaux-vivants, fiction becomes a pretext for portraiture. I will take a last allegorical example, rarely acknowledged as such though; it is maybe the most famous of all pictures taken by Dodgson, namely Alice as a beggar-maid. In fact, thanks to the catalogue established very recently by Edward Wakeling19, we learn that this picture was one of a pair20, created in the fashion of Rejlander’s photographic diptychs. The notoriety of the photograph ensures that it is invariably displayed alone, removed from its original context. Like Rejlander’s genre studies, it is likely that Dodgson conceived the pair to be seen as the two sides of the same subject, to contrast a demure girl of good breeding with a ragged beggar girl whose knowing look and wayward stance were purposely contrived to obtain alms from willing pockets. Beyond the alleged transmutation of Alice Liddell into a temptress, there was also simply an attempt at staging allegorical figures in common fashion. The little props favoured by Dodgson are rather run-of-the-mill; as many other Victorian photographers he often uses books, flowers, and other usual accessories to convey basic metonymic information about the sitter. Dodgson here simply follows the common language in use at the time, and there is nothing especially original in the nature of his prop selection. What is sometimes slightly odd, on the contrary, is his choice of settings and his composition. Lindsay Smith has underlined how bare his settings were sometimes, as if he wanted to emphasize the intrinsic qualities of his subjects. She has noticed in her study of women and children in the 19th century how several Victorian photographers, like Hawarden or Cameron, carefully contextualise their figures in order to load them with meaning; by comparison, “in Carroll context is largely disregarded”. I can only agree with Lindsay that in some particular indoor pictures Dodgson does not seem to be interested in sustaining any fictional frame, the person captured being self-sufficient. But I wouldn’t go as far as to say that “the faults smack of a blindness to anything other than the little girl captured [...] errors [...] are simply not seen, it is not that the photographer’s eye is simply comfortable with them. One feels it does not notice them”. Knowing how fussy he was in matters of illustration, I cannot believe that he was blind to these defects, if we must call them so (today, to reveal the corner of a carpet or to underline the artificiality of the décor is delightfully postmodern and cutting edge). I would say that these pictures featuring a subject leaning on a wall were the result of a deliberate choice; first of all, the subjects were very often obliged to lean against a fixed surface in order not to move during the exposure time, which was quite long (approximately 65 seconds in the 1870’s); this is why Dodgson’s pictures rarely feature any depth of field. Secondly we can suppose that Carroll was not able to take all the time he would have liked when dealing with his little friends, who could not pose for hours in a row but were rather eager to play. So I would surmise that Dodgson preferred to have a rather shabby décor enhancing the beauty of his model than the contrary. Carroll ridiculed the Victorian taste for impersonating famous characters and elaborate settings in “Hiawatha’s Photographing”, a short story that he wrote in 1857, in which different family members demand that they should be photographed according to their ostentatious whims, varying from Ruskinian attitude to Napoleonic pose. Dodgson does indeed bow to the Victorian tradition for his portraits of famous personalities of the time, but it is true that as a lioniser he could hardly let go of conventions. The pictures that reveal the true dynamics of his vision are the pictures of his friends, not those of his acquaintances. I would argue that those pictures testify to a sharp concern for form, as their composition is carefully executed. We know through Dodgson’s writings that he was indeed very receptive to all kinds of visual stimuli21 and I would argue that the detailed study of the composition of his photographs confirms that Carrollian photography is just another version of a painstaking attempt to structure reality, totally similar to Nonsense in this respect.

  • 22 See Lawrence Gasquet, “De l’esprit à la lettre: forme et graphisme dans l’œuvre de Lewis Carroll”, (...)
  • 23 About the essentially abstract quality of black and white, see Henri Cartier-Bresson, “L’instant d (...)
  • 24 See Abraham Moles, L’image, communication fonctionnelle, Paris, Casterman, 1981, p. 54-57; Claude (...)

5I would contend that a substantial majority of Dodgson’s photographs are composed according to basic geometrical figures22, their structural organisation being further enhanced by the black and white quality of the pictures23. Dodgson’s best photographs feature a criss-crossed plane, whose overall visual power lies in the intersection or parallelism of straight lines; similarly, the subjects are generally placed by Dodgson so that the final arrangement composes geometrical forms, such as triangles, squares or, less frequently, circles. Where a typical Victorian photographer would have preferred picturesque or artificial backgrounds, Carroll always favours close backgrounds and obviously selects them because of the structuring power of their straight lines. The fact that Dodgson chose to photograph many sitters holding props that divide the picture along an impressive slanting line is also quite remarkable, and cannot be purely accidental. Several studies have shown that a hierarchy exists in the perception of form by the human eye; if the same image is presented to dozens of different persons, the eyes of these persons always choose the same points to rest on. Constant patterns of perception have thus been proved to exist, and horizontal or vertical lines belong to the category of elements that immediately organize space24

  • 25 François Soulages, Esthétique de la Photographie, la perte et le reste, Paris, Nathan, 1998, p. 26 (...)

6. The fact that Dodgson tries to recreate in his photographs a symmetry that does not exist in nature is worth noticing. The very exactness of his composition remains a source of harmony, and confirms that he perfectly understood the evocative power of form. Photography reproduces the outer forms of reality, the precise reality whose imprint lies on photographic paper. Dodgson, however, is never satisfied with recording passively the forms suggested by chance, that constitute a first echo of forms between reality and its representation; he always attempts to create another series of echoes, that make sense and resound inside the restricted sphere of representation. This last echo is borne by the geometrical forms that pervade his photographs. This system of visual echoing is poetic, insofar as it aims at creating emotion through visual perception; its very existence lays bare the peculiarity of Dodgson’s vision, confirming that quality photography is definitely wrought by human perception, and cannot possibly be reduced to a mere chemical process. François Soulages contends that one of the characteristics of photography lies in the twofold point of view that is presented to the viewer: the first viewpoint he calls “visual”, and the second he calls “artistic”25: photography then embodies the dialectics between the visual and the artistic, it allows both the coexistence of these two perspectives and the passing from one to the other. We could say that the common point, the intersection of these two concepts (visual and artistic) would be structure. In this vein, I would say that Dodgson indeed problematizes and illustrates this concept of structure. In fact, Dodgson’s pictures amplify or sublime structure in the same way his literary practice does. He pushes this geometrization further than other Victorian photographers, and this obvious tendency to organize space geometrically, to create what we could call visual echoes, becomes highly significant. The photographic work of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson does precisely the same as the literary work of Lewis Carroll; they both amplify and exalt a structure that is normally already present in both media. Dodgson’s particular enterprise of overstructuration doubtlessly arises from a need to classify and order, thus characterising his relation to the external world.

  • 26 Rudolf Arnheim, La Pensée Visuelle, Paris, Champs Flammarion, 1976, p. 98.
  • 27 See Abraham Moles, L'image, communication fonctionnelle, p. 98.
  • 28 Rudolf Arnheim, The Split and the Structure, Twenty Eight Essays, Berkeley, University of Californ (...)
  • 29 Gilles Deleuze, Logique du sens, Paris, Minuit, 1969, p. 70.

7Lewis Carroll’s works constitute a good example of the pragmatic use of images. Rudolf Arnheim once put forward the idea that available forms are as varied as the sounds of language but, more essentially, they organize themselves according to easily definable models, of which geometric forms are the best example26. It seems that Carroll well understood that images can help elucidate the world. Carroll strives to anticipate the mental representation of his readers, making the task easier for them. He arranges his fictional space according to clear and intelligible rules, this deformation being also, most of the time, a simplification. To simplify or purify a form does not mean weakening it, but on the contrary increasing its potential for significance. A form that is simple enough to be easily manipulated and integrated thus possesses a pragmatic function, allowing a clearer correspondence between sign and referent. By favouring simple forms, Carroll thus establishes a system of clear and univocal relations, thus making his dream of a semiotically transparent communication system come true. For instance, Carroll is especially interested in charts, diagrams or maps because they constitute different possibilities of visual representations, in which visible space structures abstract knowledge. Through the Looking-Glass is on a strictly diegetic level a faithful recording of the trajectories of chess pieces on a chess-board, as the first page reminds us; following a similar pattern, a diegetic chart meant by Carroll to help the reader find his way in a winding plot is featured in Sylvie and Brunos preface. We all remember the Captain’s blank map in The Hunting of the Snark, or Mein Herr’s ideal map on the scale of one to one in Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, which would cover the entire country. The schema, as the abstract representation of some external phenomenon, points to semantic inflation27. Pedagogy favours schemas because they allow the user to retain only what is essential, to abstract and reduce the perceived world to intelligible signs. A great defender of synthetical devices, Carroll anticipates the following statement by Arnheim on the pragmatic role of images: “visual thinking is the ability of the mind to unite observing and reasoning in every field of learning28”. In other words, visualisation undoubtedly stimulates intellectual reasoning: and we know that Carroll is primarily interested in reasoning. One of the messages that we can read in the Alices is that if solutions momentarily solve problems, they do not however suppress the problems. The unanswerable riddle of the Mad Hatter is only the most provoking example of a set of highly problematic questions, that continue to haunt our minds even after they have received some kind of answer. It is precisely this seemingly infinite questioning and reasoning that fascinates Carroll. The process was pointed out by Gilles Deleuze when he tried to rehabilitate what he called le problématique29. The yearning for the problematic pervades Carroll’s work; to dream of recreative mathematics is just another way of working out problems while pretending not to do so. The Carrollian tendency to schematise reflects his indirect but insistent need to reason. Trying to understand what Carroll’s motivation for transforming the world into a riddle could be, Deleuze concludes that:

  • 30 Ibidem, p. 72.

On ne peut parler des événements que dans les problèmes dont ils déterminent les conditions. On ne peut parler des événements que comme des singularités qui se déploient dans un champ problématique, et au voisinage desquelles s’organisent les solutions. C’est pourquoi toute une méthode de problèmes et de solutions parcourt l’œuvre de Carroll, constituant le langage scientifique des événements et de leurs effectuations30.

8What constitutes the fundamental originality of Lewis Carroll is that while he attempts to enact this potentially infinite reasoning, he constantly relies on the visual dimension, which becomes a support for the intellect. “The Dynamics of a Parti-cle” and one of the Professor’s stories in Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (658) both show Lewis Carroll’s propensity to adorn abstractions with feelings, emotions, and even intelligence. In the same vein, the ingenious “Offer to the Clarendon Trustees” features unexpected prosopopeia; in the following letter Carroll requires material means to improve mathematical research in Christ Church:

It may be sufficient for the present to enumerate the following requisites: others might be added as funds permitted.
A. A very large room for calculating Greatest Common Measure. To this a small one might be attached for Least Common Multiple; this, however, might be dispensed with.
B. A piece of open ground for keeping Roots and practising their extraction; it would be advisable to keep Square Roots by themselves, as their corners are apt to damage others.
C. A room for reducing fractions to their Lowest terms. This should be provided with a cellar for keeping the Lowest Terms when found, which might also be available to the general body of undergraduates, for the purpose of “keeping Terms”[…].
D. A large Room, which might be darkened, and fitted up with a magic lantern, for the purpose of exhibiting Circulating decimals in the act of circulation. This might also contain cupboards, fitted with glass-doors, for keeping the various scales of Notation.
E. A narrow strip of ground, railed off and carefully leveled, for investigating the properties of Asymptotes, and testing practically whether Parallel Lines meet or not: for this purpose it should reach, to use the expressive language of Euclid, “ever so far”. This last process, of “continually producing the Lines”, may require centuries or more; but such a period, though long in the life of an individual, is as nothing in the life of the university.
As photography is now very much employed in recording human expressions, and might possibly be adapted to Algebraic expressions, a small photographic room would be desirable, both for general use and for representing the various phenomena of gravity, Disturbance of Equilibrium, Resolution, etc., which affect the features during severe mathematical operations.

9This little masterpiece of humour is in fact a typical example of how Carroll converts some highly abstract concepts into concrete figures that can be seen. This passage invites us to regress from the metaphorical to the literal, as very often in Carroll’s works: here he alludes to abstract mathematical entities as if they were palpable beings; he is careful to ask that the square roots should be planted carefully, so that their sharp corners do not cause any damage. What is most fascinating is that the reader ends up actually imagining the impossible objects evoked by Carroll, mingling real mathematical characteristics, sign systems and the fanciful information given by the narrator. The humour of the passage is created by the process of hybridisation that takes place within each reader.

10This ability to turn non-visual concepts into visual objects is a tour-de-force that is common to Carroll. He goes beyond other writers, because he attempts precisely to draw from the undrawable, where common writers only strive to give a depiction of what is already perceivable, usually using long descriptions. Carroll nearly never resorts to hypotyposis (apart perhaps in Sylvie and Bruno, which tends to adopt usual novelistic techniques). To find an interest in the fact that Carroll manages to give a shape to what has none, we have of course to agree upon the fact that literature generally depends for its realization on the reader’s power to convert words into effectively charged imagery (such as landscapes, room decoration, faces, and so on) and we know that this is hardly an easy task. In simpler words, the challenge for a writer is to make the reader picture his words. The Carrollian imagination seems to be primarily visual; the constant introduction of sketches in epistolary texts, the tendency to insert geometrical features everywhere (take for instance the nickname given to the little ghost in Phantasmagoria: “old brick, old parallelepiped”). All these characteristics tend to prove that the Carrollian world is carefully designed and structured, just as the literary genre of Nonsense obeys specific rules of its own, as Elizabeth Sewell argued several years ago.

  • 31 On the avoidance of metaphor in Nonsense, see Jean-Jacques Lecercle, Philosophy of Nonsense, p. 29 (...)

11These brief examples help us understand how Carroll transforms in his texts abstract concepts into fictional anthropomorphic beings, finally questioning our primary perception of abstraction. We also understand that his favouring visual representation perfectly matches his taste for the literal; in addition to the comforting dimension of the literal (insofar as what is literal presupposes a clear correspondence between signifying and signified, contrary to the metaphoric)31, literal interpretations generally allow for concrete and thus relatively easy mental representation. This recognition that mental representation provides a cognitive prop which permits a greater efficiency of reasoning can help us better understand the Carrollian need for visual support; among his numerous intuitions, Carroll knew that seeing things allowed one to think more efficiently. Unfortunately, the fact that his sitters were often little girls has hidden this dimension behind an enticing yet superficial myth. Yet the main point should be that his devotion to photography appears then perfectly in tone with his ultimate quest for order and cognitive effectiveness.

Notes

1 For a detailed study, see Lawrence Gasquet, “De l’esprit à la lettre: forme et graphisme dans l’œuvre de Lewis Carroll”, Ph.D. Thesis, November 1999, Université Michel de Montaigne, Bordeaux III.

2 See Jean-Jacques Lecercle, Le Dictionnaire et le cri, Presses Universitaires de Nancy, 1995, Philosophy of Nonsense, London, Routledge, 1994, The Violence of Language, London, Routledge, 1990, as well as Elizabeth Sewell, Field of Nonsense, London, Chatto and Windus, 1952.

3 W.J.T. Mitchell, Picture Theory, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1995, p. 95.

4 On this subject, see Bernard Vouilloux, La peinture dans le texte: xviiie-xxe siècles, Paris, CNRS Éditions, 1994, p. 114.

5 See Marie Carani, ed., De l'histoire de l’art à la sémiotique visuelle, Sillery (Québec), Septentrion, 1992.

6 See Sophie Marret, Lewis Carroll: De l’autre côté de la logique, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 1995, p. 39 and Jean-François Lyotard, Discours, Figure, Paris, Klincksieck, 1971.

7 The reference edition is The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1982.

8 See Abraham Moles, L'image, communication fonctionnelle, Paris, Casterman, 1981, p. 107.

9 Douglas Nickel, Dreaming in Pictures: The Photography of Lewis Carroll, San Francisco, San Francisco MOMA, Yale University Press, 2002, p. 12.

10 Ibidem, p. 12.

11 See Hugues Lebailly, “Charles Lutwidge Dodgson et la pédolâtrie victorienne: ébauche de contextualisation d’une fascination prétendument idiosyncrasique”, in Lewis Carroll, jeux et enjeux critiques, Presses Universitaires de Nancy, 2003.

12 Interview by Alfred Appel, sept. 1966, in Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature 8, n° 2, (Spring 1967), p. 143.

13 Lewis Carroll, “St. George and the Dragon”, 1875; see also “The Fair Rosamond”, 1863.

14 Lewis Carroll, “The Dream”, ca. 1860.

15 Lewis Carroll, “The Dream: Mary MacDonald Dreaming of her Father and Brother”, 1863.

16 Lewis Carroll, “Little Red Riding Hood”, 1857.

17 Henry Peach Robinson, 1858.

18 Susan Sontag, On Photography, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1973, p. 16.

19 Edward Wakeling and Roger Taylor, Lewis Carroll Photographer, Princeton UP, 2002.

20 Ibidem, p. 6. “Alice Liddell as a Beggar-Maid” and “Alice Liddell dressed in her Best Outfit”, 1858.

21 Let us remember for example the extraordinary amount of energy he invested in the architectural modifications inflicted temporarily to Christ Church in 1872; Dodgson wrote a pamphlet entitled “The New Belfry of Christ Church, Oxford. A Monograph by D.L.C. A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever” (1872) and went so far as to compose a pastiche of The Compleat Angler, or The Contemplative Man’s Recreation by Isaac Walton. “The Vision of the Three T’s” was supposed to ridicule the giant wood structure meant to protect the bells while the university was being refurbished.

22 See Lawrence Gasquet, “De l’esprit à la lettre: forme et graphisme dans l’œuvre de Lewis Carroll”, chap. III.

23 About the essentially abstract quality of black and white, see Henri Cartier-Bresson, “L’instant décisif”, in Images à la Sauvette, Paris, Verve, 1952, non paginé.

24 See Abraham Moles, L’image, communication fonctionnelle, Paris, Casterman, 1981, p. 54-57; Claude Gandelman, Le regard dans le texte, Paris, Klincksieck, 1986, p. 17-25; Rudolph Arnheim, The Power of the Center, Berkeley, University of California Press, new version, 1988.

25 François Soulages, Esthétique de la Photographie, la perte et le reste, Paris, Nathan, 1998, p. 268.

26 Rudolf Arnheim, La Pensée Visuelle, Paris, Champs Flammarion, 1976, p. 98.

27 See Abraham Moles, L'image, communication fonctionnelle, p. 98.

28 Rudolf Arnheim, The Split and the Structure, Twenty Eight Essays, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1996, p. 119.

29 Gilles Deleuze, Logique du sens, Paris, Minuit, 1969, p. 70.

30 Ibidem, p. 72.

31 On the avoidance of metaphor in Nonsense, see Jean-Jacques Lecercle, Philosophy of Nonsense, p. 29 and p. 62-69.

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