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  • Writer's picture Gary Bills

Hints of Lewis Carroll's dark libido?

SOME shrinks have detected cruelty, even sadism in the works of Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson), with a particular focus on oral sadism. For instance, as far back as 1938 the New York psychoanalyst Paul Schilder said parents should prevent their children from reading Carroll's works because of "oral sadistic trends of a cannibalistic character".

He went on to call Carroll "a particularly destructive writer". All this may be grossly unfair on the author in question, because nobody accuses Shakespeare of being a serial killer, even though he wrote Macbeth.

However, it is fair game to analyse any writer's imagery to detect what might be lurking in the shadows: in an author's subconscious mind. I must confess, in delineating the character of Dodgson for my work of fiction, "A Letter for Alice" (out soon!), I took on board the "oral sadistic" claims to some extent because, having read several biographies about Dodgson, it made a kind of sense.

Whether the real man was actually like this remains a matter of intense debate. Some people have even accused Dodgson of being Jack the Ripper, which is as absurd as the claim that he was a saintly man with the libido of a maiden aunt, and someone who never once entertained a single impure thought. My fictional Dodgson, I hope, is a convincing portrait of a man disturbed by his inner nature and contradictions. He is not a monster, but neither is he the Tooth Fairy in clerical garb.

Concerning the claims of "oral sadism", it is relativity easy to see how those claims might have come about. Take the imagery of the famous poem "The Walrus and the Carpenter" for instance, from "Through the Looking Glass…"

I love this poem, but it has many disturbing elements. The setting is unnatural; one has stepped through the mirror to a world where the sun shines by night on a calm sea, and where birds do not exist. There is no possibility, then, of flight. Discourse will lead to no clear understanding…"

'The time has come,' the Walrus said, 'To talk of many things: Of shoes - and ships - and sealing wax - Of cabbages - and kings…"

As for "oral sadism", in this world with neither an intellectual nor a moral compass, the oysters are tricked and then consumed, and the Walrus feigns sympathy:

'I weep for you, 'the Walrus said: 'I deeply sympathize.' With sobs and tears he sorted out Those of the largest size…

And what about those oysters? One oyster in the poem is described as being male, but in the real world, oysters can change gender, and the oyster as a symbol has obvious Freudian connotations. For Freud, all "fish" images were symbols of feminine sexuality, and the oyster is a particularly potent example. Indeed, the American poet Anne Sexton composed a memorable and disturbing poem on this very theme.

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