Author Spotlight: A Study and Some Personal Experience of Lewis Carroll

A few months ago I began a contributing assignment for a Facebook writer’s group I belong to, and decided almost straightaway to re-post here on the blog for others to read the entries as well. Unfortunately, time often got in the way and I’ve since done several, perhaps five or six, without the additional postings. No worries, we can catch up or meander along, as we like!

Last night as I finished writing this most recent one, I decided to take the few moments it would require to get it going once and for all. And so here I present you first, the inimitable Lewis Carroll.


“Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

Lewis Carroll self portrait, c. 1856 By Reginald Southey, via Wikimedia Commons

You know Lewis Carroll and the journey his Alice took through Wonderland and, subsequently, in Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, in which Alice moves through the story and countryside as a chess pawn, advancing from square to square by crossings on the terrain she follows. The stories’ main character is inspired by Alice Liddell, with whose family Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) was acquainted. Their relationship and later years are magnificently explored in Anne Clark’s The Real Alice, which I read as a teen and highly recommend. Also worth checking out is Martin Gardner’s fantastic The Annotated Alice—especially the bit about looking glass milk, which fascinated me to no end as a child.

Some interesting tidbits about Through the Looking Glass and chess may be found here.

However, Charles Dodgson was much more than a quirky children’s author. He was also a mathematician and logician, artist and Anglican cleric who served as a don at Oxford University. In his time the art of photography was in its infancy, and Dodgson was a keen practitioner, later running a successful studio that produced about 3,000 images, though many have been lost.

Alice Liddell (age 7) and ferns: this was published as a miniature on the last page of the original Alice’s Adventures Underground (1861). Lewis Carroll, via Wikimedia Commons

Dodgson taught mathematics at Christ Church College and, like today’s learners, many of the students were accustomed to blocking the possibility that they could do well in mathematics. He created fun ideas and games to help make the material less dense and dull, as well as syllogisms to aid in the study of logic. As the page linked here states, knowing about his scholarly achievements helps us to better understand his most famous works. (Do explore the whole page, but in particular the syzygies on bottom right, last image but one.)

Two links to explore Carroll’s puzzles on logic may be found here and here.

From childhood, even before I fully understood what I was absorbing into my brain, I found Dodgson’s life and career to be fascinating and filled with worlds of information from nearly every discipline. Dodgson was also an artist and he inspired me to give the form a serious study, so for one year I focused utterly and completely on drawing.

Alice Liddell dressed up as a beggar maid, Lewis Carroll, via Wikimedia Commons

I didn’t come out in the end a renowned artiste, but the experience did open for me many doors I hadn’t yet explored, exercised my brain in ways that enabled me to think using varied patterns, and exposed me, via a great deal of linkage, to many more creative ideas and people, all of which immensely enriched my life. As a lover of words, I took special delight in his nonsense verse; “portmanteau words”; literal use of phrases and idioms and poetry. One of my favorites was “Jabberwocky”:



’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.


“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”


He took his vorpal sword in hand;

Long time the manxome foe he sought—

So rested he by the Tumtum tree

And stood awhile in thought.


And, as in uffish thought he stood,

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

And burbled as it came!

(Complete poem)

The Jabberwocky, as illustrated by Sir John Tenniel for Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” John Tenniel, via Wikimedia Commons

Dodgson was close friends with Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, brother to poet Christina Rossetti, also previously written about in these pages. George MacDonald, Scottish author and poet, was so enthusiastic about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that Dodgson decided to submit it for publication, and since its release in 1865 it has never been out of print. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson died in 1898, just short of his 66th birthday.

It was many years following his death that the myths about Dodgson’s disinterest in women and deviant eye for girl children arose, perhaps partially exacerbated by his family’s suppression of his letters and journals, as they depicted relationships with adult females that would have been considered scandalous at the time, and the family wished to preserve his reputation. The accusations of pedophilia, too, ignore Victorian perceptions and habits and uphold an insistence upon viewing Dodgson via our 21st century lens. This isn’t to say that pedophilia was acceptable to Victorians, but rather that child nudity was perceived as a symbol of innocence and not erotica or pornographic. As stated in an essay where this debate is discussed, the accusations perhaps say more about the accusing society—ours—than Dodgson, especially given the modern sexualization of children.

Carroll’s diagram of the story (Through the Looking Glass) as a chess game. Lewis Carroll, via Wikimedia Commons

Whether just for fun or a more serious study, try your hand at a few of Carroll’s puzzles at this page, which starts with another brief but fantastic bio of the author and contains a word on the puzzling question presented by Lewis Carroll, which has never been answered with complete certainty! A succinct summary of how the Alice books came to be, with some fascinating background, tells more here.

I can’t say enough about the two books mentioned in the first paragraph, and further study of this fascinating and genius man and his wonderful works, which keep us actively guessing and pondering, and probably always will.


Page from the original manuscript copy of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, 1864, Lewis Carroll, via Wikimedia Commons
Early edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, inspired by a rowboat expedition up the Thames, with Dodgson, the Reverend Robin Duckworth and the three Liddell sisters: Alice, Edith and Lorina.











To see next in the series, Author Spotlight: Sir Alec Guinness, click here

This post was updated to add a related link 



Book Review: Baffled by Love

Baffled by Love: Stories of the Lasting Impact of
Childhood Trauma Inflicted by Loved Ones
by Laurie Kahn

How does one explain the reality of cruelty perpetrated by humans onto other people? More baffling would be an encounter with statistics that indicate victims of violence often know their abusers. Worse still wouldn’t even be realizing that many of the traumatized are the most vulnerable of our citizens—children—but rather that those who hurt them so badly are the very people meant to cherish and protect them: authority figures such as parents, relatives, neighbors, coaches, babysitters. The understandings they develop of the world and how to function as part of it are learned within the context of their violent upbringings and brought to bear on every relationship they subsequently enter into. Without intervention, the dysfunctions that set the stage of their personalities—coping methods, interpersonal communication and more—can negatively impact their broader life in the present as well as far into the future.

Laurie Kahn, a psychotherapist in practice since three decades, brings us through some of the dark places individuals have traversed in Baffled by Love: Stories of the Lasting Impact of Childhood Trauma Inflicted by Loved Ones. These are re-tellings of childhoods disturbed, interrupted and robbed by sexual and other violence, emotional manipulation and “corrupt models of love.” As adults, Kahn’s clients couldn’t form healthy intimate relationships because what they understood to be love was actually a set of circumstances that crippled their abilities in love and other arenas.

This failure to know love can prove debilitating…Love is the pathway to connections with others; it is the key to our humanity. Love breeds compassion, and it sustains us in the face of adversity. Love creates meaning in our lives. Without empathy or compassion for others, you can harm others and feel little or no regret. Children who are deprived of love have two difficult choices: yearn for love or succumb to numbing indifference and contempt for others.

 Lovelessness is excruciating in its banality. It robs a child of her vitality. It leaves no physical welts or scars, just a devastating, enduring emptiness. Lovelessness has no language, poetry, or music. It is unnamed, hidden from view and disabling.

 Kahn’s discussion of each chapter is set up within a framework introducing a client or a particular angle that lays out a concept she expertly deconstructs and subsequently pieces together before our eyes as a means to illustrate how people’s lives are affected by what they have endured. However, the author doesn’t merely present case studies and pair the experiences with smart summaries of what went wrong, nor is her picking apart of life details shrouded in psychologist talk that—as I have often found elsewhere—makes sense individually but loses me under the weight of its numerous detail of theories, labels and pathologies.

Instead Kahn focuses on her clients’ humanity, often enabling our understanding in ways as simple as identifying what was lost and how that negatively impacts now, when the individual needs the foundation of such typical experiences to proceed in a constructive manner. In so doing the author displays her storytelling prowess, perhaps exercised even more brilliantly given these are not “stories” in the manner of which we are accustomed to discussing them. Respectful in how she handles each person, she lays out the scenes, interactions between herself and a client, perhaps, or someone may narrate or act out a memory—providing openings into angles she simultaneously discusses. One of Kahn’s most succinct passages illustrates the concept of what she calls “damaged danger detectors”:

Wendy was raised believing that the world was a dangerous place, and that family provided love and comfort. The abuse and neglect she experienced and witnessed in her family left her with no way to assess who was safe and who was not.

It points to what many of us hear about regarding any family dynamic, negative or positive: what the child grows within is what he or she perceives as normal, with the added handicap of mistaking other abusive behavior for caring, or inability to recognize warning signs in later relationships and, tragically, falling into the trap of serial victimhood.

Also a major part of how Kahn sets up her topic is by opening herself up as well to what we see. Alternating chapters move into the memoir, a condition, she writes, that “mortifies” her. It pairs, however, with another approach she utilizes, that of searing honesty within her counselor-client relationships that results in self-reflection, specifically as to the emotions she feels that unsettle her the most. With adroitness she addresses the relationship between the traditional therapeutic ideal of distance, not getting too close to clients, and trauma survivors’ greatest fear of triggering their therapists’ withdrawal.

As the book proceeds, all of this is wrapped amongst each other, nestled with details of her clients’ and Kahn’s own childhoods, as it exposes a reality that these lessons—repeatedly taught and learned by the author in her counseling role—can provide benefit to those outside of these scenarios as well. Honest self-reflection enables us to love ourselves better as we are even if we simultaneously, silently, admit there is much room for improvement, and provides compassion toward others and the ability to grow this sort of love. In this way and others Kahn keeps Baffled by Love from becoming, at its heart, an exercise in voyeurism. Instead, she enables us as humans to travel through this life with a better set of luggage, packed with tools that strengthen our self-respect as well as regard for the myriad ways in which we and those others who occupy any given moment with us got there, and move forward together.

While not the easiest book to read given its content, Baffled by Love nevertheless is also not a mere litany of abuse. Kahn explores ways to find healing, to discover a productive love, all within writing so smooth and pleasing we hardly realize we are, in some instances, also being instructed. Her varied angles are threaded together impressively, creating a smooth tapestry, powerful in its representation of histories and touching in its willingness to be vulnerable for the sake of others. With something to offer a wide audience, even those without the issues her clients faced, it is a worthy read that transcends other accounts of the healing of broken love.


About the author ….

Laurie Kahn MA, LCPC, MFA is a pioneer in the field of trauma treatment. For more than thirty years, she has specialized in the treatment of survivors of childhood abuse. In 1980, she founded Womencare Counseling and Training Center.

Since then, her ideas and expertise have served both people who have experienced childhood abuse and hundreds of clinicians who have graduated from her Trauma Consultation Training Program.

Laurie’s personal essays have been published in anthologies, and her articles and book reviews have appeared in the Journal of Trauma and Dissociation and The Journal of Trauma Practice.

She lives in Evanston, Illinois with her husband, Michael, and her labradoodle, Kali.

For more information about Laurie, please visit Womencare Counseling and the author’s website. An excerpt of Baffled by Love is available here and may be purchased at Amazon.


The reviewer received a free copy of Baffled by Love in exchange for an honest review. 


Reading 2017: Reading Challenge 2017

As readers are aware from my last entry in this series, I was not entirely satisfied with my challenge experience for 2016. It seemed to focus solely on numbers and achieving more—more than one’s own from a previous year, certainly. But it’s also difficult to deny the creeping competition involving others, which in this context I’m not all that interested in, to be honest. I read 60 books last year, more than some others did. Bragging rights? Hardly! Many other readers gobbled up a whole lot more books than I did. OK, so?

So, I wasn’t planning to do a 2017 challenge because, quantity being the primary accomplishment, I was bored. Plus, I didn’t really want the stress. Then I came across one of my Goodreads group’s discussions, and saw a few options that intrigued, opening me up to the realization that my imagination was lacking. As mentioned in that previous Reading 2017 entry, their many options included a serious re-visiting of one’s To Be Read (TBR) list; step reading through different series; re-reads; exploring new authors and so on. I decided to take a little from a couple of ideas and tailor them to my own challenge, which became:

Explore three genres that are new or newish to you and read five books that have been on your TBR for more than one year.

In the interest of a truer exploration, I added a “three by three” element to the new-genres side of the challenge: that is to say, three of each new genre for a total of nine books. There’s that counting thing again, but the real aim is to look into the genre from at least a few different angles, each author having their own style, and stories being like children in a family, typically they are completely different to one another. I wanted to avoid any expectation that one story could represent an entire genre.

I purchased this book in 2012 and still have yet to read it. Will it make the TBR challenge in 2017?

The TBR addition wasn’t merely to add bulk: I really do have a boatload of reads I keep saying I am getting to. I recall once making a very intellectual stranger laugh when I commented within some casual group book talk that I was trying really hard to be “just about to start reading” a non-fiction work about the Peloponnesian War. I wasn’t that keen on his resultant mirth until he told me most people skip anything that reveals the difficulty they have getting started, but the ease with which they name drop. OK, that stirred me a bit. That, dear readers, was in 2012.

As of now I haven’t yet chosen my TBR reads, though my “new or newish” genres are sci-fi, true crime and graphic novels. Having previously read and reviewed one sci-fi tale might have given me the courage to move forward, because I loved it (and a review of its sequel is slated for next week)! I do admit I was tempted to make this upcoming one part of my three-by-three bracket, but slapped my wrist and told myself to be brave.

Graphic novels, too, I have a tad bit of experience with, though I’d wanted to expand my repertoire and read a few more than the kiddie ones I’d been doing. I liked them, sure, but had also heard that some classics had been transformed into this genre and that really put me on alert for something fantastic that could be.

The first in my true-crime reading spree. (Click image for review.)

Finally, true crime had been recommended to me and I made the leap, reading and reviewing the first of the three I’d resolved to review one from each genre in their own three-part series, the start of which can be found here. Mark Fuhrman’s Murder in Greenwich was so well written I decided to seek out another from his collection. Another recommendation led me to my final true crime, which rounded out that genre early in the year. I’ll write more about the entire bracket later in the Reading 2017 series.

So: nine new-genre reads and five long-time waiting ones. A number again, but after all the challenge does require you punch one in. I made mine fifteen for a nice, rounded figure, and reached it quite quickly—though not having met my real goal. I’ve upped it to twenty-five, though this too has been achieved, and am about to raise it again. It’s a good feeling to be able to dismiss what that number might be, knowing there is something more important within, and the links that lead me, like stepping stones, along a pathway of ideas as I pile yet ever more on top of my already tottering TBR.

A few picks from my TBR (Click to read more about selected titles; what I’m currently reading is linked in sidebar)

Stay tuned for more in “Reading 2017” and its three-part spinoff series, “New Genre Library.”