“Lewis Carroll was not wonderful” – El País, 03/24/2015.

This is a self-made translation of the article published in the Spanish newspaper El País yesterday, 24th. March. The writer, a Jacinto Antón, interviews Vanessa Tait on Lewis Carroll and his relationship with Vanessa’s ancestor, Alice Liddell. I am not sure whether this interview is the same that the one I attended, or a different one made in private rather than with an audience. Anyway, I have the feeling that the interviewer has his own opinion on Carroll and tries to make Vanessa Tait “admit” that he used drugs to write Alice in Wonderland or was a paedophile for taking pictures of children in the nude (yes, very original).

You can read the original article here. I apologize for my raw translation, but I have done my best to be true to the Spanish text. I am preparing my own notes from the interview that I watched, and, since I took them in English, they should be more accurate.

“LEWIS CARROLL WAS NOT WONDERFUL.

Vanessa Tait, grand-granddaughter of the little girl who inspired the character of “Alice”, who is going to publish a novel about the relationship between her ancestor and Carroll, states that the writer had a “very weird” side.

There is not any White Rabbit that is late, neither a Mad Hatter nor Cheshire Cat around, but there she is, sitting and holding a cup of tea, Alice’s grand-granddaughter! It is impossible not to feel an instinctive flow of sympathy towards the descendant of the young girl who inspired Lewis Carroll to create the heroine of Alice in Wonderland, and the continuation of her adventures.

Vanessa Tait (Wiltshire, 1971), grand-granddaughter of Alice Liddell (Westminster, 1852), is her family’s representative and the author of a novel that will be published next July, The Looking Glass House, about the relationship between Carroll and the ten year-old girl – a relationship that has been written about prolifically. The story is told from the point of view of the governess, Miss Prickett, also a real-life character. Tait has participated in the Kosmopolis festival in the Barcelona Center of Contemporanean Culture (CCCB), that has commemorated the 150 years of the literary birth of Alice.

“I have delved into the family’s memories and history to write the novel, that has taken ten years of research”, explains Tait, a nice, attractive young woman with an absolutely not-Victorian appearance, but of dreamy brown eyes and a long braid. “I have turned the facts into fiction, and have told them from the perspective of the governess, a naïve woman that was used by Carroll in order to get close to the Liddell children”.

Tait says that Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson nom de plume) had a dark, “very weird” side, and she is sure that there were more than innocent feelings in the relationship between the writer and Alice. “Carroll was incredibly charming but also very scheming – he entertained the children and seduced the governess”.

What does the family say about that situation? “My family holds private letters from which can be deduced that Lewis Carroll wanted to marry Alice, though he never proposed. In one of this letters, from the older sister, Lorina, to Alice, when they both were old women, it is mentioned that the writer was too affectionate towards Alice and sat her on his knees. Worried, my grand-grandmother’s mother talked to Carroll about this matter, and Carroll got angry and offended and stopped frequenting the Liddells. This issue is open to many interpretations”.

All right, but, what does Vanessa Tait believe? “I believe that he did, that he loved Alice, that he aspired to marry her – it his speculated that he asked for her hand in marriage when she was eleven and he was thirty-one –, but he never trespassed the boundaries”.

Our boundaries, or Victorian? “It is true that our boundaries are much more severe as far as a relationship with minors is concerned. But I would venture that Lewis Carroll never trespassed neither of the two”.

What does she think about Carroll’s hobby of photographing naked young girls? Even if he was a friend of the Prerraphaelites, nowadays it sounds like paedophilia to us… Tait thinks over her answer. “I think he was a weird man, very repressed, with an exceptional interest in young girls that he turned into her ideal child-friends, but I don’t think he would go any further. Be that as it may, Alice always remembered him with affection”.

How does it feel to be Alice’s grand-granddaughter? “It’s fantastic, I’m very lucky. I think I have won a genetic lottery, and it’s very inspiring”. Do weird things happen to her? She laughs aloud. “Definitely, such a thing influences you to an artistic life”. When she reads Alice’s adventures, does she feel some affinity with the character, something kind of familiar? “I think that what really makes the books fantastic is that we all feel identificated with Alice upon reading them”.

Alice’s grand-granddaughter points that the secret of the novels, that she personally adores, is that they accurately show the amazement that supposes for a child to enter the adult world. “They are true initiation stories, that’s the key. Furthermore, the author’s interest for logic problems and everything grotesque adds more fascinating layers to the stories”. Maybe the ingestion of some psychoactive substances has been of influence in the creation of that weird world? “I don’t think that Lewis Carroll ate any mushrooms, but it is possible that he took opium, that, back in the day, was prescribed as a medicine”.

Alice’s grand-granddaughter says she would not hesitate to open her house’s door to Lewis Carroll, despite being such a complex man. “I’d thank him for writing a book that changed my life and I’d invite him to a cup of tea”.

Before we part, I offer her a box of biscuits named “Magic Creams” that I have bought in a convenience store. Just to see what happens. He finds them very funny, but does not take them. “I usually give someone biscuits to try before I do”, she jokes.”

By Jacinto Antón.
Translated by Irene Martínez. Thanks to Jezabel Agulló for her helpful advice.

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