Lewis Carroll and the Duchess of Cambridge

by Edward Wakeling

Back in November 2004, the Lewis Carroll Society received one of its many enquiries via the website from university students seeking help and guidance with their dissertations. It said:

Dear Sir/ Madam,
I am currently a fourth year Art History student at Andrews university, writing an extended dissertation on Lewis Carroll’s photography. I am interested in looking at Carroll’s representations of ‘the child’ and  whether his photographs support or conflict our notions of childhood. if you know of any one who I could discuss this with, or any one who would be of any help i would be most grateful if you could put me in touch.

Many thanks.

The message, here uncorrected as it was sent, was then redirected by the then Secretary, Alan White, to me with the following comment: “Edward, This one is up your street, I think, Alan.”
    Alan usually sent me the biographical and photographic enquiries received by the Society, and I always made a response. On this occasion, I e-mailed back on 29 November 2004 as follows:

Dear Catherine Middleton,
 I have been sent your enquiry to the Lewis Carroll Society Website. There are a number of books that might help you with your dissertation on Carroll’s photography. It appears from your comments that you are looking at Carroll’s photos from an aesthetic point of view, concentrating on his pictures of children, and our ideas of childhood. You may find these two books interesting:
1. Pleasures Taken by Carol Mavor, Duke University Press, 1995
2. Pictures of Innocence by Anne Higonnet, Thames and Hudson, 1998
    For images, you need to consult these two books:
3. Dreaming in Pictures by Doug Nichol, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2002
4. Lewis Carroll, Photographer, by Roger Taylor and me, Princeton University Press, 2002
    All these books should be available through your library service.
    If you have any specific questions about the content of your dissertation, I will try to answer them. The most important point to keep in mind is that we see these photos from a 20th and 21st century perspective. It’s very hard to view them with a 19th century mind-set. It is very easy to misinterpret what the Victorians had in mind when they took photographs. Carroll’s photographs have been seriously misunderstood in the past.
    Best wishes,
    Edward Wakeling

At this point, I was not expecting any response. Most students take the information and make use of it, and the idea of sending thanks is rare. On this occasion I was wrong. On 1 December, I received this e-mail:

Dear Edward,
    Thank you for your e-mail it was good of you to get back to me. I have read in-depth Roger Taylor and Douglas Nickel’s publications, and I will certainly look at the others you have suggested. I actually spoke to Roger Taylor last week and he was most helpful in suggesting possible ways of approach. As you say we have to be careful of misinterpretation and aware of our present day interpretation of Carroll, for this reason i hope to consider Lewis Carroll’s photographs of children in the context of mid Victorian tradition. I have been carefully analysing the essence of childhood and the social expectations and views which society placed on children. It is through these ideas that i will then discuss Lewis Carroll’s early photographs (ie those taken between 1856-62), and compare it to his later photographs (those taken in the 1870’s and 80’s) in his private Oxford studio.
    I have thus far suggested that his earlier style does reflect a true interpretation of Victorian childhood, but his later interpretation seems to give way to a greater concern and response to the Aesthetic movement and its principles. I am only in the early stages of writing, so there is plenty of room for modification on such ideas and no doubt they will constantly be changing. If you have any thoughts on these suggestions i would be delighted to hear from you!
    Many thanks for your time
    Best Wishes
    Catherine Middleton

Again, I reproduce the message exactly as received. I made no response this time; I hope I had set her on the right path of research.

    Catherine Middleton completed her Art History dissertation for her degree at St. Andrews – the title of her paper being “Angels from Heaven: Lewis Carroll’s Photographic Interpretation of Childhood.” I have not seen it, and only discovered recently that she went on to become the Duchess of Cambridge, marrying Prince William on 29 April 2011.

Edward Wakeling


NB. Editor’s note.

This article was held back from the last edition in case inquiries as to whether the full dissertation could be seen resulted in a further response from Catherine Middleton. Nothing has been forthcoming along those lines so the article is reproduced here without any further comment!