Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.



Alice in Wonderland

Alice as Mathematical Satire

There is a theory that Alice is an attack on Victorian mathematics. According to literary scholar Melanie Bayley, what the maths don Dodgson really wanted to do was to satirise the new abstract maths that was beginning to filter into Oxford in the 1860s.

The first version of the story was called Alice’s Adventures Underground. It was a memento of an afternoon on the Thames he’d spent with the twelve-year-old Alice Liddell, daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford and her sisters. But this first draft didn’t contain three of the most important scenes: the encounter with the hookah-smoking caterpillar; the meeting with the duchess whose baby turns into a pig; and the tea party with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare.

Bayley argues these scenes were added by Dodgson specifically to ridicule contemporary mathematicians. Dodgson was a conservative: he loved classical mathematics and Euclidean geometry and was deeply suspicious of any theories ‘which departed from actual observable reality.’ Magic mushrooms, babies turning into pigs, and absurd questions (‘why is a raven like a writing desk?’) were all meant to show how pointless and wrong these new theories were. 

Bayley also reminds us that the rest of Dodgson’s published work was painfully dull and moralistic except for two very funny pamphlets he laid out as false mathematical truths, attacking changes in the governance of the University. She concludes: ‘Dodgson was most witty when he was poking fun at something, and only then when the subject matter got him truly riled.’



Hidden Riddle

‘Lewis Carroll’ is a pen-name and a riddle in itself. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson took his first and middle names, translated them into their Latin form ‘Carolus Lodovicus’ reversed the words and then translated them back into English.


‘Begin at the beginning’ the King said, very gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’


Varied Work

The story goes that Queen Victoria enjoyed Alice in Wonderland so much that she asked Lewis Carroll to dedicate his next book to her. His next book was the snappily titled An Elementary Treatise on Determinants.


Lewis Carroll was the first person to use the word ‘chortle’. It appeared in Through the Looking Glass.


I'm very brave generally, he went on in a low voice: only today I happen to have a headache.