It was on July 4, 1862, that the Reverend Dodgson, his friend Robinson Duckworth, and the Liddell sisters took to a boat on the river Isis at Oxford and rowed past the scented rushes to the town of Guildford. As they picnicked beneath the shade of a tree on the banks of the river, Dodgson began telling the story of “Alice’s Adventures Underground,” which three years later would be published as Alice in Wonderland.
The book remains among the most widely translated and profitable works of children’s literature, with sales so strong that Dodgson began the sequel, Alice Through the Looking-Glass (1872), several months later. It was the beginning of an unexpected career, and Dodgson went on to publish other highly successful stories under the name Lewis Carroll, including The Hunting of the Snark, Phantasmagoria, Sylvie and Bruno, and numerous poems, riddles, and puns.
Because he was a respected mathematician and Oxford don who wrote other, far more serious books, Dodgson created a pen-name, Lewis Carroll, to mask the identity of these whimsical works. Dodgson invented a name for Most writers agree, and it recorded in Dodgson’s letters and diaries, that he chose the name by latinizing his mother’s maiden name, Lutwidge and his own first name, then retranslating the words back into English. So far, scholars and writers have stopped at that, seeing no more in the name other than the explanation provided by Dodgson himself. But Dodgson’s love of riddles, tricks, and code, the name warrants fresh consideration. Studying it as an anagram, one can puzzle out the letters; from Lewis Carroll, hidden are the words “Alice Rows R. L”.
Whether or not Dodgson intended this, or even that he was aware of the words hidden within the name we can never know with certainty. That said, what is known is that he enjoyed rowing with Alice and that several times she and her sisters tried their own hands at the oar. The “R.L.” would stand for Reverend Lutwidge, and Dodgson, who lost his mother during his first term at Oxford, would perhaps honor his mother by using her maiden name. In fact, The Reverend Charles L. Dodgson rarely signed his name without his middle initial, the name, Lutwidge. Perhaps “Lewis Carroll” is more than a simple latinization, but also a riddle, an anagram that he hoped we would one day stumble upon. One can never know with certainty, but the fact that the words are there would surely have delighted him.
As for Alice Liddell herself, she is known to generations of readers as the heroine of Wonderland, to those interested in photography, and has been used repeatedly as evidence of Dodgson’s “unnatural” interest in little girls, a subject of endless speculation and analysis that continues even today. Adding to the mystery is the fact that there are gaps in Dodgson’s diaries, entire years destroyed by his family upon his death. It is known that for about five months shortly after the Guildford trip, relations between the Liddells and Dodgson cooled considerably, and when relations resumed, Dodgson held himself “aloof.”