Lewis Carroll, Photographer

Anne, in comments below, reminds me that this weekend is, apparently, Alice Weekend here in Oxford. That would explain why there’s a rather good picture of the Mock Turtle just inside the Bodleian Library this week.

Lewis Carroll didn’t just write the Alice books, of course. He also liked to take photographs of young girls–a subject on which Kate Middleton, curiously enough, is an authority, as it was the subject of her undergraduate dissertation at St Andrews. Here’s one of them:

And these are three of my great-great aunts: Honor, Evelyn, and Olive Brooke. (Photo reproduced from over here.)

Honor, the oldest girl here, is the one I’m interested in. She first crossed my radar screen when I came across a footnote in Yvonne Kapp’s classic life of Eleanor Marx, reporting that Brooke, Marx and Edith Lees (later Mrs Havelock Ellis) addressed a rally to support the strike in Silvertown on 29 November 1889. I don’t know anything else about any connection she had to Marx, outside of the information reported in this post, but she was for a time very close to Lees, with Havelock Ellis writing that, “I do not know how they met, but I know that Miss Brooke, with a self-sacrificing devotion and skill that called out Edith’s deep love, nursed her back to health” after a nervous breakdown. And she features in a passage by Lees that is occasionally reprinted in studies of late ninteenth-century feminism:

How well I remember, after the first performance of Ibsen’s drama [A Doll’s House] in London, with Janet Achurch as Nora, when a few of us collected outside the theater breathless with excitement. Olive Schreiner was there and Dolly Radford the poetess, Dr. Alice Corthorn, Honor Brooke (Stopford Brooke’s eldest daughter,) Mrs. Holman Hunt and Eleanor Marx. We were restive and impetuous and almost savage in our arguments. This was either the end of the world or the beginning of a new world for women. What did it mean? Was there hope or despair in the banging of that door? Was it life or death for women? Was it joy or sorrow for men? Was it revelation or disaster? We almost cantered home. I remember that I was literally prostrate with excitement because of the new revelation.

Edith Lees / Ellis later wrote a novel, Attainment, with a lightly fictionalised account of the Brooke family in it, ‘Stanley Evans’ a barely disguised Stopford Brooke–who, I have now come to realise, was basically the Rev. Giles Fraser of his day (though he doesn’t come out of the novel especially well).

It’s not, however, a terribly good novel, all things considered. Here is a typical passage, from one of the heroine’s letters home, after she has recently fallen in with ‘Robert Dane’, i.e., William Morris:

I came to Stanley Evans to help to reform the masses. I must be on the verge of delirium, for I feel that the masses are reforming me. I am ashamed to go and offer my patronage any more to these desperately tired people. I try to shake myself free from the convictions that are creeping over me, but they won’t go. Who is Karl Marx, Daddy? What does he know about the poor?

Bonus Kate Middleton-themed bit of trivia (since this has ended up being a post about Victorian feminist aunts): she’s Harriet Martineau’s great-great-great-great-great niece. (Ah–I see in fact that the Daily Telegraph has covered this already, reporting that there is ‘more than a passing resemblance’, apparently.)

2 thoughts on “Lewis Carroll, Photographer”

  1. I can see a bit of a family resemblance in your great-great aunt Honor, though it might just be the power of suggestion.

    There is a somewhat tiresome obsession with Carroll from scientists, eager, it seems, to see mathematics appearing in his poetry and prose. I can’t say it has much helped me to like his work – perhaps the opposite. See also M C Escher.

    I believe Carroll’s grave is here in Guildford, in a rather attractive cemetery on a hillside leading up to the North Downs. I should probably take a walk there some day.

  2. I can see a bit of a family resemblance in your great-great aunt Honor, though it might just be the power of suggestion.

    You aren’t the first person to have said that.

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