The Chestnuts, Guildford (Photos: The Writing Box)
An omnipresent legacy
This article is first published on January 14, 2014, which is 116 years after Charles Lutwidge Dodgson's death, aka “Lewis Carroll”, whose literary work after Shakespeare's and the Bible, is the most often cited in the occidental world, more especially Alice's adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1872). How many innumerable references, visual or written, to the Cheshire cat or to the passage through the mirror! A noteworthy example is the movie The Matrix, in which we find a white rabbit – in tattoo form – that Neo will follow at the beginning of the story, and later on, Morpheus is offering Neo to experience the depth of the rabbit hole, in this famous scene where he's handing him the red and blue pills:
I imagine that right now you're feeling a bit like Alice, tumbling down the rabbit hole. (...) You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.
If you're paying attention, you'll notice that not a day goes by without hearing or reading at least one reference to Lewis Carroll imaginary. Indeed, it seems Alice's universe forms a mythological framework well omnipresent in our modern world. Is it because the latter looks to us so senseless or that we have the intuition that something else is hiding behind the appearances and conventions? Anyway, I had a special experience with this amazing universe and its mysterious creator born in 1832. And it is totally by chance (or was it?) that I happened to visit the place where he spent the last days of his life, on the occasion of a short trip to England a few years ago.
The visit to Guildford
He's my short personal story about Mr. Dodgson. It took place in August 2011, during my first stay in the U.K. I was taking part in an event near London and I wanted to and I wanted to take this opportunity to go visit the Harry Edwards Healing Sanctuary in Burrows Lea in the Surrey county. After having read on the Internet that the healer's sanctuary was close to Guildford, I learned that it was the city where Lewis Carroll lived his last days, which were in early 1898. There he was renting a house, called The Chestnuts, for his six single sisters, and this is also where he wrote in 1874 The Hunting of the Snark. Having always been attracted by the sweet madness and the literary playfulness of this author, it was a real joy for me to organize a visit in that city the day of my arrival on British territory.
What a pleasant small town full of History! After I had explored the Guildford Castle park and the Guildford Museum, I headed myself towards the Mount Cemetery. How surprising it was to find this cemetery and his grave so simple and calm, while he is such a worldly known writer, in an old graveyard on the top of a hill, visible from the town center (see photo below). Really, I saw nobody else during my visit to Lewis Carroll! At least, not human...
The hill viewed from Guildford
The small grave is located near the entrance. I went by it to commune with myself and Mr. Dodgson's memory a little, transmitting my friendship to this quite mysterious being. I took multiple photos and was amazed by this gigantic tree, a kind of cedar, growing beside where the author is resting, as if it was taking its roots at the same place. Was it planted there at the same time of Reverend Dodgson's casket? So I was photographing the humble headstone, when I heard a leaffy rustling coming from the back of the cemetery. The vision I then catched seemed directly taken from one Lewis Carroll's fantasy world: a group of crows were chasing a fox! It lasted only a brief moment. An then, although I looked and hoped to see more from where I stood of this incredible apparition, I couldn't see the fox and the silence was everywhere again.
A life quite mysterious
To those, ladies and gentlemen, who would like to know more about the real being behind the pen name Lewis Carroll, I strongly recommend you to read The Mystery of Lewis Carroll by Jenny Woolf. Although rather indiscreet about the details of his private life – most certainly, to the taste of this man who didn't like to attract the attention of grown-ups –, this biography allows us to discover him beyond the popular received ideas and distorted images that went around about him, notably on the kind of relationship he had with little girls. One can uncover a Charles Lutwidge Dodgson as well adapted to his time than ahead of it.