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23 December 2009

A Little Christmas Dream by George du Maurier

Carroll once considered getting George du Maurier to illustrate something or other - forgotten what it was now. Nothing ever came of it but I wish it had. Du Maurier was well known for his pics of etiquette-imprisoned society folk making fools of themselves, which probably appealed to Carroll. Carroll may also have appreciated du Maurier's less well known flair for the weird and sinister. Here is a very un-festive Christmas scene by du Maurier, which I discovered in an ancient copy of PUNCH.

Sorry it's a rather crummy photo - the pic is framed and mounted, and the white blob is my flash. But you get the general idea. Now, back to your robins and Santas. Happy Christmas!

17 December 2009
Last Saturday was the annual Lewis Carroll Society party at the Art Workers Guild. They're usually good fun. It's nice to see other members - some of them people you usually only see by email or facebook - and a good mixture of people. Here are Kylie-Elvis Schmoulianov and Terry King.

Different types of people

Sarah Jardine-Willoughby always creates the most amazing food. In another life she would have been head cook in a huge mansion. There were a couple of enormous salmon and several different sorts of cake. T took a rather blurred photograph.


This year, a couple of Swedish guys called Kristian Scheiblecker and Pontus Nilsson came specially to perform some songs based on Carroll's so-called "serious poems". They have been classically trained but the music was more like early Leonard Cohen to my ear. You could certainly imagine Kristian sitting there in his Victorian cottage in Sweden and composing the music in the dark winter nights.

Kristian and Pontus

To my surprise I found that Carroll's poems made terrific lyrics. Read purely as poetry, they are mostly rather banal. I was particularly impressed with "Only A Woman's Hair" which makes a most touching ballad.

"...and, as I touch that lock, strange visions throng
Upon my soul with dreamy grace-
Of woman's hair, the theme of poet's song
In every time and place. -

A child's bright tresses, by the breezes kissed
To sweet disorder as she flies,
Veiling, beneath a cloud of golden mist,
Flushed cheek and laughing eyes- -

Or fringing, like a shadow, raven-black,
The glory of a queen-like face-
Or from a gipsy's sunny brow tossed back
In wild and wanton grace...

...The eyes that loved it once no longer wake:
So lay it by with reverent care-
Touching it tenderly for sorrow's sake-
It is a woman's hair."

Often there is a quiz, usually of inscrutable difficulty, and generally won by Selwyn Goodacre. This year, there wasn't one, perhaps because the singers came.

There is always a raffle, which usually has at least as many prizes as tickets. Mostly they have an "Alice in Wonderland" theme and I was rather pleased to win a copy of Horace Wyatt's parody "Malice in Kulturland", published in 1914. Roger Allen was eventually asking "Is there anyone who HASN'T won a prize? Okay, well, your ticket number is near enough..."

The venue, as usual, was the Art Workers Guild, which is a fascinating place. Founded in 1884, it moved into its 18th century premises in 1913. The main hall, lined with pictures of past and present craftspeople, has beautifully made ladderback chairs. In fact, everywhere you look are items which have been contributed by members - all of them distinguished, and all of them elected. I liked some large art glass and copper Arts & Crafts lampshades.


The house has only been modernized where necessary, so it has an air of antiquity and genuine age which is becoming increasingly hard to find as people rush to rip out old interiors in order to create "modern spaces" . The loos, taps and washbasins appear to be the original 1913 models, still working as well as ever. Although I'm not sure that they all ever worked THAT well...

1913 washbasins

13 December 2009
Lots of writers find that certain music helps them to write. The music which helped me focus most on Lewis Carroll was Thomas Tallis' "Spem in Alium".It is a most unusual piece of music, which lasts for about 10 minutes and it is sung by 40 voices each of which has a different part.

A duke apparently heard about a piece that had been written in thirty parts, and thought Tallis could probably do better. As a contemporary observer said, "Tallice beinge very skillful was felt to try whether he would undertake the Matter, which he did and made one of 40 parts which was songe in the longe gallery at Arundell house which so farre surpassed the other that the Duke hearinge of the songe tooke his chayne of gold from of his necke & putt yt about Tallice his necke & gave yt him." I've also heard that Queen Elizabeth I gave him forty pieces of gold when she first heard it.

I think it relates well to Carroll because you need to be patient and just listen and let it get to you. When you hear it at first it seems to be full of mystery and doesn't seem to have a shape or form - it's just lots of bits. Then gradually you realise that all the pieces relate to each other. After a while you begin to see the underlying shape of it all, and feel the emotion - although it is never predictable or conventional and you can never be sure that you are perceiving it all.

The Latin words begin "Spem in alium numquam habui praeter in te." "I have never put my hope in any other but You."

The structure of the music itself probably has some metaphysical meaning. I don't know enough about music of this period to know what it could be.

11 December 2009
Very exciting to get the US proofs in the mail today. My excitement was somewhat lessened when the first thing I saw when I opened the book was an error which I thought I had corrected. I'm hoping that it appears correctly in the finished copy.

But it's funny how you can slave away getting things right and then find that you haven't. When we self published "Lewis Carroll in his Own Account" I was insanely pernickety about the editing, since there was nobody else to do it. I checked, double checked and triple checked every word and number. So I couldn't believe it when we got the finished copies back from the printer and instantly the book, as if by magic, opened onto a particular page, and my eye, as if by magic, was drawn to an error. I really felt like one of those suckers in a Derren Brown sketch!

PS I'm supposed to do something with this. I expect I'll figure it out.
04 December 2009

They never stop. Yet another version of Alice-inspired confusion is being shown on the Sci Fi Channel - Nick Willing's miniseries ALICE was reviewed rather well in "Slate". I haven't yet seen it, and so can't recommend it. To tell you the truth, the reason I'm mentioning it is that I know someone who worked on it and has his name on the credits.

By the way the Sci Fi Channel is now called Syfy. A sad name, IMHO yet perhaps they did it to facilitate search, because when you google "syfy" it comes up first. On the other hand "Sci Fi Channel" comes up with the Sci Fi Channel UK - or at least it does if you live in London. It looks more fun than Syfy, too.

Anyway Syfy has a sneak Alice preview on their site. And that's my own little Sci-Fi photo at the top, taken while driving along one mysterious foggy night.