British photographic history

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TV: The Secret Life of Lewis Carroll (UPDATED)

With the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland a new BBC TV programme examines his life and reviews his relationship with young girls. Towards the end of the programme an albumen photograph attributed to Carroll and in the collection of the Musee Cantini, Marseille, (click here to see it) of, allegedly, a naked teenage Lorena Liddell, the elder sister of Alice, is given as evidence of a darker interest by Carroll's in girls.

Of the photograph, conservator Nick Burnett states 'My gut instnct is it's by Lewis Carroll'. A facial recognition expert also believes it is of Lorena Carroll.  

Having seen the programme I am unconvinced by the programme's claims. At best the photograph itself and provenance requires further research: simply being albumen from a glass negative and later dealer's pencil inscription is probably not sufficient to say one way or the other.

Make your own mind up and view the programme on BBC iPlayer here Available for 28 days from 31 January 2015.

Image: Presenter Martha Kearney looks at a Carroll negative from The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum, Bradford.

UPDATE: A leading Carroll scholar has stated he is 'unconvinced' by the programme's conclusion and notes that the size of the plate/print suggests it dates from Carroll's Christ College period by which time Lorena would have been a more mature woman. 

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Comment by Michael Pritchard on February 11, 2015 at 7:18

The History Today piece's conclusion neatly sums up the programme: 

Carroll’s perceived paedophilia seems to have little scholarly evidence. Although this documentary raises important questions about Carroll and Victorian ideas of innocence, childhood and sexuality, it does so on scant evidence and fails to fully engage with the record of Carroll’s own diaries and the personal testimonies of those around him. 

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Comment by John Toohey on February 9, 2015 at 19:18

It has the objective look of a medical photo, and it could also be the type of nude sold on Holywell street at that time (see C. R. T. "To The Editor Of The Times." Times [London, England] 13 May 1857- p9). Seeing the entire image, which we didn't on the programme - you realize that none of Carroll's published images have that kind of objectivity. His children are performers. 

Comment by ja Woolf on February 9, 2015 at 18:59

HIstory Today contacted me about this- I appeared on the programme,- and I will be recording a podcast for them shortly. I've also written a bit more on my blog

I was wondering if the picture is a Victorian medical photo, as the girl appears to have curvature of the spine, but I'm no expert on this subject, so I rather wonder what others think. 

Comment by John Toohey on February 9, 2015 at 18:46

I agree with a lot Fern Riddell says in her review in History Today. In lieu of any concrete evidence Kearney and the show's producers settle for conjecture.

Comment by ja Woolf on February 3, 2015 at 10:03

The BBC gave almost no prominence to the fact that a leading scholar, a world expert on authenticating Lewis Carroll's photos, had studied the photo for the museum in 1993 and determined it was not by Lewis Carroll. As we see, the scholar was not allowed to offer his views or reasons for this, and the museum was not given the chance to give their views either. No experts could be found to suggest that the photo was by Lewis Carroll and I am not aware that there is any controversy, despite the huge amount of speculation the BBC built on it. Very, very misleading and sheer ratings grabbing IMO. 

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