rom about 1863, the artist Sophie Anderson (1823-1903), then of Kensington Gate, London, became one of Lewis Carroll's favourite artists. Her value to the Oxford don, whose Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was published in 1865, was however quite different from that of the artists who became his illustrators, such as John Tenniel and Harry Furniss.
On Thursday, 6 April 1865 Carroll was in London at the British Institution to see the art works displayed there. One, entitled The Sisters, had presumably been commissioned by Alice Liddell's father, Dean Liddell of Christ Church College, Oxford. As an increasingly close associate of the Liddell family from 1856-65, Lewis Carroll now showed a high degree of objective discernment in his commentaries (Diaries, 5: 60 & n.87). Whilst the young male artist William Blake Richmond had produced "a very pretty picture on the whole," Carroll noted that the oldest sister, Ina, his early and first favourite since 1856, was looking "a little too severe and melancholy"; Alice, the most recent and troubled favourite, was "very lovely, but not quite natural," whilst the painting of the youngest of the girls (born in 1854) drew his fullest acclaim: "Edith's is the best likeness of the three."
Carroll then went on to note "two beautiful pictures by Mrs. Anderson, each representing a child at lessons." The titles of these two were Cramming for Examinations and Cudgeling the Brains, each priced at sixty guineas (one guinea being one gold sovereign plus one shilling. The price of gold in 2021-2022 was approximately £300 per sovereign, giving £18,000 plus £900 for the shillings). The Oxford don had himself in 1864 purchased Sophie Anderson's picture of Minnie Morton to hang in his Christ Church rooms. So highly did he admire the work that in 1869 he had the artist provide a copy of her work, for him to give to his own younger sister Mary Dodgson on her marriage. Another child study by Mrs. Anderson would also be purchased and hung in 1865 by Lewis Carroll - Girl with Lilac - the model being Elizabeth Turnbull, born in 1851 and then in domestic service (Diaries, 5: 61 and n.88, 89 and n.137).
Carroll's private journals contain over twenty references to Sophie Anderson and her work in the period 1864-1869, after which time they cease. The two pictures remained on his college walls until his death, whilst the name "Minnie" would be given prominence both in his subsequent choice of child friends - for example Minnie Lilla Sant (born in 1854), daughter of the artist James Sant (1820-1916); Minnie Drury (born in 1859) who was met on a railway journey and remained a lifelong friend even after her later marriage - and in the important secondary character "Minnie" in Carroll's later and final children's fairytale (Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, Ch. II, "Love's Curfew").
Sophie Anderson's Elaine.
Recent discussion of Sophie Anderson's work Elaine, shown above, offers further context in which to view the artist's attraction for Lewis Carroll. Anderson's painting, based on Tennyson's wildly popular poem Idylls of the King, was full of the same Romanticism which had moved "all England" including the young Lewis Carroll. Of all the poets whom Carroll confided to his private journal, Tennyson was by far the most important. His more than fifty citations and discussions from the 1850s-1890s (see Diaries 10: 333) compare with only seven for Wordsworth, four for Coleridge, and one or two each for Keats, Shelley and Byron, as also for Matthew Arnold and Sir Walter Scott. (Christina Rossetti is a special case, with some twenty citations, Diaries 10: 298.)
The painting, we are helpfully told, was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1870. That was the year, however, during which Carroll - a regular visitor to the Academy when in London - had a significant altercation with his idol Tennyson, over the matter of literary rights and permissions. Perhaps this explains Carroll's "avoidance" - if such it was - when he notes in his journal that on the last Tuesday of June 1870 he "spent 1 and a half hours or so in the Royal Academy," but only mentions Millais's Boyhood of Sir Walter Raleigh, as seeming to be "the cleverest thing there" (6: 122).
Pamela Gerrish Nunn's discussion carefully draws our attention to the artist's use of Elaine's "bright hair streaming down," citing the precise lines in Tennyson's mammoth narrative poem. It would, we may suggest, have been almost impossible for Lewis Carroll to have seen and not been moved by such a visual display. As noted elsewhere in annotations to Romanticism in Carroll's final children's fairytale, Sylvie and Bruno (1889), Carroll was fascinated by women's long hair. This can be seen in his descriptions of the "beautiful long flaxen hair" of Edith Clifton, who was about eleven years old, and the "flowing yellow hair" of General Fairfax's little daughter in a Thomas Heaphy painting (Diaries 5: 48, 219); as well as in "the long discussion of 'Brown glossy hair' in correspondence with his own sister Mary, Letters I: 47-49; and again, his idol Tennyson's poetry, quoting "A single stream of all her soft brown hair/Pour'd on one side" in "The Gardener's Daughter, or The Pictures," Poems of 1842" (Dyer xxvii-ix).
Carroll, Lewis. Sylvie and Bruno. London: Macmillan, 1889.
_____. Sylvie and Bruno Concluded. London: Macmillan, 1893.
_____. Lewis Carroll's Diaries. The Private Journals of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Ed. Edward Wakeling. Vols. 5, 6 and 10. England: Lewis Carroll Society, 1999, 2001 & 2007.
Dyer, Ray. Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno. Annotated. Vol. 1. Leicester: Troubador, 2015.
Created 9 May 2022