Illuminated initial F

rancine F. Abeles's edition of Charles Dodgson's political pamphlets and letters to various newspapers and magazines reveal a brilliant man fundamentally concerned with fairness. Summoning his mathematical abilities to issues related to electoral politics, he simultaneously made important contributions both to political science with his proposals for proportional representation and to mathematics with ideas that half a century later became known as game theory.

Abeles shows how his these concerns began with his experiences of university governance and then extended to the national scene:

Dodgson's membership on the Governing Board of Christ Church from 1867 to the end of his life involved him in such academic political matters as the election of Students (Fellows, in modern parlance), physical alterations to the College's buildings and grounds, and in university professorships. His pamphlets and related letters from 1872 to 1876 reflect his attempts to find the best method of voting on these matters to ensure the selection of the best candidate or proposal, a method determined by reason and fairness.

In the period from 1881 to 1885, Dodgson involved himself in the important political issues of his day: the extension of the voting franchise, the redistribution of seats in the House of Commons, and methods of achieving proportional representation in the House. These issues applied to Ireland as well, especially relating to the concern over allotting Ireland additional seats in the House. Dodgson's pamphlets and related letters of this period reflect his interests in guaranteeing minority representation and ensuring just outcomes in elections, eliminating, as much as possible, chance events and outside influences from the voting process. [3]

"From the beginning," as Abeles points out, "Dodgson's main concerns were selecting the most preferred candidates to hold office, conducting elections properly, promoting minority representation, and achieving fair representation" (8). Between 1871 and 1885, he wrote a seres of pamphlets that he distributed to the governing bodies of his college and university to members of Parliament, and he also wrote letters to the Pall Mall Gazette and the St. James Gazette. Throughout he made use of his mathematical skills to promote fairness in political procedures, and in the process contributed much to two fields &mdash game theory and political science: "Game-theoretic ideas are present in most of Dodgson's political pamphlets. In A Method of Taking Votes, Dodgson recommended an approach to choosing a winner that permitted voters to change their votes when cycles were present in order to produce a consensus ranking based on inversion. This approach matured into the coalition strategies he advocated for allotting seats to candidates in an ordered list in The Principles of Parliamentary Representation (item 30), which Duncan Black (1908-1991), the Scottish economist and political theorist, described as "the most interesting contribution to Political Science that has ever been made" (1).

Throughout his life Dodgson was a frequent contributor of letters to the press, and "his pieces appeared in more than three hundred issues of forty periodicals, using, in addition to his own name and his best-known pseudonym, Lewis Carroll, the pseudonyms B.B., The Lounger, K., R.W.G., Rusticus Expectans, and Dynamite." A little more than a quarter of these letters concerned political and social issues, such as education and animal rights. In a letter he wrote to The Spectator in 1875, he characteristically warned that a purely secular education inculcated students with attitudes that led them to tolerate oppression and terrible injustice:

The enslavement of his weaker brethren — "the labour of those who do not enjoy, for the enjoyment of those who do not labour" — the degradation of women — the torture of the animal world — these are the steps of the ladder by which man is ascending to his higher civilization. Selfishness is the keynote of all purely secular education;

Francis Abeline is to be congratulated for her fine scholarship that reveals this virtually unknown side of Lewis Carroll, who turns out not only to have created fantastic representations of a young child's experience of the social world in the Alice books but also to have protested against abuse of animals, the existence of slavery, mistreatment of factory workers, and degradation of women.


Abeles, Francine F., Ed. The Political Pamphlets and Letters of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and Related Pieces: A Mathematical Approach. Charlottesville: Lewis Carroll Society of North America/U. of Virginia Press, 2001.

Black, Duncan. "The Central Argument in Lewis Carroll's 'The Principles of Parliamentary Representation,'" Papers on Nonmarket Decision Making 3 (1967), 1-17.

Last modified 28 May 2005