ewis Carroll and Christina Rossetti’s relationship was largely one of mutual respect. But Rossetti was appalled by the naked images of female children produced by Carroll’s friend and collaborator Emily Gertrude Thomson, which she likened to pornography. Thomson illustrated Carroll’s Three Sunsets and Other Poems (1898), which contains multiple images of naked "fairy" children. As Rossetti noted: “I do not think to call a figure a ‘fairy’ settles the right and wrong of such figures” (qtd. in Wagonner 219). Rossetti was not commenting about Thomson in relation to Carroll — Three Sunsets was published after her death. She may not even have realised that he and Thomson were friends, or that he was as invested as Thomson was in procuring and producing naked drawings of children. However, it may be a relevant footnote in the two writers’ relationship.
Two of Thomson's illustrations for Carroll's Three Sunsets and Other Poems (1898). Left: Illustration for "Solitude," facing p. 23. Right: Illustration for "A Song of Love," facing p. 67.
The letter quoted in Diane Waggoner’s Lewis Carroll’s Photography and Modern Childhood (2020) helps provide a broader context for Carroll’s interest in nude photography and drawing, revealing that while such images were commonly produced and prized, there were many (such as Rossetti) who felt that they transgressed the bounds of Victorian propriety. Rossetti’s letter emphasises the extent to which some of Carroll’s closest friends might have found his aesthetic tastes/hobbies inappropriate, had they known that he was involved with such things.
My own work on Carroll explores his willingness, particularly in the 1880s and 90s, to transgress social norms where “child friends” were concerned. His decision to include what were even then controversial images in Three Sunsets epitomises this impulse. This is something I deal with myself in an article of 2021, “The Man Who Loved Children: Lewis Carroll Studies’ Evidence Problem."
Link to related material
Carroll, Lewis. Three Sunsets and Other Poems. With Twelve Illustrations by E. Gertrude Thomson. London: Macmillan, 1898. Intenet Archive. From a copy in Cornell University Library. Web. 13 November 2022
Waggoner, Diane. Lewis Carroll’s Photography and Modern Childhood. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020.
Wakely-Mulroney, Katherine. “The Man Who Loved Children: Lewis Carroll Studies’ Evidence Problem.” The Journal of the History of Sexuality Vol, 30. No. 3 (September 2021). 335-362.
Created 13 November 2022