Could one of Britain’s best loved children’s authors really have been a murderer and mutilator of women? Is there something more sinister to beloved nonsense rhymes than just a bit of fun?
Lewis Carroll, known and beloved to millions as the author of the Alice in Wonderland stories and composer of nonsense poems was Jack the Ripper – at least according to Ripper author Richard Wallace.
Lewis Carroll was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson on the 27th January 1832 to a family of Church of England Clergy. His father, Charles Dodgson attended Christ Church Oxford and had a gift for mathematics, earning a double first degree. Instead of embarking on a brilliant academic career he married his first cousin Frances Jane Lutwidge and became a country parson. Lewis Carroll was born in Daresbury in Cheshire and had a precocious intellect, but suffered from a stammer (a family trait) that greatly effected his social life. Originally home schooled, he was sent to Richmond Grammar School at age twelve and Rugby School at fourteen, where he was described as a brilliant child with a gift for academics. He was unhappy at Rugby however, and later described suffering from “annoyance at night” – whether this was bullying or sexual molestation has been greatly discussed by Carroll scholars, but not known. Attending Christ Church Oxford he gained a first class honours in mathematics, standing first on the list, but had an inability to apply himself to study and was easily distracted. Despite this he remained teaching at Christ Church until his death.
Alongside his gifts as a mathematician, Carroll was also a logician, Anglican Deacon, writer, poet, photographer and inventor (including “The Wonderland Postage-Stamp Case”, the “Nyctograph” that allowed note taking in the dark, logic games (including an early version of scrabble), and various gadgets including a stressing device for a type of tricycle). Through his writing, photographic interests and general relationship with children it has been theorised in recent years whether he had a paedophilic interest in children (including rumours of a marriage proposal to a then eleven year old girl named Alice Lidell) – though there is little actual evidence in favour of this.
In 1996 Richard Wallace proposed that Lewis Carroll alongside his friend and colleague at Oxford Thomas Vera Bayne were responsible for the Jack the Ripper crimes of 1888. In his book “Jack the Ripper, Light-Hearted Friend” he explains that Carroll’s work contained hidden confessions in the form of anagrams.
These confessions are poorly constructed sentences and only actually work if you leave out letters, or change letters that don’t fit the pattern (because an accomplished author, mathematical genius, expert at codes and cypher’s and deviser of word games would not be capable of devising a proper sentence with correct letters…)
An example he gives is from the poem “Nursery Alice”:
‘So she wondered away, through the wood, carrying the ugly little thing with her. And a great job it was to keep hold of it, it wriggled about so. But at last she found out that the proper way was to keep tight hold of itself foot and its right ear’.
and turns it into:
‘She wriggled about so! But at last Dodgson and Bayne found a way to keep hold of the fat little whore. I got a tight hold of her and slit her throat, left ear to right. It was tough, wet, disgusting, too. So weary of it, they threw up – jack the Ripper.’
Carroll expert Karoline Leach (author of “In the Shadow of the Dreamchild: A New Understanding of Lewis Carroll”) in refuting Wallace’s argument takes a sentence from the first page of AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh:
‘Here is Edward Bear coming downstairs now’
and produces the following dastardly confession:
‘Stab red red women! CR is downing whores – AA’
Leach also comments that if you take any sentence in the English language and rearrange and substitute letters you can form a half connected sentence on any topic. She also points out that “For anyone who knows Dodgson’s work, and his mastery of all word-games, the idea that he could perpetrate a word-trick as messy as this is almost more unbelievable than the image of him hanging round Whitechapel with a big knife.”
Wallace also has other evidence (and I do use the word “evidence” in the lightest possible sense) such as a similar confession in “The Mad Gardeners Song”:
‘He thought he saw an Argument/That proved he was the Pope’
As one victim was murdered in Mitre Square and the Pope wears a Mitre.
Yes, apparently Mr Wallace considers that to be evidence. I don’t think Sherlock Holmes need worry!
It does not even deserve mentioning because of how unlikely the theory is, but it should be noted that there is evidence that neither Lewis Carroll nor Thomas Bayne were anywhere near London at the time of the murders. Also several anagrams Wallace analyses were published the year before the crimes were committed…
So we can safely conclude that Richard Wallace did not prove that Charles Dodgson (or Lewis Carroll as he is better known) was Jack the Ripper and did nothing more than jump on the “Lewis Carroll was a bit dodgy” bandwagon and managed to produce nonsense theories out of nonsense rhymes.
To finish this Suspect Watch, we will share this little gem. When Richard Wallace’s theory was first published in Harper’s Magazine the first paragraph read:
“This is my story of Jack the Ripper, the man behind Britain’s worst unsolved murders. It is a story that points to the unlikeliest of suspect: a man who wrote children’s stories. That man is Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, author of such beloved books as Alice in Wonderland.”
Two readers wished to demonstrate just how absurd this theory based on anagrams was, so masterfully produced their own hidden confession based on the above paragraph:
“The truth is: I, Richard Wallace, stabbed and killed a muted Nicole Brown in cold blood, severing the throat with my trusty shiv’s strokes. I set up Orenthal James Simpson, who is utterly innocent of this murder. P.S. I also wrote Shakespeare’s sonnets, and a lot of Frances Bacon’s works too.”
And hopefully that should be the final word on this theory (or indeed any) based on anagram confessions.