Saturday, February 19, 2011

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.... and Linwood?

The February meeting of the Zachary Book Group was held Wednesday at Jo Ann's lovely home Linwood.

Linwood will be familiar to anyone who has read A Confederate Girl's Diary by Sarah Morgan Dawson.

Sarah probably would have been a blogger in today's world since she kept a diary for over 3 years from 1862-1865.  She stayed at Linwood for months while she and her family were fleeing the battles in Baton Rouge.  Danger followed them to Linwood too, but a back injury after falling from a horse forced them to remain at Linwood while the battles at nearby Port Hudson were ongoing.

I'll fess up that I've never actually read the diary (though the excerpts I've read are fascinating) and will make an effort to remedy that this year.  I'm hanging my head in shame!

Linwood is about 4 miles from our house and can't be seen from the road.  After about a mile drive down a gravel road, you come to the home as it is today......
It's a comfortable, welcoming house on the interior.... very "livable" and a place to call "home".

Photo from Documenting the American South:
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

But back in Sarah's day, it was out in the open.  I imagine that there were agricultural fields all around the house.

I'd have been petrified of the cannon fire and roaming troops.

Definitely an easy target!

Continuing with our 2011 focus on children's classics, this month's book for the Zachary group was Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and there is an unusual connection with being at Linwood and learning about Lewis Carroll, so read on......

My memories of Alice from childhood were that it was a long book, but to my middle aged mind, it was an easy afternoon's read.  

I was disillusioned as a child reader of Alice because I was told (or read) that there was a lot more to it than met the eye and that it wasn't "just" a children's story. Supposedly the Queen represented a British Queen; the Rabbit was meant to be some political entity; the cards were symobolic of something etc.... This was too much for my grade school brain, and consequently I eyed my hardback copy of Alice combined with Through the Looking Glass with a bit of awe and dread and always felt that it was too much book for me since I didn't understand any of the allusions and hidden meanings.

Alice with the Dodo
I'm vindicated now, after learning this week that Charles Dodgson (pen name Lewis Carroll) was adamant that it was strictly a children's story and had no deep meaning at all.... just entertainment.  So there!

Disjointed and fantastical, and no need for me to do a plot summary since we've been exposed to Alice so much that even if you haven't read it, you know about falling down rabbit holes, "Off with their heads," following white rabbits, and growing bigger or smaller by eating mushrooms and drinking magic elixirs.

Dodgson was a mathematical genius who was employed at Christ Church college as a math tutor/teacher until his death, never married,  an Anglican deacon, photographer

 ...... and here's the bit of trivia for the day.....

He had a severe stammer. 

 Dodgson/Carroll gave his characters names or personas based on the children in the boat, friends etc and Dodgson wrote himself into Alice as the character of the Dodo since when speaking his name he often wound up introducing himself as "Charles Do-do-do-do-dogson. 

As Paul Harvey would have said, "And now you know the rest of the story."

But not quite all the story.... here's the coincidence factor that I realized as a result of researching today's blog.....

On July 3, 1862 Sarah Morgan wrote these words, "Another day of sickening suspense. This evening, about three, came the rumor that there was to be an attack on the town to-night, or early in the morning, and we had best be prepared for anything".  She and her family were about to flee Baton Rouge and head for Linwood.

While Sarah was selecting her possessions to pack for their exodus, Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll and a friend were languidly rowing 5 miles up the River Thames from Oxford with the Dean of Christ Church's three young daughters.  Ah, the difference that a few thousand miles can make..... On July 4, 1862 in Louisiana, Sarah Morgan was worrying about her family being blown to smithereens while over in England, Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll was taking a pleasure outing with friends.

As they rowed along, Dodgson/Carroll told the three little girls a story and later one of the children (Alice Liddell) asked Dodgson to write it all down.  Three years later in 1865, Carroll's work would be published as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland while Sarah's words would be published posthumously by her son as A Confederate Girls' Diary in 1913.  Radically different views of the same world on the same day both producing works of literature.

And 150 years later, I spent the morning learning about Lewis Carroll at Linwood......funny how the world works.

* 02/25/11 postcript:  Jo Ann sent me the following note about the old photograph of Linwood. 
"...the picture of Linwood was probably taken between 1904-12.  Dated by the addition of the gable.  When Sara lived here there were actually 100s of trees--many Linwood trees-- all were blown down during a severe hurricane in the early 1900s.  If you've ever been to the Rural Life Museum (Baton Rouge) and toured the grounds you have a good picture of what Linwood looked like--cabins, school, 3 churches, blacksmith ship, etc.  It was like a small village.  The huge sugarhouse stood in existing front pasture."   Thanks, Jo Ann!!


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