“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar. “I—I hardly know, sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
“What do you mean by that?” said the Caterpillar sternly. “Explain yourself!”
“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir” said Alice, “because I’m not myself, you see.”
Alice gradually learns to give up the idea of a wholly-knowable self. In fact, she progresses through Wonderland’s fantastical trials only when she allows for uncertainty. (“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”) The episode is a pertinent one for biographers of Lewis Carroll. They want to know the mind behind the madness. They want to excavate Carroll entirely. Ever since Stuart Collingwood (Carroll’s nephew) published the first biography of the author in 1898, there have been a host of books purporting to uncover the real Lewis Carroll. But pinning him down feels a bit like chasing the white rabbit.
Lewis Carroll is, in fact, the pseudonym for someone who seemed very unlike the creator of a mind-bending dreamscape: Charles Lutwidge Dodgson spent the majority of his years as a stoical lecturer in mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford. “Who could have guessed,” one of his students wrote, “that the dry little man … was hatching in that fertile brain of his such a miracle of fancy and fun as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?”