We don’t give Victorian England enough shit, says Michael Martone in his introduction to this small chapbook. We remember the Victorians as being straitlaced and high-minded, but the truth is that everything about them was industriously nonsensical.
These, after all, were the minds that imagined church graveyards into recreational cemeteries served by networks of necropolitan railways with three classes for the dead. They were the people who invented sentence diagramming as a lark, something to do between constructing the Gatling gun and fabricating the whalebone bustle. And cricket! What is that!
The chief exponent of high Victorian nonsense was an Oxford-educated mathematician, Anglican deacon, and connoisseur of very young girls who wrote under the pen name of Lewis Carroll.
The Imagination of Lewis Carroll is a collection of 24 flash-fiction pieces that reimagine the author of Alice in Wonderland as a slightly more bizarre version of the man he really was–but only slightly. This Lewis Carroll fights a duel by driving his opponent insane, confounds the Queen and the Pope with riddles, and believes he can edit people in real life the way he edits his fictional creations. It’s as if the historical Lewis Carroll swallowed a pill that made him much, much bigger.
William Todd Seabrook has given real-life figures this fictional treatment before (The Genius of J. Robert Oppenheimer, The Passion of Joan of Arc) and he has gotten it down to a science. In “When Lewis Carroll Faced The Jabberwocky,” our cowardly hero runs across Oxford Commons, fleeing a monster. On the facing page, the same story is printed backwards, so you can’t read it. But if you hold it up to a mirror, the difference becomes apparent: in this version, a triumphant Lewis Carroll brandishes the vorpal sword and banishes the creature.
(I am convinced that the entire collection operates by some kind of mirror logic, with the themes of duels, illustrations, and pen names recurring through the stories in a systematic way, but I haven’t cracked its gibberish yet.)
The whole book–all 43 pages of it–is delightfully preposterous and cunningly true.
You should read it now.
– Brian Hurley