1879: Lewis Carroll seeks permission to photograph nude children

In 1879, Charles L. Dodgson was better known to the world as Lewis Carroll. His book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland had enjoyed critical praise and commercial success when published 14 years before.

Carroll was also an avid photographer at a time when amateur photography was both difficult and very expensive. The majority of Carroll’s surviving photographs feature young girls. In May 1879, he wrote to Mr and Mrs Mayhew, asking permission to photograph their daughters Ruth (aged 13), Ethel (aged 11) and Janet (aged six).

These extracts reveal Carroll’s persistent coaxing, as he seeks Mayhew’s permission to photograph the girls in various states of undress:

“Now your Ethel is beautiful, both in face and form; and is also a perfectly simple-minded child of Nature… So my humble petition is, that you will bring the three girls, and that you will allow me to try some groupings of Ethel and Janet (I fear there is no use naming Ruth as well, at her age, though I should have no objection!) without any drapery or suggestion of it.

If I did not believe I could take such pictures without any lower motive than a pure love of art, I would not ask of it…”

Mrs Mayhew responded to Dodgson’s letter, agreeing to some of his requests, though her reply has not survived. A follow-up letter, written by Dodgson to Mr Mayhew, is extant:

“I am heartily obliged to Mrs Mayhew for her kind note. It gives more than I had ventured to hope for, and does not extinguish the hope that I may yet get ALL I asked…

The permission to go as far as bathing drawers is very charming… I can make some charming groups of Ethel and Janet in bathing drawers, though I cannot exaggerate how much better they would look without.”

Source: Letter from Charles Dodgson to Mrs Mayhew, May 26th; letter to Mr Mayhew, May 27th 1879. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.