May 22, 2008

The Persisting Stigma of E.

I want to take a running stab at an explanation for the persistant stigma associated with E...

There is a grand new book by Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti titled
The Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Lewis Carroll --- however, while writing and researching the book, Sadi encountered stiff resistance from other Carroll scholars against the notion of Carroll's epilepsy. The resistance is wholly their own, because Carroll freely admitted to it in his diaries. He was diagnosed with it formally and learned to cope with it.

So why the resistance to it today???

According to David Rothman's review,

Epilepsy: The real origins of the creative bizarreness

Carroll, it turns out, suffered from epilepsy, and Sadi says that shaped his imagination and led to surrealistic passages in his works—and maybe even in part to the birth of surrealism itself, for Carroll was surrealistic before the word existed. Think of that next time you read, say, of Alice falling down a rabbit hole or shrinking to three inches or growing to nine feet.

In other words, rather than slapping all kinds of Freudian explanations and tags on Carroll, a biographer might do better to search The Reverent’s diaries for his unwitting descriptions of the disease. Sadi says her work is the first book not to gloss over the epilepsy. In Carroll’s days, epilepsy bore enough of a stigma to discourage doctors from making such a diagnosis despite the obvious signs in his diaries such as the headaches and particular kinds of hallucinations.

I have not read the book yet, but based on Sadi’s lively and literate writings published here, I’d recommend you consider buying it if you’re an Alice fan.

Sadi has mentioned the resistance by others when it comes to identification of Carroll as a person with E. A relative of his makes a similar remark about him, related to his photographic endeavors:

I have lived my life with this association and I have never known exactly how to react to people’s views on Dodgson. On the one hand is the whimsy and delight of the Alice stories. But to others, there is a darkness about Dodgson’s subject matter for his photography. As an aside, there is precious little discussion of his significant contribution to mathematics.

From my own research, Dodgson’s photographic techniques were groundbreaking and the appropriateness or otherwise of his subject matter is simply a matter of opinion.

For what it is worth, Alice Liddell’s family seemed to have an opinion that it was not appropriate and thus succeeded in planting an element of innuendo into the interpretation of Dodgson’s behaviour. This seems more a reflection on Victorian morality rather than anything else.

It is important to note that in Victorian times, E. was considered a blight on a person which cast into doubt the quality of the individual--- it made questionable the moral standards of the individual, to be certain. Lewis Carroll's moral reputation was perhaps darkened by the fact of his epilepsy, and it seems as if that stigmatic darkness has pursued him to the present day.

It is important to keep in mind that it was during Victorian times that the medical community believed epilepsy (or at least some forms of epilepsy) were caused by too much sexual stimulation and it was Dr. Issac Baker Brown, surgeon, who advocated and practiced both male and female circumcision as a mode of treatment for epileptics, to lessen seizures.

The connection between sexual practice and epilepsy was a strong one in Carroll's day.

However, it is important to note, just as Sadi Ranson-Politzzotti has done, that the epilepsy was a huge contributing element to Carroll's genius.

I heartily and sincerely second David Rothman's suggestion that you purchase this book!!! It will provide new insight to your own condition as well as to the author so many of us cherish.

For ordering information, go to the following link:
To read more about this from Sadi's own blog:

From Sadi's site, you can learn more about how to purchase a personalized copy for your home library, or as a gift!!!
And, just so you know, Sadi is a fellow TLE---let's support her good work and insight by purchasing her book!!!


Diane J Standiford said...

Wow, what they didn't do to people back then. Have MS? Go to insane asylum. And to think after all these years, people still fear those not "normal." I highlighted your blog on mine today.

Bernardo said...

Looking For Lewis Carroll is probably the best source of LC information on the web. Good biography section, and gives details about accessing archive material which is helpful.