Part 1: Origins

For Christmas 1867, a mere two years after the successful appearance of Alice in Wonderland, there appeared in Mrs. Gatty’s Aunt Judy’s Magazine a new Lewis Carroll fairy story entitled “Bruno’s Revenge”. A first notice of the proposed new story had been made six months earlier, in June that year (Diaries, 5: 251, 370; Dyer 2015, Vol. 1: xliv, ‘Schematic Gestation’).

By January 1873, during festivities at the Hatfield House home of prominent political figure Lord Salisbury, Carroll was already extemporising new chapters of the work to groups of children, in what would become his necessary oral phase of the eventual new book (see Dyer 2015), much as Alice in Wonderland had begun with oral storytelling, on Oxford river-trips and elsewhere with the famous Liddell children of Christ Church deanery, c. 1862. This development in the new venture, it may be noted, came just a year and a month after publisher Macmillan’s launch of Carroll’s second famous ‘Alice’ title, Through The Looking-Glass, which had another immediate success: pre-publication orders for 7,500 of 9,000 copies printed, and a further print-run of 6,000 already envisaged (Diaries, 6: 189-190 for Nov. 30th 1871).

Dodgson-Carroll’s abrupt change of interest, from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass to Sylvie and Bruno inevitably calls for some scrutiny and explanation. He himself, in later years, was inclined to see it as largely a matter of authorial creativity and originality, with the laudable desire to avoid becoming too fixed in “the same tune”:

Perhaps the hardest thing in all literature — at least I have found it so: by no voluntary effort can I accomplish it: I have to take it as it comes — is to write anything original. And perhaps the easiest is, when once an original line has been struck out, to follow it up, and to write any amount more to the same tune. I do not know if ’Alice in Wonderland’ was an original story — I was, at least, no conscious imitator in writing it — but I do know that, since it came out, something like a dozen story-books have appeared, on identically the same pattern. The path I timidly explored — believing myself to be ‘the first that ever burst into that silent sea’ — is now a beaten high-road: all the way-side flowers have long ago been trampled into the dust: and it would be courting disaster for me to attempt that style again.

Hence it is that, in ‘Sylvie and Bruno’, I have striven — with I know not what success — to strike out yet another new path: be it bad or good, it is the best I can do. It is written, not for money, and not for fame, but in the hope of supplying, for the children whom I love, some thoughts that may suit those hours of innocent merriment which are the very heart of Childhood…” [Lewis Carroll, 1889, Sylvie and Bruno, Preface, pp. xii-xiii. Dyer 2015, Vol. 1, p. lxix, notes 8, 9 and 10 to ‘Preface of 1889’]

Despite such authoritative pronouncements by the author himself, the curious scholar and reader would do well to return to the 1872 text of Through the Looking Glass, and to the manifest sadness all too explicit in C. L. Dodgson-Carroll’s opening and closing frame-poems; together with the underlying emotional-social disappointments of Dodgson’s relationships with the Liddells in the period 1863-72.

Whilst contentious, the particular relationships Dodgson-Lorina Liddell, and Dodgson-Alice Liddell (Diaries, 4, 5 and 6, passim) should be scrutinised in greater detail, as they continue to elicit from some in the Carrollian fold a persisting fixed mythology, if not the evasive disinterest of “nothing to see here” (Dyer, 2016). Dodgson’s own persisting orientation, as older brother and father substitute, should be given a central place in such studies, as made clear in Ch. 3 n.12, , 3n 12, and Index: Father figures, Father substitute.

Phrases employed by Carroll-Dodgson in his poems, even when allowing for the acceptable melancholic infusion from Late English Romanticism, could well benefit from deeper, especially developmental-psychoanalytical depth psychological insights and considerations. Thus: …“the shadow of a sigh…For ‘happy summer days’ gone by” (Opening poem, v6), certainly reflects a developmentally recurring and instructive, moody-nostalgic dynamic of Dodgson’s, which had already appeared in his early poem “Solitude” (1853,) final verse; also in Alice in Wonderland, Opening poem, v1. Later instances would include Dodgson-Carroll’s inscription above the dedicatory Poem to the Snark, THTS-1876; and in his 1891 short poem “Puck. Lost and Found,” final verse, TSOP. Again, however, returning to the crucial ‘watershed work’ Through the Looking Glass, the heartfelt nostalgia is immediately qualified with a further and more ambiguous note:

It [‘the shadow of a sigh’] shall not touch with breath of bale
The pleasance of our fairy-tale. [Through the Looking Glass opening poem]

Whilst ‘bale’ has a number of connotations, variously from Middle Dutch (parcel of merchandise), Old Norse (conflagration, funeral pyre, beacon-fire), and Old Saxon (evil, destructive force, death), the use and opposition in Through the Looking Glass to “pleasance”, as above, would likely suggest the nounal form of ‘baleful’ = malignant, miserable, or by extension: sorrowful. SOED gives OE balu = Old Saxon balu = 1. evil, woe etc. 2. suffering, torment. 3. mental suffering, misery (amongst others). Recommended here are 2. and 3. above, derived from Dodgson-Carroll’s known interest in Anglo- Saxon and Old English words [see the first and last stanzas of ‘Jabberwocky’]; and from ‘pleasance’, an obvious symbolisation of Alice Pleasance Liddell then 19 years old. Clearly Dodgson is here essaying to deny any apparent bale directed against his ‘pleasance’, though a depth psychology/motivational approach must always consider Freud’s input of unconscious ‘reversal’, to further complicate what then has become, to topic-sensitive Carrollians, a decided non placet. Any consideration of blame in Dodgson’s negativism would in fact be unlikely to have been directed against his by then grown child-friends, and a far more culpable agent could be found in the children’s mother, Mrs. Liddell [see for example, Diaries, 4: 68-69, 25th May 1862, and n10; 140, 28th October 1862; 214, 27th June 1863 and n227, with links, etc.]


The origins of the ‘new direction’ Sylvie and Bruno fairytale should be sought from the widest possible approach to the quintessential nature of Dodgson-Carroll, as a single-unmarried ‘Benedick’ of his society (Dyer 2016: 424), or even as a “lonely” person (Woolf, 2010). His psychology and depths, and also his literary involvement with the Late English Romantic Movement, may all be followed in much detail throughout the many recent notes and essays to a large, three-volume series (Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno, Annotated Scholar's Edition, 2015, separately indexed, especially at Psychologists, Psychoanalysis, Freud, Romantic Movement, Romantic Poets); and also through the various forthcoming linked-additions here below to VW-Sylvie & Bruno. Carroll-Dodgson’s enigmatic character Lady Muriel, added as an extensive afterthought in the Victorian Romance, and which eventually came to be intertwined within the original children’s fairytale, has her own more nebulous ‘Origins’, for which see a later Part to the present overview and analysis of ‘Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno’, viz. ‘Lewis Carroll’s Lady Muriel. The Hidden Romance.’

Related material


Carroll, Lewis. Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno, with Sylvie and Bruno Concluded. Ed. Ray Dyer. Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno, with Sylvie and Bruno Concluded. The Neglected Fairytale. Scholar's Annotated Edition, Vols. 1 & 2 bound as one. Vol. 3, Lady Muriel. The Victorian Romance. UK: and major booksellers; USA: Amazon and other print-on-demand retailers, 2015, 2016.

Lewis Carroll’s Diaries. The Private Journals of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Ed. Edward Wakeling. 10 vols. Lewis Carroll Society, England, 1993-2007. Cited as Diaries.

Carroll, Lewis. The Complete Works. Ed. A. Woollcott. London: Nonesuch Press, 1939.

Carroll, Lewis. Sylvie and Bruno London: Macmillan, 1889.

Carroll, Lewis. Three Sunsets and Other Poems. London: Macmillan, 1898. Cited as TSOP.

Dyer, Ray. www.facebook: Biography Symposia, 20th March, Posy No. 2, ‘Lady Muriel and Lorina and Alice Liddell’ [with comments]. Web. 2016.

Woolf, J. The Mystery of Lewis Carroll, London: St. Martin’s Press, 2010.

Last updated 7 March 2021