What a game!. Sylvie and Bruno. Fig. VI, p.48.

In the following paragraphs I'd like to point out early stylistic similarities between the social humour of the older Carroll and Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). Wilde had opportunities to observe Carroll, his reputation, and his literary works whilst he was up at Oxford, where he attended Magdalen College between October 1874 and June 1878. I have discussed this relationship more fully in The Annotated Sylvie and Bruno (1n2 & 1n4). From the excellent biography of Wilde by Richard Ellmann, we know that Wilde had kept a ‘Commonplace Book’ (40-41, 203-204), in which to record all his interests, which increasingly moved in the direction of writing down epigrams and other “small, pungent and cadenced phrases” (41).

The Lady Vice-Warden’s relevant phrases, such as “Your Lordship has a very taking way with children”, and the Narrator’s aside that “For an entirely stupid woman my Lady’s remarks were curiously full of meaning, of which she herself was wholly unconscious”, seem to have a distinct resonance in Wilde’s later plays:

she herself never meant anything at all” (Sylvie and Bruno 44). A decided flavour of the plays of Oscar Wilde…a very few years later. Carroll’s witticisms may well have been among the collected examples known to have been habitually entered by Wilde in a notebook, and used to embellish such creations as Lady Caroline, Lady Hunstanton and Mrs. Allonby: Lady Hunstanton actually says to Mrs. Allonby, “How clever you are, my dear! You never mean a single word you say!” A Woman of No Importance, 1892-93, Act 2. [Annotated, 1.45n2]

Whilst Carroll’s relevant phrases only appeared in print by late 1889, long after Wilde had moved on from Oxford, the case has also been made elsewhere for Wilde’s continued interest in the writings and child-fairytales of Lewis Carroll, especially during the years 1889-1892 when he lived with his wife and two small boys and wrote the fairytales published in The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888) and The House of Pomegranates (1891), which not only also bear many similarities [1891] to Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno tales, but which were undoubtedly also read aloud by Wilde to his children (Annotated, 1.46-48n4).

Other major writers of Victorian England whose works also appear to have had largely ignored interactions with Carroll include Charles Lamb, George Eliot. and Algernon Charles Swinburne, all of whom may be found in the recent volumes cited, at Index. The poet Thomas Hood, whose likely revenants and importance for Sylvie and Bruno only came late, and post-Annotated, may be found in detail at Dyer 2016, www. facebook. Biography Symposia, Posy No. 1: The Curious Profusion of Poet Thomas Hood Elements in Lewis Carroll’s Diverse Literary Works. [Includes examples from AAIW, TTLG, THTS, SB, SBC].

Related material


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

Dyer, Ray, ed. Lewis Carroll’s ‘Sylvie and Bruno with Sylvie and Bruno Concluded’. Scholar’s Annotated Series. Vols. 1 & 2 bound as one. Troubador/Matador UK, 2015; Amazon, 2015. Vol. 3, Lady Muriel. The Victorian Romance. Troubador/Matador and Amazon, 2016.

Ellmann, Richard. Oscar Wilde. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1987; Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1988.

Last updated 19 September 2016