USC Libraries Announce the Purchase and Preservation of Unpublished Lewis Carroll Letter

Los Angeles, California - USC Libraries officials have announced that they were the anonymous buyers of an unpublished letter by the C.L. Dodgson, famed for publishing “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” under the pen name Lewis Carroll.

The letter was purchased at a London auction on March 19 through a third party, exciting speculation and curiosity throughout the world of Lewis Carroll scholars and enthusiasts. The university kept the purchase under tight wraps in order to surprise USC alumnus Dr. George Cassady and his wife Linda. Dr. Cassady founded the G. Edward Cassady M.D. and Margaret Elizabeth Cassady R.N., Lewis Carroll Collection in honor of his parents. Dean Catherine Quinlan announced the acquisition and  at Doheny Library, during the 10th annual Wonderland Award ceremony the evening of April 17.

The Wonderland Award is an annual multidisciplinary competition sponsored by the Mrs. Cassady that encourages new scholarship and creative work related to Lewis Carroll.

“This letter holds tremendous intellectual value for students of literature, history, and other areas of inquiry important to our community at USC and to Carroll scholars everywhere,” said Catherine Quinlan, dean of the USC Libraries. “I’m proud that it has become part of our Cassady Carroll Collection and that we’re able to make it accessible to researchers here and around the world through our USC Digital Library. That we were able to surprise the two people responsible for establishing the collection at the USC Libraries—George and Linda Cassady—makes this important acquisition all the more gratifying.”

A great advocate for letter-writing, Dodgson claimed to have written 98,721 letters in his life and authored a pamphlet on the topic entitled “Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter-Writing.” What makes this particular letter important are the subject and the recipient, said Abby Saunders, curator of the Cassady Lewis Carroll Collection at USC.

In the three-page letter, addressed to his close friend Mrs. Symonds in 1891, Dodgson expressed discomfort with the fame that he had acquired through his fiction writing:

I don’t think I explained successfully my reasons for disliking letters of mine being put into autograph-collections. All of that sort of publicity leads to strangers hearing of my real name in connection with the books, and to my being pointed out to, and stared at by, strangers, and being treated as a “lion.” And I hate all of that so intensely that sometimes I almost wish I had never written any books at all.”

“Here in Los Angeles, where celebrity culture goes hand-in-hand with the film industry, Carroll’s thoughts on fame are especially poignant,” Saunders said.

Now that it’s in the hands of the USC Libraries, the letter will be digitized and then preserved in a climate-controlled secure vault. That’s not to say it will be locked away and inaccessible, however. Preservation specialists will carefully scan the letter for the USC Digital Library, and the original will be available to the public and independent researchers – contrary to the policy of many private libraries.

Saunders led the initiative to purchase the letter, using funds donated by Wallis Annenberg that had been earmarked “for something special.”

The Cassady Collection, which includes 3,000 rare books, manuscripts and realia created or inspired by Dodgson, was donated by the Cassadys in 2000. USC Libraries has focused on building the collection in the area of manuscripts. The letters, especially, are of interest to researchers, since they offer a window into Dodgson’s life and mind.

“They’re so important, just to get inside the head of Lewis Carroll and find out how he communicated with others,” said two-time Wonderland Award winner Andrew Woodham.

Woodham, a PhD candidate in genetics, molecular and cellular biology, said that the Cassady Collection and the Wonderland Award have inspired his creativity and take on new challenges he might not have previously considered. Walking in the footsteps of the famously multi-talented Dodgson, Woodham will be named a 2014 fellow of the USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study.

“Exploring the Collection has been one of the most rewarding parts about spending time on the University Park Campus,” he said.

The letter will be available soon to the public at the University Park Campus and online at the USC Digital Library at digitallibrary.usc.edu.

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