A Journal of the Irrepressible

Alice in Algebraland

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This post is especially for Zoe over at Zoe in Wonderland. If you haven’t checked out her site (it’s in Puck’s blog roll), I highly recommend it as a source of wondrous, fantastical art and writing.

There’s a new paper on the sources of inspiration for the famous works of the mathematician Charles Dodgson — better known to most of us as Lewis Carrol, author of the Alice books.

In an article in New Scientist, doctor of philosophy student and literary scholar Melanie Bayley proposes that Dodgson wrote his books as an attack on the new-fangled mathematics making headway in his day. Dodgson was a conservative geometer, Bayley claims, who was deeply upset by the seemingly arbitrary manipulation of numbers and, especially, figures:

The 19th century was a turbulent time for mathematics, with many new and controversial concepts, like imaginary numbers, becoming widely accepted in the mathematical community. Putting Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in this context, it becomes clear that Dodgson, a stubbornly conservative mathematician, used some of the…  scenes to satirise these radical new ideas.

Bayley points out that, surprisingly (though not really, considering the great divide between the arts and sciences), there are few critical works on Dodgson that take into account the fact that he was a mathematician. Bayley goes a long way toward remedying that situation. Her piece should be a model for literary scholars who turn a blind eye toward science and math when commenting on literature.

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Written by Brian

December 18th, 2009 at 12:56 pm

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