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Lewis Carroll: MathematicianMany people who have read “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass” are aware that the author was a mathematician. Exactly what was his work in mathematics?

by Warren Weaver

Lewis Carrollâ€”wasn’t he a first-class mathematician too?” This is a typical remark when the name of the author of Alice in Wonderland comes up. That Carroll’s real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and that his main lifelong interest was mathematics is fairly common knowledge. In fact, among his literary admirers there has long been current a completely false but unstoppable story that Queen Victoria read Alice, liked it, asked for another book by the same author and was sent Dodgson’s very special and dry little book on algebraic determinants.

Lewis Carroll was so great a literary genius that we are naturally curious to know the caliber of his work in mathematics. There is a common tendency to consider mathematics so strange, subtle, rigorous, difficult and deep a subject that if a person is a mathematician he is of course a “great mathematician”â€”there being, so to speak, no small giants. This is very complimentary, but unfortunately not necessarily true. Carroll produced a considerable volume of writing on many mathematical subjects, from which we may judge the quality of his contributions. What sort of a mathematician, in fact, was he?

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