"After Such Kindness" by Gaynor Arnold
I came to write After Such Kindness because I was fascinated by the nature of the relationship between Lewis Carroll (or, to give him his real name, the Rev Charles Dodgson), and his 'child-friend' Alice Liddell. In fact, Dodgson was 'friends' with a large number of little girls, and he entertained them to tea in his rooms, wrote letters to them regularly and was always ready to engage in conversation with new friends in the park, street or railway carriage--even having little toys or games to hand with which to gain their attention. Some of these 'child-friends' (always female) he photographed scantily-clad or even naked.
Now you can’t get away from the fact that if Dodgson went about behaving like this in these days, he’d be in deep trouble. So I was interested in how he--and indeed the parents and families of the children involved--viewed these activities of his, and how they reconciled them with the prevailing beliefs and morality of the day. I was also keen to explore how a clever but lonely Victorian child might have viewed a very close relationship with an exceptionally attentive and amusing adult in the days when 'child-centred' was not a general description of family life.
These were just the initial ideas, of course. I wanted to write a novel, not a biography or essay, and certainly not a textbook on paedophilia or photography. And that fact that I had no idea of what, if anything, really went on between Alice Liddell and Dodgson, was a bonus; it left me free to explore 'what might have been' via a fictional child called Daisy Baxter and a fictional adult called John Jameson. And I could depart from the 'true' story in any way I wanted. So I’ve given her a complicated family background, and created a mystery at the heart of the novel, a mystery the adult Daisy Baxter is trying to solve as she reads the journal of her younger self while attempting to make sense of her disastrous marriage. She knows there is a connection to the idyllic summer she spent with John Jameson, but she doesn't know what it is. And of course I’m not going to tell you here. Sufficient to say that sex, dreams, religion and madness come into it.
I make lots of references (I hope entertainingly) to the 'Alice' books as I blend my own fiction with Carroll’s tales and his preoccupations with the issues of the day. The title itself is taken from The Walrus and the Carpenter--in which some young oysters are lured from the sea-bed with false promises and then, after a little light exercise, are eaten by the very creatures who have 'befriended' them. It's very light-hearted in tone but it suddenly struck me that (in its whimsical way) the deception of the innocent and the betrayal of apparent kindness are the themes of Carroll's poem, too.