Publication details [#1255]

Williams, James A. 2013. Lewis Carroll and the private life of words. The Review of English Studies 64 (266) : 651–671. 21 pp.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Place, Publisher
Oxford: Oxford University Press


This article considers the Alice books by Lewis Carroll in relation to Victorian language theory and in particular the thought of language as autonomous and organic as expressed by some linguists of the time. It is demonstrated that the prevalent metaphor of language as ‘organic’ occur in a number of sophisticated jokes, suggesting that words have a life independent of their speakers. In this way Carroll gave a distinctive response to the existing anxieties about meaning and agency. The jokes are fully understood only in the context of Carroll’s broader participation in the literary culture of late nineteenth-century philology, in which certain scholars saw metaphorical expression as an enemy of metaphysics and of true language use.