Famous Migraineurs: Lewis Carroll

by Nancy Harris Bonk

Migraine with aura can have some very strange visual symptoms that may be quite alarming. Flashing lights, zigzag lines, even partial vision loss can occur during one of these Migraine attacks. One rare type of Migraine aura, Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS), has some symptoms that are quite bizarre, and we can thank Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, for its name.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born on January 27, 1832, in Daresbury, Cheshire, England, to Reverend Charles Dodgson and Frances Jane Lutwidge. His father was perpetual curate at an isolated parsonage in Daresbury, which made it difficult for the children to make friends and meet people. Charles soon discovered he was a good source of entertainment for his siblings when he learned to create imaginative games. These kept his younger brothers and sisters occupied much of the time when they were not being home-schooled. When Charles was 11, his family moved to Croft-on-Tess, Yorkshire, where his father became rector and remained in that position for the rest of his life. Part of Rev. Dodgson's duties including having the family write in the "Rectory Magazines," but it seems that Charles wrote most of them. Some that survived include; "Useful and Instructive Poetry" (1845,) "The Rectory Magazine" (c.1850,) "The Rectory Umbrella" (1850-1853) and "Mischmasch" (1853-62; published with "The Rectory Umbrella".)

Charles attended school in Richmond, Yorkshire, for a year, then transferred to The Rugby School from 1844 to 1850. He was very unhappy during these years as he was plagued by shyness, bullying, and illness that left him deaf in one ear. In 1850, he was accepted at Christ Church, Oxford. Unfortunately, a few days after he arrived at Oxford, his mother suddenly passed away. While at Oxford, he performed above expectations in math and classical studies. As part of his acceptance at Christ Church, he received a fellowship on the contingency that he would take his holy orders after he received his master's degree. He indeed graduated in 1854 with a BA degree holding the number one spot in his class in mathematics and number three in classics studies. After graduation, he became a math tutor, was appointed to a library position, and finally appointed as a Mathematical Lecturer at Christ Church. He then went on to study for his Masters degree and became an ordained deacon in 1861. It was during this time that he took his pen name, Lewis Carroll, by translating Charles Lutwidge into Latin, then translating back to English and reversing it.  

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