It’s perhaps a testament to something else, too: the unsolvable mystery of its author’s deepest self, and the space that creates within the text for a kaleidoscopic multitude of interpretations. His friendships with children cast an undeniable shadow, and in the V&A’s blockbuster 2021 exhibition, Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser, he was notably backgrounded, the famous and, it’s argued, provocative portrait he took of Alice Liddell as “The Beggar Maid” nowhere to be seen. But while the likes of the #MeToo movement has added urgency to the vexed question of whether it’s possible to admire good art made by bad people, in the case of Charles Dodgson, we’re unlikely to ever truly know whether he was a repressed predator or a kindly don, shy and stuttering. Indeed, as writer Katie Roiphe has suggested, it’s possible that none of the categories available to us today can contain him.

His muse, by contrast, grew up to lead the kind of life expected of a woman of her class, and after briefly catching the attention of Ruskin and the Prince of Wales’ son, Leopold, she settled down as Mrs Reginald Hargreaves. Of her three sons, only one survived World War One, the child she’d named – purely coincidentally, she always maintained – Caryl.

Meanwhile, debate about the world of her fictional alter ego rages on like a never-ending mad hatter’s tea party. Alice is a parable of eating disorders; a cautionary tale about the then new-fangled symbolic algebra; a satire of the Wars of the Roses. In the wacky realm of rival theories, we all become as confounded as Alice.

In his day job, Dodgson lectured on mathematics, and it’s little wonder that his stories are teeming with arithmetical and geometrical allusions. Alice is confronted with a series of puzzles from the Mad Hatter’s riddle to the Queen’s croquet game, but try as she might to solve them, they invariably turn out to have little purpose and no answer. Though Dodgson was a logician, Wonderland is a realm in which illogic rules. And maybe that’s where the ultimate message of his exuberantly inventive book lies: the world is a mad place in which expectations are often frustrated. Rather than striving to lock down meaning, we’d do better to simply delight in the ride.

Read more about BBC Culture’s 100 greatest children’s books:
The 100 greatest children’s books
Why Where the Wild Things Are is the greatest children’s book
The 20 greatest children’s books
The 21st Century’s greatest children’s books
Who voted?

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