Sylvie and Bruno by Lewis Carroll (in two volumes*: 1889 and 1893)

Did Mary Shelley ever meet Lewis Carroll? It’s not impossible. He was nineteen when she died in 1851.

I think they would’ve amused each other.

Whatever, I’m a banana if he never read Frankenstein.

Many years ago a dear old friend scribbled me a note: …I cycled all over yesterday trying to find a copy of Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno… but not a copy was to be found in all of London. Nobody seems to read anything but Alice which is too bad.

I thought uh-huh, never heard of it and that was that.

I’ve only just read it and I rue all those years when I could’ve been savouring this wonderful book. It’s worth cycling all over London for. I wouldn’t’ve picked it up if it hadn’t been for that scribbled note way back. Thank you, Annie.

Sylvie and Bruno is gorgeous.

Why? Well…

Carroll gifts us, with pin-point accuracy, a young children’s view of a pure world free of the distortions of adulthood.

Oh, and they’re some lovely malaprops of adult-speak on the way. (Think lizard bandages for disadvantages; river’s edge for revenge…)

So let’s sneak a peek.

But first, do appreciate why Sylvie and Bruno are fairies. Because, like being with a young child, the magic comes when you let yourself go and enter their world.

Here’s how to see fairies.

…it must be a very hot day… and you must be just a little sleepy… the Scotch call it ‘eerie’… and the crickets should not be chirping…

And when you’re with them, they’ll show you a life full of innocence and love without the corruption and selfishness that can come with later years.

“It’s very nice to be loved,” Sylvie said: “But it’s nicer to love other people.

Here’s Sylvie, half scolding, half comforting, helping a beetle that’s stuck on its back.

There! There! You needn’t cry so much about it… and how did you come to tumble over? But I can see well enough how it was… walking over sandpits with your chin in the air as usual…

Here she is again, on coming across a dead hare.

“Good-bye, poor hare!” Sylvie obediently repeated, looking over her shoulder at it as we turned away. And then, all in a moment, her self-command gave way. Pulling her hand out of mine, she ran back to where the dead hare was lying, and flung herself down at its side in such an agony of grief as I could have hardly believed possible in so young a child.

“Oh my darling, my darling!” she moaned, over and over again. “And God meant your life to be so beautiful!

Phew. Full of heart, innit.

Still feeling eerie?

Great. Let’s leave the last words to them, then, before our, and the protagonist’s, eeriness goes…

But oh, Sylvie, what makes the sky such a darling blue?” [Asks Bruno]

Sylvie’s sweet lips shaped themselves to reply, but her voice sounded faint and very far away. The vision was fast slipping from my eager gaze: but it seemed to me, in that last bewildering moment, that not Sylvie but an angel was looking out through those trustful brown eyes, and that not Sylvie’s but an angel’s voice was whispering

IT IS LOVE.

Thanks for being here.

* Carroll wanted it in one book, but it was too big and so split into two volumes: Sylvie and Bruno and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded. Good luck finding both! x

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Guy Nicholls

Writer and book bore.

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