"A library book, I imagine, is a happy book." Cornelia Funke

"Everything puts me in mind of a story." Ben Franklin

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Real Alice in Wonderland: Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin


Alice Liddell
Alice and Rev. Dodgson


Dodgson/Carroll
Young lady Alice

Mrs. Alice Hargreaves, mother of three

Eldest sister, Lorina Liddell
Edith Liddell
Prince Leopold


As I have mentioned before, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are definitely my favorite children's books and probably my favorite books ever. This, of course, creates my curiosity about Charles Dodgson and the real child who inspired his book, Alice Liddell. So, I was interested to learn of the new book Alice I Have Been: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin, which presents a fictionalized version of the "real" Alice's life. Benjamin gives us Alice as a privileged child with a special friend who will become "Lewis Carroll", as a haunted young woman in love with Queen Victoria's youngest son, Leopold, and as a mature woman mourning the loss of two of her sons in World War I. This Alice has spent most of her life trying to reconcile her identity compared with Carroll's fictional girl. Who has seen Alice most clearly? She has tried to get beyond her past and avoid the gossip, insinuations, and questions about her family's abrupt break with Rev. Dodgson. What happened between them after all and how has this shaped her life's path?

Reading, I believed in Benjamin's characterization of her Alice, and saw enough of Carroll's Alice in her to be satisfied and drawn into her story. I felt for Alice in her confusion, sadness and  strength. Naturally, the book made me want to read more about Dodgson/Carroll and happily, it piqued my curiosity about the other characters: Liddell's family, especially her sisters Lorina and Edith, Prince Leopold and his royal bride, and the unflatteringly portrayed John Ruskin and his women. The book also made passing reference to photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, whom I admire, which encourages me to read more about Victorian photographers.

If you are interested in nonfiction material, take a look at The Other Alice: The Story of Alice Liddell and Alice in Wonderland, a book aimed at children. It is a nicely illustrated little treasure for Alice fans.

Some of my other favorite "Alice related" fiction titles are Fantastic Alice: New Stories from Wonderland, a book of short stories by various authors, and Dreamhouse by Alison Habens, a trippy novel with many Alice references.

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