Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Alice I Have Been (Melanie Benjamin)

Alice I Have Been is a thoroughly researched, extremely impressive, strange dichotomy of a book. This work of historical fiction tells the story of Alice...you know, Alice...not the young girl who falls down a rabbit hole into a mystical wonderland, but the young girl named Alice Liddell, of whom Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carroll) wrote Alice in Wonderland for.

Alice and her highbrow family lived in Oxford in a time when girls wore corsets and carried parasols and Victoria ruled the land. Mr. Dodgson was a professor at the Deanery where Mr. Liddell was the Dean. Mr. Dodson took Alice and her sisters along on picnics and boat rides, where he told them many fantastical stories. One was the story about Alice, which she begged him to write down. Needless to say, literary history was made.

However, the story does not stop there. Alice lived a long life, and along the way, had many, many sorrows. Everyone she associated with the "Alice" time period of her life died before her...some way too soon. Benjamin's writing is absolutely breathtaking as she develops the true story of Alice, and sometimes, in her own admission in the author's note, fills in the blanks (particularly as she states with the story of Mr. Ruskin).

In the beginning, I called this book a strange dichotomy, and that is simply because I don't know how to feel about it. Mr. Dodgson's infatuation with the very young Alice makes the reader very uncomfortable. I did not much care for the "true" person of Alice Liddell, as she does and says quite a few things in Alice I Have Been which do not make her very likable. However, when she begins to go through her many, many heartbreaks, the reader can see through the Victorian shell. Benjamin's book is beautifully written and should be read by all fans of Wonderland for the inside story.