Monday, June 28, 2010

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

Release date (Australia): 1 March 2010
Rating: 7/10

“I was inspired to write Alice I Have Been after unexpectedly viewing a photographic exhibit called ‘Dreaming in Pictures: The Photography of Lewis Carroll’. Among the many photographs there, one stood out to me. It was of a young girl clad only in rags, but with an expression on her face that stopped me in my tracks. She was so adult, so frank, so worldly, as she gazed at the man behind the camera. She was 7-year-old Alice Liddell. It was to her that Lewis Carroll - or Charles Dodgson, as she knew him - told the story of a little girl who tumbled down a rabbit hole. She was the one who begged him to write it down.
I wondered what happened to her after she grew up; I wondered what happened between the two of them to result in such a startling photograph. I wondered so much that I decided to write about it, write her story in her own ‘words’ - although of course, with historical fiction, I got to make those words up.” Melanie Benjamin

I am incredibly in love with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and have been since I was a little girl. I have a collection of different versions of these books and really, I’m just a complete nerd about them. When I first read about Alice I Have Been being released, I was a little excited but a mostly apprehensive. I didn’t want the story to possibly taint my love for Alice by focusing too much on the relationship between Charles Dodgson and Alice Liddell when there is not a great deal of fact to work with in regards to this relationship. Luckily, it only made my love for Lewis Carroll's stories stronger and it is a true credit to author Melanie Benjamin’s beautiful writing. The fluidity and poetry of her writing makes me wish I could ever write so well.

Try as I might, I could not understand how one man – one shy man with a camera, a stammer, and an endless supply of stories – could be responsible for so much disarray.

In the story, readers’ see Alice in three phases of her life - as a young child, a young woman, and an old woman. It is as a young child, up until the age of 11, that the reader largely see Charles Dodgson’s involvement in Alice and her siblings’ lives while they were growing up. The lack of facts surrounding Alice Liddell and Mr Dodgson’s relationship is at least partly as a result of missing diary entries around the time in which their relationship ceased. Hence, in Alice I Have Been, this is largely made up and in my opinion, dealt with quite well.

A man who fancied himself a child and a child who thought she was a woman turned to each other on a hot summer day , mindful of nothing, no one, but each other – not even the sister who sat opposite, watching.

One thing I really liked about the book is the reminders of the era that it is set in, because odd things occur which would not happen to the same extent these days (especially in the relationships between those higher up in society, such as Princes, and women or children). The reader is reminded of what is controversial at the time (such as having a skirt a certain distance above the ankle but still below the knee) and how commonplace it is for a young woman of 16 to marry a man 15 years her senior (especially if he is equal to or above her in the social hierarchy).

I was grateful to be in Oxford, at least, where young ladies attending lectures and reading books wasn’t quite as shocking as it would have been in a more fashionable place, such as London.

I enjoyed the way the story unfolded in a non-linear format, from one important era in Alice’s life to another rather than simply year to year. I found older Alice far more fascinating to read about than Alice as a child, which seems to differ to most readers of this story. Small things such as Alice’s sons finding out she is “Alice in Wonderland” after finding her original copy of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (published as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) made the story touching and beautiful at times without being over the top. As a fan of Lewis Carroll’s books, I did not find Alice I Have Been to ‘ruin’ Alice for me or anything to that effect and simply found it to be an enjoyable read which shed some light on Alice Pleasance Liddell and her life.

For eighty years I have been, at various times, a gypsy girl, a muse, a lover, a mother, a wife. But for one man, and for the world, I will always be a seven-year-old girl named Alice.


  1. I've been wanting to read this one for awhile now...sounds like I would love it!

    Thanks for stopping by my's good to meet someone else with such an eclectic taste and another Aussie too :-)

  2. Thanks for having a look at my blog, too! :)