Posted by: Genny Colby | June 27, 2011

Alice I Have Been

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin


This is a book that I may or may not have picked up on my own, but since it was June’s selection for book club, it was a good motivation to check it out.  It has been many years since I have read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll.  And like most, I have seen the Disney movie version and even Tim Burton’s movie adaptation.

It is important to keep in mind that this is a work of fiction, where the author filled in pieces around known facts.  It is known Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was a Professor of Mathematics under Dean Liddell, father to Alice, for whom his famous stories were told and later printed under the pen name “Lewis Carroll”.

Alice is a young girl when the story opens up, who is not content to be seen and not heard, as was the role of children at that time.  She wants to explore the world, see all there is to see, and get dirty.  She is still also very naive of societal expectations, other than her mother is extremely focused on her role as the Dean’s wife and the social obligations that are expected of this role.

Mr Dodgson is often a companion to Alice, her sisters, and their instructor.  It is unclear if Mr Dodgson is merely socially uncomfortable and prefers the innocence of children, or if there is a more perverse attraction to young girls on his part.  This is left, I believe, intentionally ambiguous, as in reality, there is much question as to why he spent as much time with the Liddell girls and other young girls over time.

On one such outing, Mr Dodgson tells the story of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, which will later become Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland.  When this story is told, Alice is starting to realize that she will grow up, she will no longer be free to do as she pleases, but will have to play the role society has set for her.  She begs Mr Dodgson to write down this story so that a part of her will never have to grow up.

It takes many years for Mr Dodgson to complete writing the story, during which time a break occurs between Mr Dodgson and the Liddell family.  Again, as in reality, the reason for this break is left vague.  The reader is led to believe that what could have been viewed as an inappropriate interaction occurred between Alice and Mr Dodgson, one that will have a drastic impact on Alice throughout the rest of her life.  Yet Mr Dodgson still dedicates his book to Alice, as well as sending her a 1st Edition copy of every printing of the story.

Alice does grow up, leaving the world of Mr Dodgson’s stories, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland behind, or at least locked up in a place she does not visit.  Alice’s life is however, forever touched by Mr Dodgson and his stories.  It influences her future relationships, including ending the one that meant the most to her.

In the end, Alice finds the one person who did not need her to be “Alice in Wonderland” but rather just Alice.  Unfortunately, she does not realize this until her husband is dying, she has lost two children to the war, and has become more like her mother than even she realizes.  She is finally able to look back at not only the stories, but that time in her life.

Life is all about the choices we make and the memories that we choose to hold on to.  Alice finally allows herself to let go of many of her memories and elects to hold onto to the one pure memory, which is the story itself.

While I enjoyed the book, I found the writing style to be a little disjointed, transitions seemed rough, choppy, and with very little warning.  I know that the author used known facts about Alice Liddell and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson to frame her story, but the details themselves are of her own imagination.  This can be a more difficult type of story to create, since the author must stay as true as possible to the actual known events, as well as the time these events took place.

It was an enjoyable read, I was interested enough to want to research more about the characters, and of course, go back and read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.


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