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Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin February 24, 2013


alice i have beenAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland has delighted readers for years.  You may think that her story is just a flight of fancy sprung from the verdant imagination of Lewis Carroll.  Or perhaps you’ve heard rumors that the author had other improper proclivities. Regardless of your Alice experience, Alice I Have Been is a brilliant look at the life of the Carroll’s muse.

Alice Pleasance Liddlell Hargreaves is now in her eighties.  As she looks back on her long life she feels the inescapable shadow of being immortalized in one of literature’s greatest works.  As a child, Alice roamed Oxford with her sisters.  Her father’s work brought her in contact with many of the intellectuals of the time.  Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was simply an awkward, stuttering, young mathematics professor.  He befriended Liddell and his daughters as they spent many a “golden afternoon” in Oxford.  His talent for storytelling and his association with Alice led to the classic tale.  On Alice’s urging, Dodgson (as Lewis Carroll) penned one of the stories he created to entertain the girls.

That’s not all there is to the story.  In addition to mathematics and writing, Dodgson also dabbled in photography.  Many of the subjects of his photo happen to be young girls in questionable poses.  Alice describes she discarded her prim Victorian garb to dress up as a gypsy for one particular picture.  This could be seen as inappropriate for today’s standards, so you can imagine the reaction elicited during the 1860’s.

As Alice matures, we follow her as she falls in love with Prince Leopold.  The rumor of scandal keeps them from marrying.  She marries Reginald Hargreaves and has three sons.  The heartbreaks she endures throughout her life are exquisitely described, painful memories we share with Alice.  As she looks back on her life, she is content to embrace that she is Alice.

Melanie Benjamin has crafted a beautiful tale, the perfect mix of fiction with fact.  Reminiscent of Carroll’s original work, Oxford’s lush surrounding is the perfect backdrop for young Alice.  The controversy surrounding Dodgson’s proclivities are examined, yet not judged.  We are left with Alice’s interpretations to piece together what really happened.  Fans of Lewis Carroll’s work will find new insight into Alice after reading Alice I Have Been.