Monday, November 09, 2009

ALICE I HAVE BEEN by Melanie Benjamin

I received an advance copy of this book from Random House.

A few years ago, I read a biography of Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll.  I thought it would be interesting to learn more about the man who came up with the outrageous world of Wonderland.  I had never before heard the rumors of Dodgson's alleged inappropriate relationships and photography sessions with young girls.  Dodgson's alleged pedophilia has never been substantiated.  However, the photographs that still exist that he took of young girls still manage to raise a few eyebrows.  One of those photographs is of a young girl named Alice Pleasance Liddell. She is scantily clad as a beggar/gypsy girl.  It is a commonly held belief that this little girl was the inspiration for ALICE IN WONDERLAND.

In ALICE I HAVE BEEN, Melanie Benjamin tells the story of the origins of this famous book and the relationship between Dodgson and Alice Liddell from the perspective of Alice.  The book is broken into three parts: Alice's childhood, Alice's adulthood and Alice at 80 years of age.  Benjamin explores how being the subject of such a famous work may have affected Alice's life and the possible reasons behind the break between Charles Dodgson and Alice's family when she was 11 years old.  Benjamin manages to strike just the right tone. Some writers, like AS Byatt, are very gifted at being able to channel just the right tone and voice for their works of period fiction. Others fail miserably.  I believe Benjamin did an excellent job with this. I felt as if I were reading the private journals or correspondance of a real Victorian lady. In the first part of the book, the reader feels all the confusion of a child who is on the edge of growing up but doesn't yet understand the romantic innerworkings of adults.  When Alice is an adult, we view the events through the lens of an adult looking back at her childhood.  The third part of the book was the most moving to me as Benjamin deals with the tragedies of Alice's later life and how her view of events changes with her status as a mother. 

This book was fascinating and incredibly moving. It made me wish that we knew the truth about Alice's relationship with Dodgson. Because the two families destroyed many of the photographs, journal entries and letters, we may never know the truth.  Still, Benjamin offers a compelling look at the effects of being a Victorian "child star" on one individual.

This book will be released in January 2010.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended.  Well written while offering a new look at a well-known children's book.  I guarantee you will be running to the library and internet to learn more about these enigmatic individuals and their story.


Marie said...

Oh! you got this? I sooo want to read it! :-) can't wait for your review!

Amy said...

I'll try to post the review tomorrow but I will tell you this much...I really really liked it!