Monday, November 21, 2011

Alice, I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

Alice, I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

Completion Date: November 7, 2011
Reason for Reading: Fun!
Few works of literature are as universally beloved as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Now, in this spellbinding historical novel, we meet the young girl whose bright spirit sent her on an unforgettable trip down the rabbit hole–and the grown woman whose story is no less enthralling.

But oh my dear, I am tired of being Alice in Wonderland. Does it sound ungrateful?

Alice Liddell Hargreaves’s life has been a richly woven tapestry: As a young woman, wife, mother, and widow, she’s experienced intense passion, great privilege, and greater tragedy. But as she nears her eighty-first birthday, she knows that, to the world around her, she is and will always be only “Alice.” Her life was permanently dog-eared at one fateful moment in her tenth year–the golden summer day she urged a grown-up friend to write down one of his fanciful stories.

That story, a wild tale of rabbits, queens, and a precocious young child, becomes a sensation the world over. Its author, a shy, stuttering Oxford professor, does more than immortalize Alice–he changes her life forever. But even he cannot stop time, as much as he might like to. And as Alice’s childhood slips away, a peacetime of glittering balls and royal romances gives way to the urgent tide of war.

For Alice, the stakes could not be higher, for she is the mother of three grown sons, soldiers all. Yet even as she stands to lose everything she treasures, one part of her will always be the determined, undaunted Alice of the story, who discovered that life beyond the rabbit hole was an astonishing journey.

A love story and a literary mystery, Alice I Have Been brilliantly blends fact and fiction to capture the passionate spirit of a woman who was truly worthy of her fictional alter ego, in a world as captivating as the Wonderland only she could inspire.
Earlier this year I read The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb and considered it one of my favourite reads of the year. I knew I was going to have to finally read her earlier book after having it out from the library a couple times since it was released. The truth of the matter is, I am not a big fan of Alice in Wonderland. I am not sure what it is, but I have just never enjoyed that book. I have always been more interested in Lewis Carroll as a person and the life of Alice Liddell. This book was written to explore the relationship between the two and the events that lead to the hugely successful book and its sequel. She obviously takes some liberties with the story, but it all works out well in the end.

The only thing that turned me off about this book was how pronounced the child molestation was in the book. It has always seemed so strange to me that young children were allowed to spend so much time with a grown man that wasn't even related to them. Obviously the truth of the matter is not known, but there are lots of theories about what might have happened. The scene where Alice and Mr. Dodgson stop talking in the book is imagined based on plausible ideas. It is imagined, though. Their really was a strong friendship between the Liddell girls and Dodgson, though. There are many pictures from those times and it is obvious that Alice had some favoured status based on her having a book about her and the nature about some of the pictures.

One of the ideas in this book I really appreciated was how when Alice was a little girl she wanted the story to be written down so she was always immortalized as the young girl of the tale. When she gets older, though, she starts feeling the pressure of being forever young. She gains a lot of attention later in life when she sells the original manuscript, but instead of the young girl that everyone has read about for years they are faced with an old woman just trying to survive during difficult financial times. Alice had a hard life in many respects. It is entirely possible that there is some truth to the tales of her relationship with her mother following the revelations of her relationship with Dodgson. If that is the case it must have been hard. Then, she falls in love and is denied that love because of her rocky past. This love will haunt her for the rest of her life until she comes to terms with the fact she did in fact love the man she ended up marrying. She also loses two of her sons during the war leaving only one surviving. That is never an easy hardship to endure and ultimately leads to her husbands decline and eventual death.

The book also captures the times well. The dresses, the parties, the outings, the method of speaking. It is all captured for the audiences enjoyment in Benjamin's wonderful book. Even if this was not a book based on notable characters, it would still be enjoyable because it is so well written. Alice lead a life both real and imagined that captures the hearts of anyone. I appreciate the importance of the ground-breaking novels even if I could never get myself to love them like others have. Benjamin has once again written a book I mostly enjoyed. She is a very talented author and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.

Recommended for those interested in Alice and Lewis Carroll, for those that enjoy books with a literary connection, or just for people that enjoy an interesting story written well and set in late 19th and early 20th century England.

Cross-posted at The Written World.


  1. I am not a huge Alice in Wonderland fan--I liked the story well enough but that was it. I am very excited to read this one though. I loved The Autobiography of Mrs Tom Thumb too!

  2. Hello, I have been sent this review by one of my friend as she has known I had read this book lately. I was amazed with this book and to be honest after reading it I was sad it's over. Very good book.
    Greetings from bookworm from Poland.

  3. Thanks for this review - I have had this on my shelf for awhile but haven't had the chance to read it yet. I do love the cover. I have always been an Alice in Wonderland fan - but haven't read the books - although I have every intention too.

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  5. I had read this one last year and thought it was well done.