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Once Upon A Bookshelf

Where Fiction and Reality Meet

Alice I Have Been

Author: Melanie Benjamin
Originally Published: 2009
Publisher: Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House
Source: Bought at library book sale

The Story

Alice I Have BeenFrom the inner cover flap of the book:

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 fancy 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.

The Response

For anyone who knows me, I’m sure it’s no surprise that I have a wee bit of an obsession with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I reread it recently (read the review), and still found a lot of magic in it, even though it did have some darker tones in it when you consider that it’s widely rumoured that Dodgson was a paedophile… But the story itself will always hold so much magic and beauty.

Alice I Have Been is a fictional look at Alice Liddell, her life, and her relationship with Charles Dodgson. Starting from when Alice is very young, we get the opportunity to get to know the Alice that Benjamin has portrayed, and discover how having a book written about her had a huge impact on her whole life. This book has been on my TBR list for a long time, and I recently picked it up at the library book sale. The long holiday weekend was the perfect opportunity to delve a little deeper and explore one fictionalization of the story of Alice.

The book is told in three parts – the first is when Alice is a young girl, when we see the creation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the second is when Alice is mid-twenties and in the middle of a romance with Prince Leopold, the third is after Alice has married Reginald Hargreaves and has had three boys. Each part holds it own separate feelings and themes to explore, but each of them weave together so seamlessly that it’s not hard to go from one part to the next without feeling the gap of years in between each section too much.

On one hand, this was an absolutely beautiful story. But on the other hand, it really made me uneasy that I liked how it portrayed the relationship between Alice and Dodgson… It showed very much that he had feelings for Alice… but also that at 11 she believed she had feelings towards him as well . They weren’t sexual feelings, more like the kind that some girls that age have towards the magical price who will whisk them off their feet… She didn’t really understand that what was going on between the two of them was wrong, but she definitely liked the hold that she had over Dodgson. The way that Benjamin described some of Dodgson’s reactions to Alice, though understated were rather disturbing and bothering.

Because of my conflicting feelings, the first part of the story (about the creation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice’s relationship with Dodgson) was both my favourite part and my least favourite part of the book. It was both magical and heartbreaking.

The second part of the book very much explore what it was like first of all living in a community where everyone knew Alice was the girl who inspired Dodgson’s classic, while the third part explored what it was like to introduce a whole new generation of people to the real Alice. Going from the notoriety in one section of the book, to the almost anonymity in the second was quite the change, but it worked well with the different sides of Alice’s personality that Benjamin presented us with.

There were parts of the book that made me a little squeamish, but it was a book that made me keep reading and kept me needing to know what happens next (even though I really could have read a much more abridged and more real version Alice’s life on Wikipedia). While it didn’t move at a fast pace, and did skip some periods of Alice’s life completely, it was a beautiful meandering story.

The Bottom Line

Overall, I quite enjoyed this book and am very much looking forward to reading one of Benjamin’s other books. I’d definitely recommend this to fans of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Posted by Courtney Wilson @ 7:06 am May 20, 2014.
Category: Fiction and Literature
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  • Mona (Moxie-Dude)

    Oh this sounds like a good read! Thanks for sharing this!

  • Courtney Wilson

    It really is – I hope you enjoy it! :)