Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a popular children’s book from 1865. Many of us are more familiar with the Disney version of the film than we are of the actual book. The book was written by Lewis Carroll. But interestingly enough, I learnt from Alice I Have Been that this is not his real name. Lewis Carroll was his pen name and his real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. The real shock for me was the idea that the character of Alice could have been based on a real person. Alice Pleasance Liddell (Hargreaves) was born in 1852 and lived with her family in Oxford. Her father, Henry Liddell was the Dean of Christ Church, where Dodgson taught math. If you were to search for Alice Liddell, many childhood photographs were actually taken by Dodgson himself, as photography was also a hobby of his.
Alice I Have Been is a historical fiction about the life of Alice Liddell and the story of Alice in Wonderland. The book follows Alice’s life as a young child all through to her 80’s. Although the story is fictional in the sense that much of the relationships and events that occur are not real, there are many facts hidden throughout. There is very little known about the relationship between Liddell and Dodgson. Dodgson was a professor at the school, and is known to have many encounters with young Alice. He often took herself and her two sisters on boat rides and outings, often telling the girls stories. It was on one of these particular outings that he told the girls the story of Alice in Wonderland. Although many stories were told,it is not known exactly why Alice had requested this one in particular to be written down. Dodgson had not recorded his stories before, and it took some time and provoking before it was actually written. There is a mysterious break in the relationship between Liddell and Dodgson that makes for any number of possibilities and wild ideas. Melanie Benjamin (also a pen name) creates a wonderful story that is so full of truths that it makes any fiction more believable. The Liddell family was very tight lipped about what happened, despite how much gossip flew around Oxford. Even Dodgson’s family had removed sections of his own personal diaries during this break. It makes one wonder, however, there are so many things that make the mind wonder.
I’m not completely educated on the history between men marrying young women. I am aware that it happened often, but the thing I am not sure of is what time period this was normal, and what age for both the men and woman was normal. Dodgson had photographed Alice Liddell many number of times. There is one shot in particular which is rather provocative in her stance, and her very tattered dress. This was his shot of Alice as a beggar girl, or his “gypsy girl.” There are many more photographs that were taken by Dodgson of young girls in rather provocative poses. You must remember that during this time, a girl would normally be wearing more layers than some of us do during the winter time! Many references make me think that in modern times, the relationship between Liddell and Dodgson would now make him a pedophile.
There is also a reference to a relationship with Prince Leopold, the youngest son of Queen Victoria. Although there isn’t much proof of this relationship, many believe that Leopold was courting or had more interested in Alice’s younger sister Edith. Although this may have been true, some odd facts make this questionable. When Alice Liddell married and became Alice Liddell Hargreaves, on her wedding day she wore a horseshoe pin that was given to her by Prince Leopold. She had also named her second son Leopold, and Prince Leopold had named a daughter of his Alice.
p. 324 “Curiouser and curiouser.”
I was completely drawn in by the mix of fictional and fact. So many ideas and possibilities make things much more interesting. The story does not completely rely on facts to make it interesting. The story that Benjamin has created is captivating from start to finish. I fell down the rabbit hole and my mind continued to spin during the whole adventure. I loved the character of Alice. Her thoughts and her actions were entertaining, and her life was a tale that was meant to be told. It is stories like these that I like to imagine that everything within was true. If I didn’t believe this, I would have nothing else to go on, and would be left with so many questions that could never be answered.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born January 27, 1932 and died January 14, 1898. Benjamin’s story portrays that after Dodgson’s death, all of Liddell’s ghosts have been buried and there is no one else alive who knows the truths and secrets. It is after this that Liddell is able to embrace her role as Alice from Alice in Wonderland. For many who were able to meet with Alice, they were to notice that she is not the Blonde young girl they were expecting. Alice Liddell had very dark hair that was kept short as a child in a fringe.
According to the story, Liddell never actually read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland until she was in her 80’s. She received all copies of different editions and languages from Dodgson, but when her life and home were in jeopardy, she decided to sell Dodgson (Carroll’s) First Edition copy. This was sold for 15,000 at an auction house in London to an American bidder. This was able to support Liddell and for her to keep her home, Cuffnell’s, which was located in Lyndhurst. Unfortunately, the building is no longer there as it was torn down.
There are many more facts and details that I could go into. As you can see I avoided much of the actual storyline of the book. I’m sure you could piece some of it together with the information that I have given you. I think the story is best experienced first hand. I absolutely loved this book, and although it does not take the place of my favourite book, it is right up there. Now if only they would turn THIS novel into a movie!