Tuesday, November 22, 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.

13 comments:

  1. Carroll molests Alice in the book? Is it shown or implied?

    I've heard not only was Carroll a child molester (which I don't think was proven) but a drug addict also.

    I've been wanting to read this one. Thanks for the review.

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  2. I've been wanting to read this one. Great review!

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  3. I read both the books and enjoyed both of them..!! glad you did too..mostly anyway lol

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  4. I haven't read Alice in Wonderland and don't really care about Carroll, but this book sounds interesting to me. Great review!

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  5. I've thought about picking up both of these at some point. Great thoughts on this one.

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  6. great review. and while I like the books, particularly Through the Looking Glass, I've never had an interest in Dodgson/Carroll. needless to say, wow! had no idea about the conjecture.

    ~L

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  7. Ooh. This one has been languishing on my shelf. I'll have to check it out.

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  8. I really enjoyed this book and what makes me the most curious isn't whether or not Carroll actually molested Ms. Liddell, but moreso that this man known as Carroll has been caricatured in such a manner that we have supposed these ideas onto him as well as the possibility that he was Jack the Ripper. I want my hands on a good biography of this man. But, he must be pretty mysterious, for society to continue hypothesizing about him.

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  9. I am really intrigued by this book because I think the premise is cool but child molestation is somehting that gives me nightmares when I read about it so thanks for the head's up!

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  10. This is a book I have wanted to read for YEARS. I just never seem to remember to pick it up when I'm shopping. Alas. So happy you read and wrote about it so I can remember AGAIN!

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  11. I hadn't heard of this book before I read the post. As a classic lover, I wish to get this one soon.

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  12. **KB/KT Grant: I think it would depend on your definition of molestation. I think there is one scene in particular that stands out as molestation, but it all depends on interpretation of events.

    Yes, I can see the drug addict... There is some messed up imagery in his books!

    **Linda: Thanks!

    **Pat: I am looking forward to more from her. :)

    **Anna: I think it appeals even if you don't really care about Alice or Carroll.

    **Staci: I hope you do. She is a great author!

    **L: Yes, well, there is a lot of interesting things that can be taken from the book and his life... No idea if they are true or not. The truth was never really revealed.

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  13. **Brooke: I hope you enjoy it!

    **Christina: Yes, he never spoke about it, obviously, and Ms. Liddell never really spoke about it either. If this was really her book it would make it all that much more interesting. Whatever Carroll did or didn't do, the theories have made him famous for years and probably many more years to come.

    **Amused: It might not be that bad for you. It is not a graphic look at molestation, but there are hints.

    **Cat: I hope you do pick it up! I wanted to read it for ages, but wound up reading her newer book first. That was so good I had to go back and see what this one was like.

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