Fiction: “Alice I Have Been” by Melanie Benjamin

 This is the book that I took out of the library at the same time as A Single Man.  I renewed it once, and only got to page 216 before I went on vacation.  When I returned, I requested it from the library again.  It’s due today.  In essence, it has taken me over two months to start, read, and finish this book.

That should be all I have to say.  But it’s not.

Like Beat the Reaper, this was a title that intrigued me when I would see it at Border’s, but not enough to make me want to buy it.  So when I went to the library, I picked it up.  And then never finished it.  And then picked it up again.  And then almost didn’t finish it except for out of spite, and now, it’s a day overdue.  Bite me, book.

Alice I Have Been proclaims to tell the (somewhat true) story of Alice Liddell, the girl upon which Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was based.  And I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: Alice in Wonderland is one of my favorite stories.  I absolutely love it.  I reread it frequently, I love watching the Disney movie, I did go out and buy the Definitive Edition Annotated Alice, and look, I really like Alice, okay?

So I picked up the book because I knew that Alice was based on a real girl, and that Charles Dodgson was the pseudonym of Lewis Carroll and he was a maths professor at Oxford, which is how he knew Alice.  But I didn’t know what happened to Alice after Wonderland, and I was intrigued as to what the story was.

The book is divided up into three sections.  The first has Alice as a young girl, between seven and eleven, and the plot focuses on the relationship between Alice and “Mr. Dodgson.”  From the outset, the tenor of the narrative is that Mr. Dodgson is a bit of a pedophile, but Alice doesn’t realize that; she’s a young girl who has an older man wrapped around her finger, and she doesn’t know what’s wrong with it.  She knows what love is, and she thinks she has it for Mr. Dodgson, but she’s not sure what’s proper.  A big deal is made out of the fact that Mr. Dodgson routinely told Alice and her sisters stories, but the story about her is the only one he wrote down because she asked him to.  The first section ends in almost a daze, where Mr. Dodgson is accompanying the Liddell girls back home on a train, but the scene kind of fades out and the reader isn’t sure what happened.

The second section of the book shows Alice at 23, flirting with Prince Leopold as he is a student at Oxford.  As the relationship between Alice and Prince Leopold strengthens, whispers of what happened to Alice as a child start to surface.  The reader is left to assume that something improper occurred between Alice and Mr. Dodgson.

And I could go on, but really, I didn’t like that.  And look, if it happened?  Fine.  I’ll deal with it.  But nothing has ever been put into print, no one knows what really happened except for Alice and Mr. Dodgson, and guess what, they’re dead, they ain’t talking.  And I realize how creepy it can be for a man of 31 to be ‘in love’ with an eleven-year-old girl; I’m not discounting that fact, no matter the time period.  What I’m … emotional about (because I’m not sure which emotion to pinpoint here) is the fact that this book pretty much hurt my perception of Alice in Wonderland.

I mean, I’ve read Alice a dozen times, I can guess, and the movie more than that.  I love the idea of Alice in Wonderland; I remember as a child wishing fervently that I could fall down a rabbit hole and be somewhere else entirely.  To have those memories and that emotional perception sullied by an insinuation that Alice was possibly … not abused, but taken advantage of by the author of her story?  I … I don’t know if I can come back from that.

Apparently, Alice Liddell Hargreaves (her married name) didn’t like being associated with Alice in Wonderland, but later on in her life, she recognized the huge part she played in English literature as well as the childhood memories of many youngsters.  Up until she needed to sell the original manuscript in order to save her home, she tried to distance herself from Alice as much as possible.  While Alice I Have Been was a well-written novel and interesting enough for me to make myself finish it in spite of the plot, I think I’m going to distance myself from it and remain in Wonderland.

Grade for Alice I Have Been: 1 star


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