Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin & Lewis Carroll's Birthday

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

Like most, I had no idea that Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland was inspired by a real little girl name Alice Liddell. Alice's father was dean of Christ Church, Oxford and the entire family lived there. That is where the family met a fellow named Charles Dodgeson (Lewis Carroll). On a summer day in 1862, Alice, along with her sisters Lorina and Edith, set out on a row boat with Dodgeson and Reverend Duckworth. Dodgeson entertained the girls with a story, not unlike many he had done before. However, in this story there was a little girl named Alice, and this time he was asked to write the story down by Alice Liddell. After many months of dilly dallying, he finally did and Alice received a copy of Alice's Adventures Under Ground. And after awhile, he decided to share the story, which became an instant bestseller.

For the rest of her life she was no longer just little Alice Liddell, everyone saw her as Alice from Wonderland. In Alice I Have Been, the story is told by Alice herself in three different points of her life: as a little girl; as a young woman in her twenties, and as an older lady with a husband and grown children.

The first part of the book had many disturbing aspects, but I supposed that was done on purpose. Alice was pure innocent, but as the readers, we could see that her relationship with Dodgeson was not quite right; all this was based on rumors which were never proven true and I thought the author handled this just right. All correspondence, along with a section of Dodgeson's diary were destroyed, so that whole period was a mystery.

As a young lady, we find out that years ago the relationship between Dodgeson and the Liddells were severed, but Alice can not remember why. She has moved on, however, and forms a relationship with the Queen's youngest son: Prince Leopold and they hope to marry by the Queen's permission. Alas, it is not to be.

Skipping ahead, we find Alice as an older lady in her sixties, married for 30 some years to Reginald Hargreaves and has three grown sons. War is looming.

Even in her old age, Alice is still struggling with being Alice from Wonderland. And it is in her old age that she finally comes to grips with it. She sees that her husband was the only person who saw her simply as Alice. She remembers what it was the severed her relationship with Dodgeson. She traveled around the world as Alice from Wonderland, even coming to New York on the centennial of Carroll's death. She seems to accept it. How is it that she did, but Peter Davies, who was the inspiration for Peter Pan, ended up killing himself?

This was a beautiful story about a real girl who spent most of her life trying to escape Wonderland, only in the end realizing that she was actually happy that it existed. We see her struggle with death and disappointments and finding peace. This is a highly recommended book to those who love Alice in Wonderland, and those who just love a good tale.

How fitting that I post this on Lewis Carroll's birthday. I wish I could say I planned this, but I can't.

Born Charles Lutwidge Dodgeson on January 27, 1832, he was a mathematician, Anglican deacon, author and photographer. He wrote mathematical books under his own name and fiction books under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. Along with Alice in Wonderland, he also wrote Through the Looking Glass, The Hunting of the Shark, Jabberwocky and others.

So, reread Alice in Wonderland, watch Alice in Wonderland, have a mad tea party... do something to celebrate!


Passages to the Past said...

GREAT review of a GREAT book!!! I savored every word of it and was still left wanting more! And dare I say that I actually miss Alice? She was such a fabulous character.

And to think that this is Melanie Benjamin's FIRST book - I can't wait to see what she comes up with next!

I second Christy's recommendation!!

And Happy Birthday to Charles (Lewis)!

Svea Love said...

Lovely review. I have this on my shelf waiting for me. What a coincidence to post this one Lewis Carroll's birthday!