Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Book Review: Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin


With the release of the new Johnny Depp movie, Alice in Wonderland, the timing of my reading of this book couldn't have been more perfect. Though it was a total coincidence.
Alice I Have Been, by Melanie Benjamin, tells the story of Alice Liddell the real Alice in Wonderland. Who knew that Lewis Carroll (real name, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) modeled his famous character from children's literature on a real little girl? Not me. And that is the very reason this book intrigued me. I love books about the real story behind the story. If you know what I mean.

Anyway, Alice I Have Been covers 7 decades of Alice Liddell's life - from the age of seven when she poses for a picture for Mr. Dodgson (as she calls Carroll) that inspired him to create Alice in Wonderland, through her teens and early twenties and then jumps to the end of her life in her 80s.

The majority of the book deals with the Liddell family's friendship with Mr. Dodgson, the slightly odd mathematics professor at Oxford where Mr. Liddell is Dean. Mr. Dodgson, a bachelor, spends many free afternoons on outings and picnics with the Liddell family and forms a special bond with little Alice. One day, while on a rowing expedition, Dodgson tells Alice and her sisters the magical tale of a little girl who has a fantastic adventure underground. It is clear to Alice that the story is about her and she begs Dodgson to write it down for her. He eventually does, and Alice in Wonderland is born.

However, Alice's relationship with Dodgson has long lasting effects on Alice and her family and colors the rest of her life. Not always in positive ways. It isn't until the end of her life that Alice is finally able to reconcile herself to the fact that she is the REAL Alice and to use that fact to her benefit.

I truly enjoyed this story of the real Alice. It is extremely interesting and more than a little mysterious. As detailed in the book, there is some break in the relationship between Dodgson, Alice and her family that threatens Alice for much of her young adult life. According to the author's notes, this is in fact true, but none of the parties involved ever divulged what had transpired to cause this break. There are, however, clues and Benjamin uses those clues to write a believable story about this event. And this is what I loved the most about this book. It made me want to learn more. To research Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell and the other prominent figures in the story (who I won't name, so as not to spoil the story) and see if I can find any more tidbits of the truth. Of course there aren't any more facts to uncover. Which just makes this story all the more intriguing. In addition, the author has included a few photos of Alice throughout her life. Including the one of Alice that inspired Dodgson to write Alice in Wonderful. A truly fascinating read. And very timely for those of you who can't wait to see the new movie.

I would give Alice I Have Been 4 STARS - I really liked it.





13 comments:

Sandy said...

This sounds very good and I just requested it. Fairly long list.

Anita said...

I was just wondering when you would post again, and voila!
What an intriguing back story to Alice in Wonderland. Are you planning to see the movie?
It honestly was never one of my favorite stories, the whole lost down the rabbit hole thing loses me.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

I enjoy 'back-story' books too. I knew somehow that Alice was modeled on a real person, but not much more about it. I'm adding it to my TBR list at the Library.

One of my favorite stories -- and one of the things we didn't give away when we started traveling full time was my copy of the book that was given to me by my grandmother and it was given to her and inscribed) by her grandmother! It is safely stored for future generations, but I couldn't quite bring myself to give it away yet!

boliyou said...

I've added it to my TBR pile. Thanks for the recommendation!

Midlife Jobhunter said...

I didn't realize the story was about a real girl either. Another to add to my list.

P.S. I did read this weekend. Felt great!

Marie said...

I just finished this book the other day and enjoyed it a lot, too. Great review! :-) I found Alice to be an elusive person in a way- always slipping through my fingers. I thought Benjamin did a great job bringing her alive and still preserving the mysteries.

Jen said...

Sounds fascinating! Thanks for the review, Pam.

Karen said...

It's been years since I've attempted to read Alice in Wonderland. I should give it another try.

Gamma Sharon said...

Very interesting! I thought Alice in Wonderland was written from (I am not sure how to say this) a drug induced time where they (who ever they are) had halucinations. I guess I was way off base. This is going on my book list!

Mommakin said...

I picked this up the other day and was intrigued (but there was nothing left in the book budget) - I'll definitely be reading it though. I did know Alice was a real girl, but I didn't know much else. I look forward to this book.

The movie was gorgeous. :-)

bettyl said...

Thanks for that great review--I love such stories, just like you do!

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