Book cover for Alice I Have Been (Image from Google Books)
One of my favorite Authors, Melanie Benjamin, delivers a version of Alice Lidell’s story that took me into a bygone world as quickly and deeply as Lewis Carroll ever did. Yes Alice Liddell is THE ALICE from WONDERLAND.
Photo by Lewis Carroll (Alice is facing us on the right) Image from Wikipedia
Using letters, memoirs, pictures, and news clippings from the time, the blanks in Alice’s story are skillfully blended in by the author. While there are several mysteries that the family refused to divulge, and we will never know what the real relationship was between Dodgsen (Lewis Carroll) and the Liddell family, this is one book where the afterword is as good as the book itself. Melanie Benjamin carefully lays out the groundwork and documentation and lets you know where she had to fabricate to make the story flow. You can decide for yourself after reading both her story and the afterword whether you agree with her assessments.
From the grounds and parlor of the Dean, Henry Liddell, at Christ Church College, to the glittering ball with Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany himself in attendance, Alice had a seemingly charming life. That is until later in life. Two of her three sons died in WWI and with a lack of funds to maintain her home, Alice finally stepped out into the spotlight claiming the title to The Alice. It was incontrovertable as she offered for sale the hand written first copy of Alice in Wonderland called Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. Dodgsen had penned it in November 1864 for her. He later rewrote it for publication – which is the version we all have and have read.
One caveat if you are thinking of this for your bookclub, the author does not gloss over what many believe to have been an inappropriate relationship between Dodgsen and Alice. However, the book does not go as far as other authors might, with the material. I was nervous about it as it approached, but it was tastefully rendered and not too icky so was able to take it as a whole story. A lot of the speculation rests on the amount of access Dodgsen had to the Liddell girls and his fascination with photography. Some of the pictures he took of Alice and other girls (both then and later) are disturbing by today’s standards, given all of our heightened awareness of predators. And let’s just face it, unless it is in National Geographic, pictures of nude children do not go over well today. But the piece that seems the most damning is from more than just pictures, it is the documented severing of ties between the Liddell’s and Dodgsen.
Of particular fascination for me, is the speculation in this story that the breath of scandal from either the pictures, or an inappropriate relationship, may be what prevented Alice, or even her sister, from marrying Prince Leopold. Royals certainly do not like their sons marrying someone who already has scandal attached to them, that was true then, and it is still true today.
What is proven is that Alice named one of her sons Leopold and Prince Leopold in turn named his daughter Alice. That is rather suggestive of some kind of ‘regard’ for each other.
This is another picture of Alice taken by Dodgsen.
I enjoyed the book immensely and will re-read it again and again. It is a great way to further indulge if you are a fan of Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass.
If you are looking for a fantastic blog about Alice in Wonderland look no further that this one: