Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
(Summary taken from the inside book jacket) “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-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.”
What a clever idea for a book! To take a story we all know so well and to try and determine what happened after the book was written. I really liked the premise of the book, and I ended up really enjoying it. I was concerned at the beginning because it was so creepy. This 30 year-old man, Mr. Dodgson (his pen name was Lewis Carroll), spends way too much time with this young child. He takes her picture, and her sisters’ pictures, and one afternoon he spends a whole afternoon alone with her. He has her change into this threadbare gypsy costume and takes her picture. As a mother I was completely creeped out. I would not want my children hanging out with this man at all! Then one afternoon there is an “incident” that you don’t really find out about until the end. This “incident” fractures the ties between Mr. Dodgson and the Liddell family. The story then follows Alice in her early twenties and then jumps to the end of her life.
There are so many lessons to be learned from this book. First, do not let your children hang out with creepy older men. From there I learned that we should not define ourselves or anyone else by one action, especially if that action occurs as a youth. After the “incident” Alice’s mother says she is ruined for the rest of her life. How sad to tell an 11 year-old that because of one action her life is over! I also learned the importance of being a good mother. Alice yearned for her mother’s attention. When her mother was sick, she did give Alice that attention, but when she recovered she pushed Alice away even further. If Alice had had a good relationship with a loving mother her life may have turned out differently. Spending time with our children when they want it, not when it is most convenient for us, is another lesson I learned. I also learned the importance of a good father to children as well. Very little is said about Alice’s father, except that he is busy with his job as a Dean at Oxford. He is always busy and doesn’t give Alice any attention either. Maybe if she had been able to spend more time with a father who cared about her then she would not have sought love from another man. I also learned to not play favorites with my children. How sad that Alice grew up knowing that her mom thought she was a disappointment while her sister could do no wrong. The last thing I learned from this book is to not look back and live in the past. Live right now. Enjoy and love what you have right now. Alice spent years wishing she were with her first love, and consequently was not able to enjoy the time she did have with her husband. He was with her, he loved her now, and she missed a lot of love and contentment because of that choice.
I was pleasantly surprised at how much information in the book was accurate. A lot of the people and places and things that happen in the book did happen in the life of the real Alice Liddell. I did not know much about the story surrounding “Alice in Wonderland,” but now I do thanks to Ms. Benjamin. I would definitely recommend this book! I love it when I can learn so much from a work of fiction.
Rating: PG-13 (I added the “13” because even though it is clean–no language or “physical intimacy” or violence, there are some adult things that happen. The whole bit with Mr. Dodgson and then later with Mr. Ruskin just isn’t appropriate for younger readers. A couple of Alice’s sons do die in war and that is a difficult part to read. )
Recommendation: High School and up.