Have you ever wondered about the little girl who was the inspiration behind Alice in Wonderland? Her name is Alice Liddell and she grew up in Victorian England. Melanie Benjamin takes the facts and figures from Alice’s life and intertwines them with fiction, creating a unique story. The narrative follows Alice throughout her life, including her childhood relationship with Charles Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll) and the mysterious end of their friendship.
I really enjoyed this book. One of the most interesting aspects was the transformation of Alice at each stage of her life. Victorian England is an extremely hard era for any child to grow up in. The society is very restrictive and bound by expectations, which isn’t conducive to a precocious and imaginative young girl. She’s kind of a wild child that her parents constantly have to rein in. Her friendship with Dodgson is organic because he’s the only adult who really takes her seriously and listens to what she has to say. The breach happens at this point in her life, which goes unexplained until the very end of the novel. Throughout Alice’s young adult life, this is hinted at and danced around, but never definitely answered, which creates mystery and compels me to read on.
As a child, Alice wants Charles Dodgson to write down the story that will become Alice in Wonderland because it makes her feel special. Throughout the rest of her life, the novel holds her in the past, with the memories associated with it and the expectations and vision of her that other people have because of it. As an adult, she matures and learns to come to grips with the literary version of herself. Throughout the entire narrative, from childhood to late adulthood, Alice’s narrative as it transforms is completely genuine and believable.
The mixture of fact and fiction also makes this novel special. The photos Charles Dodgson took that are talked about in the book actually exist. All the people in Alice’s life are real people. This gives the novel an extra layer that piques my interest and makes me so curious that I look up the figures, photos, or facts on the internet. After the story, there is an afterword by the author that reveals the motivation behind writing the novel and which things are facts and which are speculation.
Alice I Have Been is very beautifully written and plunges the reader into the world of the real Alice. The story is genuine and had me so emotionally invested that it brought tears to my eyes at points. I would definitely encourage anyone to read it.