But I don’t want to go among mad people – “Alice I Have Been” by Melanie Benjamin

March 19, 2012 at 8:44 pm 6 comments

“Alice I Have Been” by Melanie Benjamin, Published in 2010 

This book was creepy and disturbing but very, very interesting.  For me it was hard to put down because, though I knew how it ended, I wanted to know how the ending came to be. But of course, I should also disclose that I have always loved “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and that made the story all the more interesting.

Alice’s Abenteuer im Wunderland Übersetzer: An...

Alice’s Abenteuer im Wunderland Übersetzer: Antonie Zimmermann Orginal Titel: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Illustrationen: John Tenniel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Alice I Have Been” is the historically-based, fictional story of Alice Liddell (of Wonderland fame) and Charles Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll).  All that is truly known about Alice and Dodgson is that he was very close to the Liddell family and spent a lot of time with the three daughters – Ina, Alice and Edith.  However, something occurred when Alice was eleven causing a great rift between the Liddell family and Dodgson.  It was widely speculated that Dodgson had asked for little Alice’s hand in marriage.  Neither party ever disclosed what actually happened. A few years later, Dodgson published “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” a story that he had told Alice and her sisters one day a few years before when they were boating on the river.

Benjamin takes this mystery of that unraveling of the strange relationship between Alice and Dodgson and writes her account of what might have happened. Benjamin also follows Alice’s life after this event changes everything.  According to history and Benjamin’s account,  Alice spends most of her life running from Dodgson and her shame from what happened. Perhaps strangely, it is Dodgson who forever captures Alice’s childhood innocence in his famous work but he is also the one who forever ruined her innocence and in some ways her chance of happiness.

Benjamin’s book made me wonder how many men in the Victorian age had these obsessions with children or even just childhood. It is uncomfortably prevalent through-out the book and in an age with such strict social boundaries it seems more disturbing.  And even Benjamin has Alice reflect that indeed she seems to be continually stuck in a mad tea party of one kind or another.

Ultimately, Alice must come to face her fame, the cost of her choices, the aftermath of Dodgson. And eventually she must face the story of her childhood when the question is asked “were you like the Alice in the story?” – she needs to or rather should know the answer. From Benjamin’s point of view, Alice seems to spend much of her life in her own Wonderland lost in her memories of what should have been.  Almost too late, she comes to realize that all of the events of her life have merely led her to the life she all along truly loved. So of course, as in the story, when her trip out of Wonderland ends she is indeed all grown up.


Entry filed under: March 2012 reads. Tags: , , .

Anyone for a cocktail? – “Rules of Civility” by Amor Towles Southern Charm can’t save everything – “The Peach Keeper” and “Before the Poison”

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. bookblog76  |  March 20, 2012 at 2:35 am

    Great post. I love “Alice in wonderland” too, and this is the first time I have heard speculation about the true nature of the relationship between Alice Liddell & Charles Dodgson. I have always felt that teh ‘cloud’ hanging over the whole thing has always added a certain dark edge to the whole “Alice” story.

    Have you seen the Charles Blackman “Alice” series of paintings.
    They are VERY dark.

    • 2. Emily C  |  March 21, 2012 at 8:58 am

      I have not seen those paintings, I will have to check them out. I agree that there is definitely a “dark edge” to Alice that is not necessarily there in other books I remember from childhood. Thank you for your comment and for reading my blog.

  • 3. Nella  |  March 20, 2012 at 10:27 am

    I also so loved Alice in Wonderland. I had read speculation of Charles Dodgson being a paedophile, but we will never know, will we? Great review – I must read the book now.

    • 4. Emily C  |  March 21, 2012 at 9:00 am

      The book definitely has underlying tones of his pedophilia but thankfully did not get graphic or over use that issue. I was nervous about that when I bought the book.

  • 5. Megan  |  March 25, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    I nominate you for the versatile blogger award:

  • […] really enjoy Ms. Benjamin’s writing.  Her historical fiction (“Alice I have Been”) is extremely interesting and engaging.  She has a way of bringing the reader into the story. I […]


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.


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