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Alice I Have Been: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle) Paperback – December 21, 2010

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4 Stars and Up Feature: Kitchens of the Great Midwest
"Foodies and those who love contemporary literature will devour this novel that is being compared to Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. A standout." --Library Journal Learn more
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Melanie Benjamin on Alice I Have Been

For an author--at least, for an author like me--the single most important factor when writing a book is the protagonist’s voice. Who is she, what does she sound like, is she strong or weak? Headstrong or passive? If an author doesn’t have a clear vision in her head, writing a novel centering around this person is going to be very, very difficult.

Fortunately for me, I had a clear vision; so clear I could actually see it and read it myself. I was inspired to write Alice I Have Been after unexpectedly viewing a photographic exhibit called "Dreaming in Pictures: The Photography of Lewis Carroll." Among the many photographs there, all taken by the man who wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, one stood out to me. It was of a young girl clad only in rags, but with an expression on her face that stopped me in my tracks. She was so adult, so frank, so worldly, as she gazed at the man behind the camera.

She was 7-year-old Alice Liddell, the daughter of Dean Henry Liddell of Christ Church, Oxford. It was to her that Lewis Carroll--or Charles Dodgson, as she knew him--told the story of a little girl who tumbled down a rabbit hole. She was the one who begged him to write it down.

I wondered what happened to her after she grew up; I wondered what happened between the two of them to result in such a startling photograph.

I wondered so much that I decided to write about it, write her story in her own "words"--although of course, with historical fiction, I got to make those words up. But she was my protagonist, and immediately the most important factor in writing this novel was known to me. For the girl in the photograph, and the girl in the classic books, were one and the same; they were my Alice, and I knew her voice, I knew who she was because of them. The wise yet wary face in the photograph, the unflappable voice of the girl in the books--all I had to do was capture it on the page.

My task, then, was to show that voice, that personality, maturing naturally through the years as she continued to try to leave Wonderland behind. But the difficult work was done for me, I truly believe, all because of the collaboration between two remarkable people--Alice Liddell and Lewis Carroll. What happened between the two of them 150 years ago continues to fascinate and inspire. It gave the world Wonderland, after all--

And it gave me my heroine. Sometimes all you have to do is open your eyes and look around you for inspiration; look at a photograph, read a book. I’m so very glad that I did.--Melanie Benjamin


Alice Liddell Through the Years

Click on thumbnails for larger images

"Alice as a Beggar Girl." "Alice Liddell, as a Young Woman" "Alice Pleasance Liddell Hargreaves, 1932."

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Benjamin draws on one of the most enduring relationships in children's literature in her excellent debut, spinning out the heartbreaking story of Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Her research into the lives of Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) and the family of Alice Liddell is apparent as she takes circumstances shrouded in mystery and colors in the spaces to reveal a vibrant and passionate Alice. Born into a Victorian family of privilege, free-spirited Alice catches the attention of family friend Dodgson and serves as the muse for both his photography and writing. Their bond, however, is misunderstood by Alice's family, and though she is forced to sever their friendship, she is forever haunted by their connection as her life becomes something of a chain of heartbreaks. As an adult, Alice tries to escape her past, but it is only when she finally embraces it that she truly finds the happiness that eluded her. Focusing on three eras in Alice's life, Benjamin offers a finely wrought portrait of Alice that seamlessly blends fact with fiction. This is book club gold. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Random House Reader's Circle
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; Reprint edition (December 21, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385344147
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385344142
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (281 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #205,149 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Melanie Benjamin was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. An avid reader all her life--as a child, she was the proud winner, several years running, of the summer reading program at her local library--she still firmly believes that a lifetime of reading is the best education a writer can have.

While attending Indiana University--Purdue University at Indianapolis, Melanie performed in many community theater productions before meeting her husband, moving to the Chicago area and raising two sons. Writing was always beckoning, however, and soon she began writing for local magazines and newspapers before venturing into her first love, fiction.

By combining her passion for history and biography, she has found her niche writing historical fiction, concentrating on the "stories behind the stories." Her most recent novel, THE AVIATOR'S WIFE, a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh, is a New York Times, USA Today and Indiebound best seller. Her first historical novel, ALICE I HAVE BEEN, was a national bestseller; this was followed by the critically acclaimed THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MRS. TOM THUMB. THE SWANS OF FIFTH AVENUE, a novel about Truman Capote and his high society "Swans," will be published in January 2016.

She and her family still live in the Chicago area; when she's not writing, she's gardening, taking long walks, rooting for the Cubs--

And reading, of course.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

177 of 186 people found the following review helpful By skrishna VINE VOICE on December 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Summary:

Alice Liddell Hargreaves is an lonely old woman now, but once she was full of passion, fire, and true love. As a child, she was the muse of Mr. Dodgson, a professor at Oxford who used the pen name Lewis Carroll, and inspired the seminal classic that has been read and loved by millions. What Alice doesn't realize, though, is that her life will be both illuminated and shrouded by just one day in her life, a day when, at eleven years old, her life changes forever.

Review:

Alice I Have Been is a beautiful and incredibly written book that is difficult to describe. It's hard to pinpoint why it is so wonderful because there isn't just one reason; the book as a whole is expertly crafted. Melanie Benjamin's writing is simply sublime; it is the thread that holds the entire narrative together. It is fluid, poetic, and entirely alluring, drawing the reader into Alice's story and making sure they stay there until the book is over.

The depiction of Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) is both fascinating and disturbing. While he isn't explicitly portrayed as a pedophile, he definitely has an inappropriate relationship with Alice. There is an emotional connection between the two that is very difficult to comprehend and entirely disquieting. Benjamin manages to show it with dignity and grace, something that is very difficult to do with such a perturbing subject. By showing the friendship through the innocent eyes of Alice, Benjamin manages to turn something sinister into a childhood affection, without removing its disturbing quality.

Alice herself is an incredibly interesting character that is expertly written. She is naive and innocent at times, but also incredibly aware of how the world works.
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48 of 52 people found the following review helpful By a VINE VOICE on December 11, 2009
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This was a wonderful, poignant, heart-breaking book that will surely mean something to anyone who read Lewis Carroll's works in their youth. The "real" story, largely documented, of Alice Pleasance Liddell Hargreaves unfolds in a first-person perspective, targeting three significant moments in her long life--her childhood encounters with C.L. Dodgson (Carroll) at ages 7 to 11, her young adulthood and ill-fated royal romance, and her later years of great strength and personal tragedy during and after World War I. While the decades-long narrative jumps may seem jarring at first, Benjamin provides plenty of flashbacks to flesh out the narrative. This approach provides the reader with plenty of tantalizing mini-mysteries that are resolved as the story moves forward, piece by piece.

And what emerges is a beautiful, tragic portrait of a literary inspiration and her enigmatic creator. Dodgson, so often judged by modern moral standards, comes across quite well in this novel, and I was very pleased to see that, by focusing solely on Alice's recollections, he remains shrouded in mystery, at least until a partial revelation in the novel's final pages. Naturally, of course, a large portion of the novel is devoted to the genuine question of his feelings towards Alice, made even more difficult to interpret today thanks to missing pages in Dodgson's famous diary (though this is not mentioned in the novel). All in all, I greatly enjoyed this story and highly recommend it.
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57 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Ellis Bell VINE VOICE on December 28, 2009
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Alice I Have Been is the story of Alice Liddell, the "real" Alice in Wonderland. She met Charles Dodgson at the age of seven, and helped inspire his classic children's novel. Later, she supposedly had a relationship with Price Leopold, one of Queen Victoria's sons (never definitively proved; the author gives it much more importance than it might actually have been), married an English country gentleman, and had three sons.

I have mixed feelings about Alice I Have Been. On the one hand, it's a well-written and evocative story of a young woman's growth to adulthood. It kept me engaged all the way through, and the book had almost a magical tone to it. On the other, I felt that there definitely were some weaknesses.

The author takes a lot of liberty with the known historical facts. First, it is still debated about what really happened to cause the break between Dodgson and the Liddels. Melanie Benjamin attempts to fill in the blanks; and while she makes an admirable effort, I didn't, in the end believe it all. I also thought it odd (but this may have simply been a Victorian thing) that nobody thought that there was anything strange about Alice's relationship with Dodgson--even after the now-famous beggar girl photograph was taken (though it really is a haunting photograph).

The parts of the novel where things are purely fictional (as with Alice's supposed relationship with Prince Leopold, or the scenes with John Ruskin, who comes across as a lecherous, mad old buffoon here) are weaker, while the stuff that's based purely on fact is much, much better. When Alice meets Peter Llewellyn Davies in America, I felt that the author gave too much of a fatalistic importance to the meeting.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Pasiphae on January 5, 2010
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In his photos of young girls, Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) used his photographic talents to immortalize two particular poses. One is the girl asleep, innocently provocative, with her ankles and sometimes her feet bare, her hem disarranged. The other is the girl awake, looking at the camera with a serious face and eyes fixed in a cool, measuring, powerful gaze. There are exceptions; nudes, the occasional ghastly smile or thunderous scowl. But the most successful portraits all feature that cool, almost grim stare. Whichever girl is modeling, however she'd dressed, whether seated or standing or enframed in a composition with other family members, it is this adult gaze that arrests the viewer. And it is the interpretation of this gaze on the part of Alice Liddell that bothers me the most in Alice I Have Been, a fictional attempt to understand the real-life relationship that gave birth to Alice in Wonderland.

Other reviewers have summarized the plot of the novel, which neatly fills in the biographical details of the real Alice's life. Her childhood was enchanted and enchanting, and Dodgson was a fixture in it, squiring all the Liddell children around the countryside outside Oxford, where their father was Dean. It is an interesting view of Alice, but the author's view of Dodgson as a romantically viable and hotly contested object of desire, battled for by Alice, her older sister and their governess--it is troubling. Alice at age seven years is portrayed as the seduced and the seductress, luring Dodgson with her perfect ability to be his "child-friend." She loves him, asks him to wait for her, presses herself intimately to him, desires him with all her heart until a disruptive event breaks the spell she casts with her childish mouth.

Is her attitude a result of pedophiliac grooming?
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