Friday, January 15, 2010

Alice I Have Been-Melanie Benjamin

Alice I Have Been
Melanie Benjamin
Delacorte, Jan 2010, $25.00
ISBN: 9780385344135

Octogenarian Alice Liddell Hargreaves leaves England on tour to receive honor from adulating American audiences. She finds the Americans nice though stunned that Alice of Wonderland is eighty and not eight. All were kind though disappointed with her age anyway except for some lad who offered her an oddity, chewing gum that one does not swallow, but just chews as if it came from Wonderland.

Alice muses on her life as a little girl when their neighbor Oxford Professor Charles Dodgson tells her and her sisters Ina and Edith stories in which she was the star. Over time after a dismal encounter with her hero Professor Dodgson falls in love with Prince Leopold, but she frets that he will reject her once he hears of her alleged indiscretions with the adult storyteller when she was a child. Years pass with the Great War intruding on Alice watching her three sons go off to fight and knowing most likely not all three will come home, but she is still remembered as That Alice.

This intriguing autobiographical fiction takes a deep look at the life of That Alice mostly through her eyes during three prime periods in her life. First and most influential (and almost half the novel) is as the preadolescent meetings with the stuttering Dodgson who makes her famous as That Alice. The other two periods are the royal romance and the WWI era. The gaps are filled with her looking back at events like her marriage to Hargreaves in 1880. However, throughout being Alice of Wonderland impacts her life as her highlight film occurs when she is a tweener in the late 1850s in Oxford. Fans will enjoy this tale that avoids the modern day moral posturing of concluding Dodgson was a pedophile though he still comes across as creepy weird.

Harriet Klausner

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