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Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
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Cathy says:

We all know and love the classic tale, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I know that, time after time, I would lose myself in the story, fascinated and frightened by the strange and unpredictable characters Alice encountered, wishing that I could be Alice and experience Wonderland. I went so far as to make myself an outfit and wear it to school (in high school, no less) still yearning for an escape. My taste in books had perhaps matured but the surrealism of Alice's story remained seductive.

Many years later whispers and comments about the real Alice (Alice Liddell) and the possibility of a less than "pure" interest in her and other little girls on the part of the author, Charles Dodson, an Oxford Don, found their way to my ears. Dodson's photographs of little girls became the subject of concern as awareness of child sexual abuse rose in our collective consciousness. But, frankly, I didn't want to delve too deeply into the possibility of such impropriety and ruin my childhood fantasies.

When the galley for Alice I Have Been was given to me with fanfare and enthusiasm by my publisher rep, I was admittedly nervous. Certainly, it's a novel, but how much did I want to know about the real story of Alice and Charles Dodson? Well, it turned out, everything! Beginning on page one when Alice is 80, heading to America to be feted and honored, Alice I Have Been takes the reader back to Victorian Oxford and brings to life the world that Alice inhabited. It was a privileged world, and as a little girl Alice and her sisters met scholars and royalty. They were pampered and educated and exposed to many things, yet restricted by society's (and their Mother's) high expectations for proper decorum. The girls were dressed alike in layer upon layer of pantaloons and petticoats and pale dresses and polished shoes, and if one girl got dirty (usually it was Alice) they all had to change. No small feat. So when offered the opportunity to dress like a ragged gypsy and roll around in the grass, barefoot, who wouldn't?

Little, irascible, contrary, bright 7-year-old Alice tasted this bit of freedom and it was as if she had bitten the apple in the Garden of Eden. Alice I Have Been is the story of the heartbreak of Alice's life, the result of a feisty, lively imaginative little girl's desire for love and a lonely man's unfortunate choices, all made far worse by the strictures of their times.

This novel is a gem. It's for all fans of Alice, of historical fiction, and of compelling biographical stories. And book clubs will rejoice in the possibilities it will offer for discussion. It is just wonderful!

Jackie says:

I'm not a Victorian England kind of person, nor am I a great fan of Alice in Wonderland or Through The Looking Glass. Nevertheless, this book, a fictionalized account of the "real" Alice, Alice Liddell, caught and held my attention in a vice grip. Benjamin's research was exhaustive, so that Alice, her sisters and the clearly disturbed Charles Dodgson (who took the pen name Lewis Carroll) become living and breathing people again. The actual photographs of Alice in the book are priceless and add a profound depth to the story--more than once I sat looking into Alice's 'gypsy' eyes and wondering what the truth was. The Liddell family in it's privileged splendor, the father's position of Dean of Christ Church making them very powerful in England, the great restrictions on and expectations of women, all set the scene for the destruction of one life by the tender age of 11. No one is completely innocent nor completely guilty in this tale that follows Alice through to her twilight years, but the taint of scandal colors the world for them all throughout their lives. It's rather haunting (especially the last few pages), and continues to linger in my mind. I highly recommend this book.

Lisa says:

This was a wonderful historical novel based on the life of Alice Liddell who inspired Lewis Carroll to write Alice in Wonderland. Benjamin did an excellent job of telling a complex story of young Alice's relationship with Caroll aka Charles Dodgson - who was a young man at Oxford when they met. But is it more than that - it is about Alice's strength through a catastrophic time in her young life, followed by love and loss. It is about a girl becoming a woman - navigating Victorian England's strict moral attitudes with little help from those around her. It is told from Alice's point of view - which maked the book a strong and fascinating read. Great for discussion and book clubs.
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