The Reality of Wonderland – “Alice I have been” by Melanie Benjamin
It’s a historical truth that the title character of Lewis Carroll’s timeless “Alice through the Lookingglass” stories was inspired by a real-life little girl named Alice Liddell. Little Alice and Charles Dodgson (the real name of Lewis Carroll) were said to be good friends. Some say they were more than friends. There are countless photos of young Alice taken by Mr. Dodgson, which skeeved some people out. There’s also a mysterious break in their friendship that coincides with the timeline of some missing pages of Mr. Carroll’s journal. All this only further encourages speculation as to the true nature of this relationship.
Chicago author Melanie Benjamin takes these rumors to task in her splendid novel, “Alice I have been.” After seeing a photo of Alice taken by Mr. Dodgson, Benjamin was captivated and decided to tell the story of this complicated relationship. Whatever the bond really was, it sparked a flurry of interest, a classic work of literature, and a life that Alice Liddell could never have expected. As Alice grows up and away from Dodgson, she has a romance with a Prince, and eventually marries a man who seems to be the only person in the world who doesn’t care that she’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Her sons go off to war and two are killed, and it’s only when she’s left a widow with one remaining son that she sells off her first-edition copy of Carroll’s beloved story to pay bills, thereby revealing herself to the world once again as the title character of one of the most cherished of all stories.
Benjamin gracefully treads the line between accusations. Instead, though some dirty – and hypothetical – truths are aired, a “Wonderland” style growing up story is told, and Benjamin reaches her own conclusions. (Like I’d spoil them here. Tsk, tsk!)
Namely, it’s the story of a young woman living her life and coming to terms with the fact that she will forever be a little girl who fell into a magical world.
The book is a little twisted, sometimes dark, and a hell of a read. If you want to explore the truth behind one of the great mysteries of literature, check it out.