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ALICE I HAVE BEEN By:Melanie Benjamin February 18, 2010

Posted by lycan librarian in book reviews, Books and reading.
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           Here is a brand new addition to the Moonlit Library. This historical novel, told through Alice’s point of view, explores the relationship between Charles Dodson (Lewis Carroll) and his muse, Alice Liddell. Benjamin portrays Dodson as a child-like artist who is ill at ease, perhaps due to his stutter, with adults, and prefers the company of children. While there have been assumptions and rumors, due to his provocative photographs of children, that the man was a pedophile, the author has the grace and dignity to portray the situation with a mostly neutral air that does not push the reader to necessarily assume the best, or the worst of the man.

     Alice is a headstrong girl, the bane of her mother, and it is amusing that the author makes her, in her adult years, into a mirror-image of the woman who she thought so strict, particular and lacking in imagination. There are issues about whose authenticity I wonder, (as is quite normal while reading historical fiction) such as if Alice Liddell ever read the Alice books in full, or if her not doing so was merely the author’s fabrication.  But my most important question is about the scene where Regi Hargreaves proposes to Alice Liddell in a rowboat, because this scene and its dialogue are identical to the one where Laurie proposes to Amy in LITTLE WOMEN. (It is possible she is toying with her readers, since soon after, she refers to Alice’s sons as “little men”.)

     As I finished and closed the book, I felt melancholy.  I had not expected this novel to be as dark as sad as it is; if there is one lesson the reader walks away from this book with, it is that life is not a fairy tale.

    Afternote: Being a Reference Librarian, and unhappy with being faced by an unanswered question, the Lycan Librarian emailed Melanie Benjamin to ask her if she mirrored Alcott’s work in the scene where Regi proposes to Alice. She was gracious enough to respond, and here is her reply: “You have a good eye and are the first to spot this, but yes.  I was influenced by Laurie’s proposal to Amy from Little Woman; it’s always been a favorite part of the book, and I thought it might be fitting for the character of Regi to propose in a boat.  Although he’s not nearly so romantic, and Alice isn’t quite so timid.  I have to admit, I had no conscious idea that I’d put “little men” in the next section, other than to point out how different Alice’s life was, going from one of three princesses to having three boys.  So that’s not a conscious homage.”

 
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