The Melancholy of Alice

Posted on March 20, 2010. Filed under: Books, Children's, Historical Fiction | Tags: , , , , |

I keep posting later and later, but it’s only because things have been busy taking care of the house and my mother. In any event, I won’t harp on it. Today I wanted to review Alice I Have Been as I finished reading it last night.

Melanie Benjamin’s Alice I Have Been is a haunting book. Perhaps my view on it won’t be the same as those who have read it, but it just seemed a very tragic story. I read the author’s notes on the book, and Benjamin explains that while it is only a novel she did use as much of the remaining documented materials of Alice Liddell Hargreaves’s life to reconstruct this tale.

Looking at it from that point of view, I almost pity poor Alice.

That’s not to say, however, that the story was poorly written. Benjamin’s book is a delight to read, full of witty repartee and turns of phrase common to the Victorian era when Alice was born. The pacing is excellent, and the story draws the reader in with little effort and keeps you gripped in the questions it presents throughout.

The tale starts with a portrait of an aged Alice, famous for her experience in Wonderland and virtually unknown for her more scandalous exploits. At 81, she’s growing older and tired of being known as Alice in Wonderland. It’s been years since she has spoken to anyone who was even familiar with Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the man the rest of the world knows as Lewis Carroll. And no one even remembers the circumstances under which 11-year-old Alice was forced to part with Charles Dodgson. Even Alice herself is quite fuzzy on the scandal.

As she rereads a particular letter from her deceased older sister Ina, Alice’s memories flood her mind–and the book’s pages–as she begins to relive those formative younger years. What’s so fascinating is not the story of Alice in Wonderland as so many believe but rather the background of this woman who survived many of her family to live out her days, widowed with only one, somewhat irresponsible, son for comfort.

But Alice I Have Been reveals the shocking and scandalous events of Alice Liddell’s life in a splash of vibrant fiction. From the recollection of Dodgson’s photo of her as a ‘gypsy girl’ clothed in rags to the events leading to a dangerous kiss on a train, Alice retraces her childhood, recalling how boldly she took what she wanted–from Ina, her mother, and Mr. Dodgson himself.

The book is divided into three parts, and the story of Alice and Dodgson ends with the first part. In the second, we read of her romance with Prince Leopold, son to Queen Victoria. Leopold, or Leo as we know Alice addresses him, is infatuated with the Alice from Lewis Carroll’s tales, which by now have sold well in Britain. Pursuing the second daughter of the Liddell family, he wins her heart and brings in help in the form of old Liddell family friends to try and persuade the queen to approve the match.

When the queen receives word of the scandal with Mr. Dodgson, however, she’s most displeased. In one of the greatest tragedies of her life, Alice loses the two people closest to her. Concluding the second portion of the novel, we read in the third about her marriage to Reginald Hargreaves, who, according to Alice, has plucked her after she ripened too much and fell off the tree. It’s a poor description to be sure, and Alice spares little love for the husband she wouldn’t have chosen for herself.

What I find most interesting in this novel is how Alice is portrayed. Certainly there are other authors out there who have documented her life, and Benjamin’s work is only fiction after all. But the Alice in the story is such a dramatic contrast from the Alice in Carroll’s work. Instead of being the constant, logical, happy-go-lucky child, Alice is a tired, broken-hearted, depressed woman whose life has simply passed her by.

It’s truly haunting because of the opportunities she seemed to miss, either through her own doing or by the actions and interference of others. I both sympathized with and chastised Alice as she made decisions and tried to accomplish things that were beyond her reach. I wonder if Benjamin’s tale is accurate enough to fill in the blanks of this remarkable woman’s life.

Overall, this is definitely a keeper. I really enjoyed the story. Alice enthralled and entertained me, but she also challenged and intrigued me. I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be a joy to sit down with her (were that possible) and hear her story from her own lips.

But the intriguing thing about Alice? Of those few possessions remaining, none truly tell her story. What remains, then? Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And as Benjamin suggests in the end of the book: that might be exactly as Alice Liddell Hargreaves intended it.

Advertisements
Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )

The Alice Craze

Posted on March 13, 2010. Filed under: Books, Classics, Fairy Tales, Historical Fiction | Tags: , , , , , |

Yes, I’m adding to it, but I haven’t seen the movie. I’m still debating on it. A friend asked me to go with him, and I’m thinking of saying yes if I can convince him to pay for my ticket. 😉 Poor unemployed girl needs someone else to help her out. Haha.

Image Credit: The Victorian Web

I know everyone’s all up in arms over Burton’s adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but I’ve never been a huge Burton fan. Sure, he’s a great director, but I’m not one of the people who makes plans to see his next hit movie each time it rolls into theaters.

So all that is to say: I’m not writing this because of the movie.

I am writing this because of Stacy and Alice I Have Been. Like a lot of people, I’ve seen the Disney adaptation that pulls elements of Wonderland and its sort-of sequel Through the Looking-Glass and then twists them in the way only Disney can. I didn’t really like the movie as a kid, so I never bothered to read the book.

Well, I’m here to admit it. I should have read the books before. After reading Wonderland and Looking-Glass, I wanted to kick myself for not getting a perspective on this world as a child. What would my opinion have been reading this book when I was 7?

Would I have, like with so many other tales–both book and film,–fallen into my own rabbit hole of fantasy and adventure? I was disappointed when I found no wardrobes to peek in after Narnia. I pretended to be whisked off to an English manor home from India where all manner of mysteries and secrets waited to be uncovered after The Secret Garden. Would I have searched out holes in the ground to fall into after Wonderland or attempted to press through mirrors after Looking-Glass?

It’s really a pity I’ll never know.

However, I do know that I enjoy Lewis Carroll’s tales, especially now that I’ve read them in preparation for Melanie Benjamin’s Alice I Have Been. I’m reading Benjamin’s book now, and it’s already fascinating after one chapter. But I’m here to speak to my take on Carroll. It’s one classic I really, truly, thoroughly enjoyed.

Aside from reading the notes in the Modern Library Classics edition of the book I got, I also read every footnote and the poems and letter thrown in at beginning and end for more perspective on Carroll. It’s intriguing because many scholars speculate that Carroll was some sort of Victorian pedophile with his collection of child friends whom he took on boat rides and told fantastical stories to. I think that’s a shame.

Carroll was a don at Christ Church, Oxford, where he taught mathematics. During his years at the school, he met the new Dean, a Mr. Liddell whose three daughters became Carroll’s young friends. The middle daughter was Alice Liddell, and as most of us can guess: the rest is history.

I love speculation as much as the next person, but really? I have no idea whether Carroll was attempting to court Alice in her early days at Oxford. It makes for a great story, though, especially considering he was 30 to her 7 years old, and he was required to remain celibate as a don.

I can hear the old gossips of Victorian Oxford now.

“Where is that young man headed?”

“Why, don’t you know? That’s Mr. Dodgson. Of course, he’s off to the Deanery to see the Liddell girls.”

“You don’t say! But truly he couldn’t be off to see them, could he? Surely you mean he’s off to counsel with the Dean. I hear he teaches mathematics, and you know those young men can grow boisterous–”

“No, I’m certain he goes to see the Liddell girls. Louisa was telling me yesterday he actually takes them to the field and plays with them, of all the–”

Well, you can see where that conversation was headed. 😉 I do believe we haven’t deviated much from those old hens and their tales of impropriety.

If you’re like me and you read the Alice tales, you’ll be enthralled by the vivid world of Carroll’s creation. But more than that I found myself immersed in a world where sense doesn’t have to make sense and nonsense more often than not has a thread of sense in it. Logic is illogic, and if I’m not careful, I’ll begin to sound like Big Brother and make mathematical errors that Carroll would have most likely corrected in his classes.

The lack of plot in both Alice books would normally make me shudder and run in the opposite direction, but it doesn’t. Instead, I embraced the Wonderland and Looking-Glass worlds with arms wide open, not expecting any sense to be found. And I was delighted because Carroll changed my opinion, perhaps not as intended but certainly in a good way, through his Alice.

As I watched Alice make her way through this zany new world, I noticed something intriguing. Originally I cheered the little girl in her white pinafore on because I felt she was the only one making sense in a strange land. But my opinion flip-flopped. I still cheered her on, but it was towards finding the peculiar formula of illogic that made the Looking-Glass world go round rather than towards finding her way back home again. And the other characters with their obvious misinterpretations and ridiculous rules became more and more sensible to me.

I may be the only one who feels that way, but it truly is what endeared the Alice tales to me. By changing my perspective in a world so far from normal, Carroll challenged me. And I always love a challenge.

I could go on and on. I gained quite a bit of insight from this simple children’s tale. But I’m already overdoing it. So what’s your take on the Alice craze? Enlighten me!

-Rae-

P.S. Sorry for the gigantic photo – for some reason it didn’t want to edit!

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 5 so far )

  • Recent Reviews

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 21 other followers

  • NaBloPoMo Participant

  • When DO I Write?

    October 2019
    S M T W T F S
    « Jul    
     12345
    6789101112
    13141516171819
    20212223242526
    2728293031  

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...