Review: Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

I had been reading so many good reviews of Alice I Have Been that when I won a copy from The Book Whisperer I couldn’t wait to read it and see if it deserved its reputation. I’m happy to say that it did.

Before I read this book, I knew Alice Liddell was the girl who inspired Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but that was all I knew about her. I also knew that Lewis Carroll’s real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and that he was an Oxford mathematics professor, but that was all I knew about him. Alice I Have Been is the story of how Alice’s relationship with Dodgson and the book he wrote changed her life forever.

The 19th century is one of my favourite historical periods and it was interesting to read about Alice’s life as the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, mixing with the upper classes of Victorian society. Mr Dodgson was a friend of the Liddell family, who enjoyed visiting the three little girls – Ina, Alice and Edith – and taking photographs of them. The relationship between Alice and Dodgson was slightly disturbing, but the overall impression I got of him was of a shy, lonely man who felt more comfortable with children than with adults – and didn’t want those children to grow up. When Alice was eleven, an incident occurred that caused a rift between Dodgson and the Liddells – in real life, this is a mystery that has never been solved. Melanie Benjamin gives one possible explanation but states in her author’s note that this is her own interpretation and not necessarily the truth, leaving us to wonder exactly what really did happen.

I had no idea Alice Liddell had such an eventful adult life or that she was romantically involved (though maybe not to the extent the book suggests) with Queen Victoria’s youngest son, Prince Leopold – until hints of the scandal in her past came back to haunt her.

This book is a clever mixture of fact and fiction. I always think a sign of a good historical fiction novel is when it inspires you to find out more about the people you’ve been reading about. There’s a lot of information about Charles Dodgson available online, including some of his photographs (a few of which are reproduced in the book). It was interesting to read about seven year-old Alice posing for Dodgson as a gypsy girl, then being able to look at the actual picture itself. I also wanted to find out more about John Ruskin, who is portrayed quite negatively in the book.

Now I want to go and read Alice in Wonderland again to see if I feel differently about it now that I know the story behind it.


Genre: Historical Fiction/Pages: 345/Publisher: Random House/Year: 2010/Source: Won in giveaway

5 thoughts on “Review: Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

  1. Ash says:

    I knew nothing about Alice Liddell or Charles Lutwidge Dodgson before reading your review, but my new knowledge about them and this book makes me want to read it even more. Which I didn’t even think was possible. I perfect blend of fact and fiction is what makes historical fiction my favorite genre, and you know I love the 19th century. I will have to read this book asap.

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