Title/Author: Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
Publisher: Bantam Books
In a nutshell
Alice Liddell Hargreaves is the ‘Alice’ in Wonderland; the girl who followed the White Rabbit into a land of quirky characters such as the Mad Hatter, Queen of Hearts and the Cheshire Cat. If not for Alice, Lewis Carroll wouldn’t have written Alice in Wonderland. If not for her, we wouldn’t have known Wonderland.
This story takes us back to Alice’s childhood. At seven, she was different from other girls her age; young, innocent yet wise beyond her years, who felt a special connection with Lewis Carroll (whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson). He loved taking Alice and her sisters out for walks and boat rides which they enjoyed immensely. However, Dodgson showed a special interest in Alice and his feelings were reciprocated. She felt he was the only one who understood her, who allowed her to be ‘Alice’ and loved her as she was.
Time passed and Dodgson somehow stopped seeing her and the sisters, and began phasing out of their life much to her dismay. In her 20’s, she fell in love with Prince Leopold, who she felt loved the long yellow hair ‘Alice’ in Wonderland. Although they were head over heels with each other, the Queen didn’t approve of it and that ended their relationship.
Alice married Reginald Gervis Hargreaves, a sportsman (a cricketer), whom she would never love him the way she loved Leo. Regi did not care about books at all; his simplicity sometimes ticked her off but also tugged at her heartstrings. Though married, she still often wondered about Prince Leopold, while Dodgson still haunted her thoughts, like a shadow, never leaving her.
What I liked
Everything about this book is beautiful. I didn’t want it to end, but couldn’t help turning the pages because it was, once again, so beautifully written, except for, maybe the last part (more on that later).
I especially liked Alice’s voice and seeing her change from an innocent, free-willed girl to a strong, confident young woman. Benjamin is excellent at capturing Alice’s conflicts emotionally. (She managed to do the same with ‘Mrs. Tom Thumb’
) My favorite is the 7-year-old Alice. She was exactly as depicted in Alice in Wonderland – vivacious, full of wonder and ever so vocal!
Alice’s love life was nothing but complicated. It’s almost as though she was not meant for love. She attracted it for sure; men were drawn to her like moth to a flame, but maybe she was not meant to live it. Prince Leopold was the only man she ever professed her love to, but it ended up bitter. Mr Hargreaves claimed she was his love at first sight. But Alice never truly loved him, until it was too late.
Mr Dodgson on the other hand, as much as she hated to admit it, had a special place in her heart. There was always that longing for him in her voice.
‘”Alice”, the man in the hat said tenderly – only it was Leo. “Alice, be happy. Be happy with me.”
“Of course,” I said with a contented sigh. “Of course. I’ll always be happy with you, my love.”
But no – the man in the hat was not Leo, he was not Regi. He was Mr. Dodgson. I opened my eyes, my girl’s eyes, clear and sharp, no need for spectacles, and saw only him. His soft brown hair curling at the ends, his kind blue eyes, no higher than the other.’
That summer, that particular moment that started and ended it all, she was happy, ‘I will always believe – the two of us were.”‘
Ever since that day, she hated talking about him, too afraid the truth will tear her apart.
They were both such romantics. Mr Dodgson, I think, was the only man who was capable of loving her as she was, accepting her eccentricities, her passion for life and intelligence. He was her equal. I think their relationship would have turned out differently if they had met at a different time.
I admire Benjamin’s ability to bring a character as enigmatic as Alice come to live. Like ‘Mrs Tom Thumb
‘, she created another poignant historical fiction based on research. It takes a very skillful writer to turn a novel of this genre into a keeper.
In my opinion, to be able to write a historical fiction as good as this, one must let dream take over…
‘Words, pictures, questions, and finally – dreams; it always begins with a dream, doesn’t it? Alice’s dream by the river, her head in her sister’s lap, dreaming of a rabbit, a white rabbit; my dream also. My dreams.’ (p. 338)
What I didn’t like
Didn’t matter much, really. I just felt bad I couldn’t empathize with Alice when she lost her sons; maybe a little for Rex (as he was obviously her favorite) and Edith, her sister. I felt the son’s characters were rushed through and were written just to complete Alice’s story.
Like I mentioned, not that it mattered, because the central point of this novel, to me, was her love life and the mysterious relationship she had had with Dodgson, which will remain in Wonderland, forever.
My verdict? 4/5 (If you are into historical fiction)
Find out what really happened and what was made up in Benjamin’s chapter on ‘Alice in Wonderland – The True Hollywood Story’ found at the end of the book.
My take-away message? Life’s happiness is yours to define. Let me end this review with this:
I did not choose this, Peter had said.
I did, I had replied. And so I did; so, now, I do. (p. 344)