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AliceAlice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

What an interesting idea for a novel: exploring and imagining (this is a work of historical fiction, not biography) the life of Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

I’d had a rough idea of the back story: that Charles Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll), a mathematician, was somehow acquainted (family friend?) with an actual Alice, that he spent an inordinate amount of time with her, and that he told her the stories that became Alice in Wonderland. Even taking into consideration the different mores of Victorian times, the circumstances did sound borderline disturbing.

Benjamin has filled in the details to create a portrait of how Alice and Dodgson met (she was the daughter of the Dean of Oxford University, he was a mathematics don who lived across the Quad) and their time together and then (almost inevitably) apart. Narrated by Alice herself, the novel spans the bewildering innocence of her childhood, an emotionally-challenged young adulthood, and a wistfully wise old age.

For eighty years I have been, at various times, a gypsy girl, a muse, a lover, a mother, a wife. But for one man, and for the world, I will always be a seven-year-old girl named Alice.

Alice I Have Been beautifully blends literary history with well-crafted storytelling. I believed in Alice’s right to tell her story, to set the record straight about the unique set of circumstances that resulted in a remarkable, much-loved, yet puzzling work of literature but that also altered and defined her life.

A wonderful way to kickstart my 55@55 books project!