Alice I Have Been
This literary novel, set in the early 20th century with flashbacks to the mid-19th century, is the fictionalized life story of the real Alice in Wonderland, Alice Pleasance Liddell Hargreaves. It is also the tale of her relationship with Charles Dodgson, the author known to us as Lewis Carroll.
The scene opens with the eighty-year-old Alice reflecting upon two recent occurrences: the selling of the original handwritten copy of Alice in Wonderland and the receipt of her honorary doctorate from Columbia University. In flashbacks, she describes her privileged childhood as the daughter of the dean of Oxford University, reminisces about her relationship with her parents and siblings, tells the story of her relationship with Prince Leopold, and speaks of her marriage and children. Every element, either directly or indirectly, intersects with the man who was a great part of her life: Charles Dodgson, a professor at Oxford.
Whereas Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are considered children’s stories, the novel Alice I Have Been is anything but a children’s novel. I found the scenes describing a sexual attack on Alice by a family friend and those involving the strange relationship between her and Dodgson to be troubling. There is an underlying sense of creepiness, creating a disturbing atmosphere and feeling of discomfort throughout the book.
I imagine that this story would be a difficult one to write. It was a difficult one to read. Though well written and superbly researched, I found the topic and characters off-putting.
To borrow a phrase: Alice doesn’t live here any more. How I wish she did.