[The following post was originally published on January 11, 2010 on the eve of Alice I Have Been publication. Although NYT Bestselling author Melanie Benjamin’s (The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, The Aviator’s Wife and most recent, The Swans of Fifth Avenue) career has soared since this first novel, it does remain my all-time favorite.]
There are two opposing views when it comes to writing — either write what you know or write what you don’t know. Melanie Benjamin chose what she didn’t know because it piqued her curiosity and what she learned is shared in her historical fiction debut, Alice I Have Been, to be released tomorrow, January 12, 2010.
The backstory, catalyst, motivation to write a book can be a fascinating tale in and of itself and, for this author, it certainly was when several years ago she visited the Art Institute of Chicago and viewed a traveling exhibit called “Dreaming in Pictures: The Photography of Lewis Carroll.” That experience sent her into a personal wondering land as she explains in “Alice I Have Been” – Author Interview – Melanie Benjamin at Paperback Writer – Books, Author Interviews and Writing:
“I had little knowledge of Lewis Carroll – or Charles Dodgson, his real name – prior to that moment. I certainly had no idea he was a pioneer of early photography! In the exhibit there was one image in particular that stood out; it was the very worldly, very wise face of 7-year-old Alice Liddell as a beggar girl. The caption said that she was the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. I hadn’t known there ever was a real little girl named Alice; I wondered what happened to her after she grew up. I wondered what happened between the two of them, Dodgson and Alice, to result in such a startling photograph. I thought that it might make a good story; it took me a while to get around to researching it but when I did, I knew right away that I had to write it.”
The truth is that it took the author four years and the urging of a good friend to realize how little she knew of the entire story behind Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and how much she wanted to know what happened to the child once she grew up. That convinced Melanie to tell the story from Alice’s point of view, giving Alice her own voice.
Few works of literature are as universally beloved as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Now, in this spellbinding historical novel, we meet the young girl whose bright spirit sent her on an unforgettable trip down the rabbit hole–and the grown woman whose story is no less enthralling.
But oh my dear, I am tired of being Alice in Wonderland. Does it sound ungrateful?
Alice Liddell Hargreaves’s life has been a richly woven tapestry: As a young woman, wife, mother, and widow, she’s experienced intense passion, great privilege, and greater tragedy. But as she nears her eighty-first birthday, she knows that, to the world around her, she is and will always be only “Alice.” Her life was permanently dog-eared at one fateful moment in her tenth year–the golden summer day she urged a grown-up friend to write down one of his fanciful stories.
That story, a wild tale of rabbits, queens, and a precocious young child, becomes a sensation the world over. Its author, a shy, stuttering Oxford professor, does more than immortalize Alice–he changes her life forever. But even he cannot stop time, as much as he might like to. And as Alice’s childhood slips away, a peacetime of glittering balls and royal romances gives way to the urgent tide of war.
For Alice, the stakes could not be higher, for she is the mother of three grown sons, soldiers all. Yet even as she stands to lose everything she treasures, one part of her will always be the determined, undaunted Alice of the story, who discovered that life beyond the rabbit hole was an astonishing journey.
A love story and a literary mystery, Alice I Have Been brilliantly blends fact and fiction to capture the passionate spirit of a woman who was truly worthy of her fictional alter ego, in a world as captivating as the Wonderland only she could inspire
Indeed it is an astonishing journey that begins with a weary Alice who leads the reader back to her Victorian childhood of privilege and means in Oxford, England. You may read both the Prologue and Excerpt from Chapter One and likely be as intrigued and impressed by reviews which include:
“Benjamin draws on one of the most enduring relationships in children’s literature… spinning out the heartbreaking story of Alice from Alice in Wonderland…Focusing on three eras in Alice’s life, Benjamin offers a finely wrought portrait of Alice that seamlessly blends facts with fiction. This is book club gold.”
—Publishers Weekly starred review, “Pick of the Week”
“Benjamin’s novel imagines the truth behind the mystery of Lewis Carroll’s relationship with his child muse, Alice Liddell. Although the shadow of inappropriateness always lingers, this is truly a love story, albeit one that could happily exist only in a fairy tale. This novel will have wide appeal as it includes history, romance, literature, and a great deal of suspense.”
—Library Journal (Joy Humphrey, Pepperdine University Law Library, Malibu, CA)
There is more praise for this remarkable novel that reads so true and poignant. For it is young Alice — with straight dark hair and fringe — that will likely capture your heart. As the middle of three close-in-age sisters (from a very large family) she was the defiantly different one, chafing under the Victorian rules and restrictions for young girls. After all would a young Alice, who longed to be free and run through the grass in her bare feet, raise eyebrows today?
Seemingly more of a free spirit than anything else, Alice Liddell has her childhood dreams of wanting to stay young forever, while asking tall, thin, stuttering Charles Dodgson “to wait” for her. Indeed she is the perfect muse — full of adventure and wonder — who eventually pays a high personal price for what might have happened on a perfect day.
Although Alice I Have Been is historical fiction, Melanie Benjamin writes with such stunning clarity and heartfelt insight that the reader will likely believe the entire story to be true. And, though the author acknowledges where she has taken liberties — when documentation was unavailable — perhaps those liberties were the actual truths.
A truly beautiful and memorable novel on its own, the author has enhanced the reading experience by filling her website with the factual world of Alice. Please visit to learn about Victorian Oxford, Alice in Oxford, and even take a Virtual Tour of Oxford.
TRUST: You’ll be enchanted by the curious aspects of Alice Liddell’s adventures in real live and love.
TRUTH: Alice I Have Been is a keeper and may well become a classic in its own right. So remember that tomorrow you have a very important date at your favorite bookstore, don’t be late!