[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