Sunday, June 23, 2013

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

Few works of literature are as universally beloved as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.  In this historical novel we meet the young girl who was the muse for our unforgettable trip down the rabbit hole, Alice Liddell.  It blends fact and fiction to tell us Alice's story, from the time she was a young girl and captivated the heart of Carroll, on through into her adult life and later years.
The friendship between Alice and the man she knew as the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Carroll's real name) has been the subject of speculation by many of his biographers (for after all, when they first met Alice was around 5 and Dodgson was 26; and some of those pictures can seem a bit unsettling by today's eyes).   
Liddell dressed up as a beggar maid, 1858 (photo by Dodgson)

Dodgson went on many outings with Alice and her two sisters.  He was a mathematics teacher at Oxford and the Liddell sisters were the daughters of the Dean there. Like many Victorian bachelors, he became a sort of uncle to his friends’ children, making up stories and games and taking them on short trips. 

Alice and her sisters, 1859 (photo by Dodgson)

Alice was 10 when Dodgson told her his story of a little girl who fell down a rabbit hole, and she begged him to write this one down.

Of the approximately 3,000 photo­graphs Dodgson made in his life, just over half are of children—30 of whom are depicted nude or semi-nude. Some of his portraits—even those in which the model is clothed—might shock 2010 sensibilities, but by Victorian standards they were...well, rather conventional. Photographs of nude children sometimes appeared on postcards or birthday cards, and nude portraits—skillfully done—were praised as art studies.

I do stress that this is a work of fiction (not biography), but I found the book strangely compelling and it is one interpretation of how things might have occurred. 

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