Reading Corner: Alice I Have Been

Reading Corner: Alice I Have Been

Many lolita idealize Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I can certainly understand the appeal–topsy-turvy tea parties, singing flowers, bizarre croquet… All of these things are fantasy-laced versions of historical truth–which, in many ways, fits lolita fashion. When wearing garments that aren’t quite fit for Versailles yet would also look out of place at a Victorian gathering, a strange land where people change sizes from eating a cookie certainly wouldn’t mind the “odd” things that make the style something in its own right. It’s easy to picture Alice in the blue dress and white pinafore, looking rather like a lolita fashion model herself. It’s intriguing; no wonder so many lolita are fascinated by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

I, however, am fascinated by Charles Dodgson.

If you were to ask me to explain myself, I wouldn’t fully be able to, because I’m not sure exactly why I find him intriguing. I’ve read many biographies cover to cover, which when focused on other subjects I’ve barely been able to take notes from. I don’t necessarily care if he was in love with Alice, or with children, or with penguins–it isn’t the controversy that interests me. I’m more curious about what someone who comes up with a wonderland must think about. His whimsy isn’t limited to the book he’s famous for. And what a combination of literary work–children’s novels and mathematical treatises!

When Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin was suggested at the Lolita Bookclub, I knew I wanted to read it. As I neglected poor May very badly for the bookclub, I hastily nominated Alice I Have Been mid-month (it had nearly won for April, being only slightly edged out by The Secret Garden) and set off to procure a copy.

I picked it up from the library after work and finished reading it before dinner. It’s a fictional tale of the life of Alice Liddell–not the one in the story, but the girl who grew up. It proposes and explores some very interesting situations based on hints of fact. Since I’ve read a fair bit about the Liddell family while reading about Dodgson, I don’t necessarily like some of the premises that seem to encourage or develop the “gossipy” elements, such as Dodgson’s often-speculated-on pedophilia. I did like the fact that the book followed Alice’s life until her death–too often she is immortalized as a character from a story, ignoring that she did indeed become an adult.

I sobbed through most of the end of the book as tragedy after tragedy (although, sadly, nothing that was too uncommon for the time) shook Alice’s later life. It’s definitely a book to keep tissues nearby for! She truly develops into a strong-willed, self-controlled woman; it makes me wonder what Alice Liddell was actually like–wonder if those who knew her would be amused at the fanciful tales, or recognize hints and traits of the person they knew. Whether in love with the prince or mourning her sister, she seemed admirable and steady…although some of the other characters certainly wouldn’t have agreed with me. It was easy to forget, at times, that this was a work of fiction and not simply a dramatized historical account.

I did particularly like the way Dodgson was written–as a soft-spoken, nervous young man who only rarely seemed at ease. The details of his photography made me wish I could have seen his equipment and technique. Children’s fascination with him make me wish more of his stories had been written down. As much as I did like reading about Alice, she doesn’t interest me quite as much.

I would have been far more satisfied had he featured more prominently, but the book isn’t “Carroll I Have Been,” after all!