Friday, January 22, 2010

Alice I Have Been, by Melanie Benjamin

Wonderful historical fiction based on the life of Alice Liddel, the real-life basis for Alice in Wonderland. Benjamin explores the strange relationship Alice had with Charles Dodgeson, a respected mathematician at Oxford (where Alice's father was the Dean of Christ Church).

Dodgeson, better known as Lewis Carrol, had an odd quirk even for the exceedingly strange Victorians, a passion for taking photographs of little girls. Alice, his muse and most often photographed subject, is the narrator of this book, and offers an unsettling look at what children sometimes know, and how much they don't understand. Her life, as she grows older, is a fascinating look at high Victorian society- as the family of the Dean of Christ Church,the Liddels entertained the Queen, dined with the greatest minds and names of the era, and enjoyed social prestige far beyond what most academics now are awareded.

Through WW1, and on, aside from the curious life of the real-life Alice, the novel offered a great sweeping look at social change in England. A meeeting between Alice and Peter Llwelyn-Davies, the real-life model for Peter Pan, based on a real encounter in New York, gave such a poignant look at what it may mean to be caught in an artist's gaze, and kept forever young. So glad I read this- worth all the buzz.

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