Summary and book reviews of Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

Alice I Have Been

by Melanie Benjamin

Alice I Have Been
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2010, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2011, 368 pages

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Book Summary

Few works of literature are as universally beloved as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Now, in this 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.

Chapter Twelve

You look lovely—that rose tulle over the tarlatan is perfection! Oh, I do wish I was going!” Covering her face with her handkerchief, Edith coughed fitfully and then fell back against her pillows, her hair a tangled mess of curls. Her face was nearly as red as her hair.

 “Yes, you’d be a perfect vision, with all that coughing! I know it’s unfair, and Aubrey will be vexed, but you know what Dr. Acland said. You’re to stay in bed for a week, at least.” 

“It’s so unlucky! And for once I thought I’d be the belle of the ball instead of you! Papa was going to announce the engagement tonight.” Edith smiled weakly, and turned her head to sigh over the beautiful blue taffeta gown hanging in the cupboard. 

“I’m never the belle of the ball when you’re present, so I relish the chance tonight. May I borrow your diamond star clip for my hair?”&...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Guide

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.

The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Melanie Benjamin's Alice I Have Been.

Reader's Guide

  1. What social forces motivate each of the characters to deny Dodgson's inappropriate attention to Alice?
  2. Alice became famous through no fault of her own.  Can you come up with a modern day version of Alice?   How do their lives compare?
  3. Alice ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

With 24 out of 28 members rating it 4 or 5 stars, Alice I Have Been is a clear winner with our readers, and inspired many to revisit Lewis Carroll's classic.

Masterfully written, this "Victorian" novel will satisfy not only those who have been charmed by "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" but any reader who enjoys history, mystery, and a journey through life's vagaries with a heroine whose admonition, borrowed from Lewis Carroll, is "May we be happy. (Carol C.)" Going back in time with the real Alice is like going down a new rabbit hole with experiences following one upon the other until the final page of the imaginative roller coaster ride. A very enjoyable and often poignant adventure story with a curious twist at the end (Therese X).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review Members Only (597 words).

Media Reviews

IndieBound

[A] richly woven fictional account of the life of the girl who became Alice in Wonderland. It's a mystery, and a love story, that follows Alice into adulthood after both tragic and wonderful experiences. I loved this creative and well-written book.” -- Doreen Pierson, Chapter One Book Store, Hamilton, MT

Kirkus Reviews

Historical fiction hampered by a 21st-century perspective on Victorian values.

Booklist

Benjamin's characters tend to be one-dimensional types and behave accordingly, though there are some genuinely moving moments ... As for Benjamin’s deliciously melodramatic portrait of art historian John Ruskin, it's almost worth the price of admission.

Library Journal

This novel will have wide appeal as it includes history, romance, literature, and a great deal of suspense.

School Library Journal

This is a beautiful story for readers interested in the fictionalized life of a literary inspiration (Adult Books for Highschoolers).

Publishers Weekly (Pick of the Week)

Starred Review. [A] finely wrought portrait of Alice that seamlessly blends fact with fiction. This is book club gold.

Reader Reviews

Carol Byers

Behind the Story
I found Benjamin's 'Alice I Have Been' to be fascinating with many of life's experiences seamlessly expressed. To gain the most of this story, I needed to read a bit about the actual life of Lewis Carroll as well as the Liddell family (Alice was the...   Read More

mainlinebooker

what a treat
The best part of the book was the authentic voices used; I can just picture this as a wonderful audio book. The weakest part is the third section but I delighted in this book and am now back to reading Alice in Wonderland and will see Tim Burton's ...   Read More

A Bookshelf Monstrosity

Meet the real Alice
"But oh my dear, I am tired of being Alice in Wonderland. Does it sound ungrateful?" I had some vague idea that Alice in Wonderland was indeed based on a real girl. What I didn't realize, however, was that Charles Dodgson, better known ...   Read More

Cheya W. (Vernal, UT)

Loved Alice I Have Been
Melanie Benjamen's first book is a winner. Loved her writing and telling of Alice's story. There weren't a lot of facts left behind about Alice Liddell or Lewis Carroll but what facts there were led to a beautiful, sensitive and thoughtful story. ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Origin of Lewis Carroll's classic
(From author Melanie Benjamin's website)

On the "golden afternoon" of July 4, 1862, Charles Dodgson and his friend Robinson Duckworth rowed the three Liddell girls - Ina, Alice and Edith - down the Isis (or the Thames, as it's known as it nears London)* for a picnic lunch. During the trip, Dodgson began to tell the sisters the story of a little girl who followed a rabbit down a rabbit hole.

Afterward, Alice Liddell begged him to write the story down. It took him two years, but finally in November, 1864, he presented Alice with a handwritten, leather-bound book titled Alice's Adventures Under Ground. He illustrated the book himself, and pasted a photograph of Alice at the age of ...

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