ALICE I HAVE BEEN

Melanie Benjamin

Part love story, part literary mystery, Melanie Benjamin’s spellbinding historical novel leads readers on an unforgettable journey down the rabbit hole, to tell the story of a woman whose own life became the stuff of legend. Her name is Alice Liddell Hargreaves, but to the world she’ll always be known simply as “Alice,” the girl who followed the White Rabbit into a wonderland of Mad Hatters, Queens of Hearts, and Cheshire Cats. Now, nearing her eighty-first birthday, she looks back on a life of intense passion, great privilege, and greater tragedy. First as a young woman, then as a wife,

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Part love story, part literary mystery, Melanie Benjamin’s spellbinding historical novel leads readers on an unforgettable journey down the rabbit hole, to tell the story of a woman whose own life became the stuff of legend. Her name is Alice Liddell Hargreaves, but to the world she’ll always be known simply as “Alice,” the girl who followed the White Rabbit into a wonderland of Mad Hatters, Queens of Hearts, and Cheshire Cats. Now, nearing her eighty-first birthday, she looks back on a life of intense passion, great privilege, and greater tragedy. First as a young woman, then as a wife, mother, and widow, she’ll experience adventures the likes of which not even her fictional counterpart could have imagined. Yet from glittering balls and royal romances to a world plunged into war, she’ll always be the same determined, undaunted Alice who, at ten years old, urged a shy, stuttering Oxford professor to write down one of his fanciful stories, thus changing her life forever.

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  • Bantam
  • Paperback
  • December 2010
  • 400 Pages
  • 9780385344142

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About Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. An avid reader all her life—as a child, she was the proud winner, several years running, of the summer reading program at her local library—she still firmly believes that a lifetime of reading is the best education a writer can have.

While attending Indiana University—Purdue University at Indianapolis, Melanie performed in many community theater productions before meeting her husband, moving to the Chicago area and raising two sons. Writing was always beckoning, however, and soon she began writing for local magazines and newspapers before venturing into her first love, fiction. As Melanie Hauser, she published two contemporary novels. By incorporating her passion for history and biography, Melanie, now writing as Melanie Benjamin, has finally found her niche writing historical fiction, concentrating on the “stories behind the stories.” Alice Have I Been is her first historical novel; The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is her second, and will be published in July 2011.

She and her family still live in the Chicago area; when she’s not writing, she’s gardening, taking long walks, rooting for the Cubs. And reading, of course.

Praise

“Benjamin draws on one of the most enduring relationships in children’s literature… spinning out the heartbreaking story of Alice from Alice in Wonderland…Focusing on three eras in Alice’s life, Benjamin offers a finely wrought portrait of Alice that seamlessly blends facts with fiction. This is book club gold.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Melanie Benjamin works valiantly to conjure up the real girl behind the Wonderland myth, and finds glints of genuine magic.” —Entertainment Weekly

“This novel conjures Alice Liddell—who was the muse for Lewis Carroll’s childhood classic—as an octogenarian looking back on her life. A satisfying, haunting piece of literary ventriloquism.” —Good Housekeeping (Jan.)

“This is magic! Childhood, sensuality, love, sorrow and wonder, all bright and complex as the shifting patterns in a kaleidoscope.” —Diana Gabaldon

Discussion Questions

What social forces motivate each of the characters to deny Dodgson’s inappropriate attention to Alice?

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?

Alice refuses to read Alice in Wonderland until she is well into her eighties. Why do you think she avoids reading the story she inspired?

The relationships between Alice and her sisters Ina and Edith range from rivalry to a life-long bond.  What effects do these have on Alice, and what are the consequences?

What part of the book speaks to you and your experiences in life?

How does Benjamin take both the reader and Alice from ignorance and denial to the self-realization of her complicity in the ruptured friendship with Rev. Dodgson?  Is this believable?

While Alice’s sister lies dying, Mama asks Alice “Why couldn’t it be you? You’ve never brought me anything but pain, while she has brought me nothing but joy”.  What kind of effect do you think this has on Alice for the rest of her life? Did it affect the way Alice thought of her own children?

The photos Lewis Carroll (or the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) took of Alice Liddell capture a look that can be described as wise beyond her years – what do you think is behind that look?

How much did the Victorian setting play a role in this book?

Before reading Benjamin’s novel, had you already read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? If so, does it make you want to read it again? Why or why not?

What do you think of an author writing a biographical novel using only notes and references and filling in the gaps with intelligent supposition?