One of the strangest most haunting and disturbing love stories I have ever encountered is that of Lewis Carroll (the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodsgon) and his child muse Alice Liddell whom he immortalized and kept forever young as "Alice In Wonderland."
When Alice was eleven years old something happened--precisely what we do not know, the pages that might have told us have been cut from Dodgson's diary--that abruptly ended their special friendship. Dodgson would spend the rest of his life befriending and taking some rather disturbing photographs of other little girls as if he were searching for another Alice. The story he told her one lovely afternoon, which she begged him to write down just for her, he eventually published as "Alice In Wonderland," and later followed with a sequel "Through The Looking Glass" as this was the only means by which he could maintain a tenuous bond with Alice, though he never seemed to be able to accept that the child he had loved had become a woman, wife, and mother. Still, he sent her an inscribed copy of each and every edition of the book, including foreign languages ones.
Historians still debate whether the shy, stuttering Oxford mathematics don was teetering, albeit chastely, on the brink of pedophilia, but in the pages of Ms. Benjamin's haunting and evocative novel, he appears to be just that, spellbound and enraptured by his dreamchild as he helps her shed the multi-layered garments of a typical Victorian child and don a gypsy girl's beggarly rags over her nakedness then watches as she romps and rolls on the grass before he takes that unsettling photograph of the dark-haired sprite with the knowing eyes.
"Alice I Have Been" gives that unwitting muse a voice, a voice that grows increasingly weary and frustrated as she ages with being identified as "Alice In Wonderland," and tries to escape it. She never even reads the book, refusing even when her own son climbs onto her lap and asks her to read it to him. She is always aware of Lewis Carroll's sad and haunting stare following her from afar as she falls in love with a Prince, Leopold, the youngest son of Queen Victoria, endures heartbreak as her beloved sister dies and her romance crumbles, in part due to the scandal and whispers surrounding the mysterious unexplained rift and estrangement from Carroll, and eventually marries a country gentleman, Reginald Hargreaves, and bears him three sons. While Carroll himself grows older and greyer alone in musty rooms, saddened because "all my child friends grow up and leave me!" and still dreaming of Wonderland where Alice will never really grow up and he can still have her.
"Alice I Have Been" is a well-written historical novel that gives readers a window into the private world of a woman who never meant to be anyone's muse and never wanted fame and often found its effects detrimental to her personal happiness. It is also a fascinating tale for anyone who likes to know the stories and inspirations behind the books we read and remember.