Sunday, July 25, 2010

Still She Haunts Me by Katie Roiphe

After reading Melanie Benjamin's novel "Alice I Have Been" my curiosity about Lewis Carroll and the mysteries and complexities of his relationship with his child-muse, Alice Liddell, was even more aroused, so I decided to read this earlier novel upon the same subject.

Charles Dodgson (the real name of Lewis Carroll) was a shy stuttering twenty-four-year-old mathematics don at Oxford when he met and fell under the spell of four-year-old Alice Liddell, a dark-haired tomboy, and asked to photograph her. Mr. Dodgson had a passion for taking photographs of little girls, some unclothed and in vaguely erotic poses that disturb even our jaded modern eyes.

To amuse and please Alice, he created the fantastical, nonsensical stories that would eventually become his immortal works of children's literature "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through The Looking Glass."

But when Alice was eleven their friendship was suddenly terminated by Alice's parents and the reason to this day remains unknown. This novel attempts to provide it and explain the peculiar and disturbing relationship between the artist and his muse.

Overall, this is a fascinating psychological drama about obsession, jealousy, and desire, and the emotional turmoil they all cause. The author wonderfully conveys, through her depiction of Lewis Carroll, the pain of trying to hold onto something you can't keep and the sense of relief that comes when it's over and you have let go, either because your grip is forcibly broken, slips, or you just let go. It is the tragic story of a troubled man trying to hold onto his muse, even after he cannot accept that she has grown up, by immortalizing her and making her larger than life in his books as an eternal child, trapping her in a persona and binding her to a fame she can never escape. I also found her portrayal of Alice intriguing, the little girl is aware in her own way of the unique power she has over her admirer and sometimes wields it cruelly, thus increasing his torment and confusion.

Those who may be interested in reading this book but are concerned about the depictions of pedophilia, can, in my opinion, safely read this novel, although in its pages Lewis Carroll grapples with his desire for Alice, this is not a sexually explicit book, his agony plays out in his head and heart rather than in physical acts. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to those who enjoyed the recent novel by Melanie Benjamin, "Alice I Have Been," as this novel gives a different view of the story.


Joanna said...


I am obsessed with everything about Anne Boleyn and The Tudors and I bought your book this summer when I was in England. I loved it, I read it in one day. I started reading about mid-day and stopped only at the last page, in the middle of the night, locked inside a hotel-bathroom (so not to disturb the others in my room). Of course, as the ending wasn't pleasant for poor Jane I went to bed feeling all miserable:p
I just wanted to tell you that I loved the book! It was written so that I could understand and feel compassion for jane, while at the same time, being annoyed with her. Was it very difficult to write? She was a dark character in many ways.

Once again: loved it!
Love from a fan in sweden

Brandy Purdy said...

Thank you very much Joanna for taking the time to write and tell me how much you enjoyed the book, I am so glad you did. It was indeed a challenge to write from the viewpoint of someone who hated Anne Boleyn, when in fact she is one of the historical women I admire most, as is her daughter Elizabeth I. In fact, I often get accused of hating the Boleyns though nothing could be further from the truth. But I enjoyed the challenge of writing such a dark character, a woman who is unstable to start with and descends further into madness as the book progresses and grapples with guilt and grief along the way.

librarypat said...

We often forget that authors are real people and have their own lives. Those lives may be reflected in some way in their works. However, in many cases, who the author is may be much different from what we think.