I know it’s been a while, but I haven’t been reading a great deal. Or, I haven’t found a great deal that I want to read (and if one person suggests that I read Fifty Shades of Grey, I will scream). I wander through the bookstores and pick up books and put them back. There is very little that I am willing to pay for. Which could be the universe shouting at me that maybe I should be writing and putting good writing out there.
But I often scan the bargain sections looking for some hidden gem. And the last time I walked through, I picked up Alice I Have Been, by Melanie Benjamin. Alice is a fictionalized account of Alice Liddell, the little girl who inspired Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But this isn’t about the fictional seven-year-old Alice with long blonde hair, but the wild child of Dean Liddell and his wife, with short dark hair and a mischievous nature.
The book opens when Alice is eighty and she writes to her youngest son that she gets so tired of being Alice and for the rest of the book, that stuck with me. Alice was once seven and had to grow up; she experienced sibling rivalry, parent-child frustrations, fights with friends, crushes and first loves, jealousy and eventually, marriage and motherhood. The Wonderland Alice is forever seven, forever attending tea parties with the Mad Hatter and March Hare. But the real Alice had to grow up.
The book flashes back to Alice’s childhood at seven, eleven and later. At seven is when Rev. Charles Dodgson first told Alice and her sister’s the stories about Alice’s Adventures Underground and Alice begged him to write it down for her. He wouldn’t write it down for many years and then it would take on a life of its own and in part, take over the real-life Alice’s life as well.
At eleven, something happened that caused the Liddells and Rev. Dodgson to not associate anymore and it is alluded to for most of the book, but not revealed until the end and those events haunt Alice too, throughout her childhood, her interactions with her mother and older sister, even coloring her first love with Prince Leopold, who would go on to name his first daughter Alice.
But what struck me about the entire book is the sense of tragic and drama and yes, I mean tragic. Later in life, Alice Liddell traveled to America with her youngest son and she met Peter Llewelyn-Davies, the boy who would become Peter Pan and unfortunately, committed suicide later in life. But both Peter and Alice had to live with their forever young counterparts, with everyone always asking about their fictional counterparts.
That was the tragic part; that these real people inspired fictional characters and then were not able to separate from the fictional version. As a writer, I don’t often use real people as models for my characters, at least not for main characters. I pull characteristics from myself to create most of my main characters, but not so much that it is always recognizably me. I don’t want to be tied to a forever young version of myself, I want to be able to grow and change.
But I will own up to borrowing characteristics from the people around me, but again, hopefully not too much of any one person that they are irrevocably connected to the fictional version of themselves. That would be unfair. Fiction should be allowed to be fiction and reality should be separate from that; one should be an escape from the other, not a chain.