“see my blog post at http://evanstonpubliclibrary.wordpress.com/2010/03/03/marcia-marcia-marcia-and-alice-alice-alice/
What do you do when the whole world wants you to stay a child forever? When your juvenile self is more real and lovable to everyone you meet than the adult you?
Alice Liddell Hargreaves, the "real life" inspiration for Alice in Wonderland would have been a remarkable woman even had she never met a peculiar mathematics don named Charles Dodgson. As the daughter of the brilliant dean of Oxford’s Christ Church college and his socially ambitious wife, she studied art with John Ruskin, flirted with the sons of Queen Victoria, and was photographed memorably by Julia Margaret Cameron. Her long lifetime encompassed the cataclysmic shifts in English society brought on by the industrial revolution and World War I.
Yet despite her rich, emotionally varied life, Alice Liddell, the keen-eyed belle of Oxford, later Mrs Reginald Hargreaves, a country gentleman’s lady, could never escape the long shadow of her childhood relationship with Charles Dodgson. In Melanie Benjamin’s vivid re-imagining of her story, “Alice” and its author played an unwanted role in much of her later life, and may even have lost the real Alice her one true love.
“Oh my dear, I am tired of being Alice in Wonderland. Does it sound ungrateful? It is–only I do get tired!”, wrote the 80 year old Hargreaves to her son in 1932. She had just been feted in New York with an honorary doctorate of letters, and had sold the original manuscript of “Alice” for a record breaking sum. Yet her celebrity inevitably leads to disappointment, “the disappointment, brief and politely suppressed in all the faces…of looking for a bright little girl in a starched white pinafore and finding an old lady instead”. Alice, “immortalized in print not merely as a little girl but rather as the embodiment of Childhood itself” is forever, “confronted by people who ask, always so very eagerly to see ‘The real Alice”‘ and who cannot hide the shock, the disbelief that the real Alice has not been able to stop time.”
Stop time? No. Yet “Alice" achieved an unwitting immortality, a “looking glass” Dorian Gray immortality. And like that eternally beautiful, eternally worshipped youth, she was never able to completely sever an immutable image from her real life.
Lesley W wrote this review Tuesday, June 15, 2010.