Alice I Have Been, by Melanie Benjamin


Two stars, read December 2011 to January 2012.

Overall, this was a pretty disappointing endeavor. I loved the first several discs, the part about Alice’s childhood at Oxford. She was a bright, interesting girl with a lovely curiosity and a kind heart. I really enjoyed the image of her early life and her family’s relationship with Charles Dodson. The first several chapters were completely fascinating.

Teenage Alice, on the other hand, the Alice that was “courting,” made me gag. Oh, she was irritating. She simpered and sighed and grew weak and trembly when she thought of her love (literally: once, he kissed her, and her knees actually buckled. He had to catch her and carry her to a chair). It was just gross—and her romantic relationships were almost the sole topic of that entire portion of the book.

Adult Alice was pretty typically Victorian, too, but there’s less opportunity for matrons to be gag-inducing, so the third section was better essentially by default. There was more depth in the content, too—more introspection as she grows old, and more narrative interest in the form of her sons going to war. If I would have stopped around disc eight (which I considered), I would have hated the whole thing. The end pulled things together enough that I don’t regret having read it, but it certainly wasn’t one of my favorites.

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