Wilful Myth-Blindness 1: “Alice I Never Was”
We’re going to be doing an occasional (probably very occasional) series called “Wilful Myth-Blindness”, where we look at examples of writing that determinedly re-states the old Carroll Myths, or indeed any other tired old Myths, as if the evidence to the contrary just wasn’t there.
To kick this off, here’s Melanie Benjamin’s 2010 historical novel Alice I Have Been, a fictional account of Alice Liddell’s life, and most importantly, her relationship with Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that – as fiction – this is a very good book. I’m sure it’s engaging and enjoyable and a credit to its author’s talent. We aren’t debating any of that. For us the question really is – why is a book about the ‘shy Oxford Don’ and his ‘dangerous’ love for his ‘child-muse’ Alice Liddell being written at all ten years after a lot of evidence was unearthed that showed most of this was baloney?
Here’s Ms B on that famous ‘missing page’ in Dodgson’s diary that was long supposed to have covered some indiscretion between him and the child Alice…:
“For 150 years, historians have been trying to figure out what happened. Alice and her family never ever spoke of this. There were rumors around Oxford, but what I take away from this, 150 years later: we still so very much want to know what happened.”
Come on, Melanie, there’s information all over the web (see here and here for a start) about ‘what happened’, and how we can now, given recent discoveries, be fairly certain it had nothing to do with Alice Liddell, or any pedo indiscretion. Yet that is exactly the tired, old, discredited and discreditable scenario you tout in your book. So, what’s that all about? Ok, you’re writing fiction, but it ‘s fiction based on real people’s real lives, doesn’t that give you some kind of responsibility to be as accurate as you can? To not obliquely libel the dead and defenseless ? To basically make sure you do your research and get your facts straight? And if you don’t want to go to that trouble, then invent your own characters, because then you can make them do anything you want and no one will have a problem.
Though, having said that, personally I’m not sure I’d ever be comfortable with a book about seven year old girls getting illicit “shivers” when old men smell their hair, because I would be unsure of the message I was sending.
Anyhow, Melanie, congrats you’re the winner of the very first Contrariwise La-La I’m Not Listening Wilful Myth-Blindness Award.
But I have a feeling you won’t be the last. 😉