Vanessa Tait, great-granddaughter of the Alice who inspired Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, tells the fascinating story of the childhood classic’s strange beginnings through the eyes of a naive and deceived governess.
What happened before Alice fell down the rabbit hole?
Oxford, 1862. As Mary Prickett takes up her post as governess to the daughters of the Dean of Christ Church, she is thrust into a strange new world. Mary is poor and plain and desperate for change but the little girls in her care see and understand far more than their naive new teacher. And there is another problem: Mary does not like children, especially the precocious Alice Liddell.
When Mary meets Charles Dodgson, the Christ Church mathematics tutor, at a party at the Deanery, she wonders if he may be the person to transform her life. Flattered by his attentions, Mary begins to believe that she could be more than just an overlooked, dowdy governess.
One sunny day, as Mary chaperones the Liddells on a punting trip, Mr Dodgson tells the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But Mary is determined to become Mr Dodgson’s muse and will turn all the lives around her topsy-turvy in pursuit of her obsession.
I really wanted to love this book. It was gifted to me by The Husband, who knows me too well. The cover of the book is gorgeous, and it is written by the great-granddaughter of The Alice (the girl that inspired the well known classic), based on true events. Sadly, I was disappointed.
We read about the friendship of Lewis Carroll and young Alice, told through the eyes of her governess Mary. I didn’t like Mary in the slightest. She doesn’t like children, gets jealous easily, is very ambitious and only seems to care about good manners. She never thinks out of the box or questions the uptight standards of the time.
And none of the other characters are likable either. The children, especially Alice, are annoying brats. Their mother only cares about what society thinks of her and her family. Even Mr Carroll, though nice enough to start with, uses people to his benefit and his way and love for children feels uncomfortable. Even though it is stated in the afterword that he wasn’t a pedophile and things were just different at the time, I cannot help but feel weird about it all.
I have to say that I did really like the writing style. It reads easy, but is subtle and not straightforward. I also really enjoyed the ‘hidden’ links throughout the book referencing to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And of course I appreciate it being based on true events, and have to be a bit forgiving for not always liking those events and the people involved in them.
Overall this was a quick and easy read, and one I am glad to have picked up to learn something more (though a fictionalized version) of the well loved classic. I would recommend it to Alice fans, but otherwise give this one a pass.