Random House Readers Circle
Right Curve
Sidebar topper

Posts Tagged ‘alice i have been’

A new book club gem: Melanie Benjamin’s Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

978-0-385-34415-9IN HER NATIONAL BESTSELLER ALICE I HAVE BEEN, Melanie Benjamin imagined the life of the woman who inspired Alice in Wonderland. Now, in this jubilant new novel, Benjamin shines a spotlight on another fascinating female figure whose story has never fully been told: a woman who became a nineteenth century icon and inspiration—and whose most daunting limitation became her greatest strength. Full of history and intriguing relationships, this book is perfect for book clubs, so here is a handy Reading Group Guide to help move along the discussion.

Also, be sure to check out Kathy Patrick’s Beauty and the Book chat with author Melanie Benjamin for more about the novel:

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin: Reading Group Guide Questions

1. What are the parallels between Vinnie’s celebrity and the definition of celebrity today?

2. Why did Vinnie determine to only communicate her optimism – what was she trying to hide behind, or hide from herself, by choosing not to dwell on the many obstacles in her way?

3. Why did Vinnie go along with Barnum’s humbug concerning the infant?

4. Which is the true love story of the book – the story of Vinnie and Barnum, Vinnie and Charles, Vinnie and Minnie, or Vinnie and the public?

5. Why do you think the notion of the Tom Thumb wedding so swept the nation that, even today, there are reenactments with children?

6. What was the most interesting historical fact in the book for you?  Which was the most startling?

7. Sylvia points out a photograph in the window of a store.  It’s of PT Barnum.  “Really?”  I was surprised and, I confess, a little disappointed; the man in the photograph looked so very…ordinary.  Curly hair parted on the side, a wide forehead, a somewhat bulbous nose, an unremarkable smile.  He resembled any man I might have passed in the street; he certainly did not resemble a world-famous impresario.  Colonel Wood, I had to admit, looked much more the part than did this man (p. 88). Vinnie is used to people making immediate assumptions about her based on her appearance.  What assumptions, though, does Vinnie make about people for the same reasons?  Are pre-conceived notions about people something that is ingrained in us?

8. What do you think it means to live one’s life in the public eye, as Vinnie and Charles did?  How would you react to being scrutinized by the press for your every action?  Compare how you may have felt in Vinnie’s day compared to today’s twenty-four hour news and gossip cycle.

9. For Vinnie, what do you think was the best part of being famous?  What was the worst?

10. Toward the end of her stage career, Vinnie asks herself, “had I ever been simply Lavinia Warren Stratton?  To anyone—even myself?” (p. 385) Do you think Vinnie chose this life for herself, or did she essentially hop on a ride and couldn’t get off?  Was the price she had to pay for her fame and fortune her own chosen identity?

Win a paperback copy of ALICE I HAVE BEEN

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Alice I Have Been TP

This giveaway is now closed; winners will be notified by e-mail. Thanks to all who entered!

“This is book club gold.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Part love story, part literary mystery, Melanie Benjamin’s spellbinding historical novel leads readers on an unforgettable journey down the rabbit hole, to tell the story of a woman whose own life became the stuff of legend. Her name is Alice Liddell Hargreaves, but to the world she’ll always be known simply as “Alice,” the girl who followed the White Rabbit into a wonderland of Mad Hatters, Queens of Hearts, and Cheshire Cats….

Melanie Benjamin on how she came to write her novel ALICE I HAVE BEEN

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

benjamin_melanieDear Reader,

Inspiration comes when you least expect it, as I found when I was in a bit of a writing slump a few years ago.

Dissatisfied with my career, unsure what to write next, I did what turned out to be the smartest thing I’ve ever done in my life; I hopped on a train and went to the Art Institute of Chicago.  Intending simply to breathe some fresh air and look at some wonderful paintings, instead I found my muse.

Or rather, I found someone else’s muse.  Lewis Carroll’s, to be exact.  For at the Art Institute that day, there happened to be a traveling exhibition titled “Dreaming in Pictures: The Photography of Lewis Carroll.”  I had no idea Lewis Carroll had ever taken a photograph in his life; I only knew him as the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

I walked into this tiny basement room, where I was instantly confronted by sepia-toned images of young girls.  Startled, I read a brochure informing me that Lewis Carroll was the pseudonym of a man named Charles Dodgson, who had taught mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford, and was one of the earliest enthusiasts of the art of photography long before he penned his classic book.

Alice I Have Been TPWell—curiouser and curiouser!  I continued my way around the room, gazing at all these photographs, until one image stopped me full in my tracks.  It, too, was a photograph of a young girl, but even among all the others, she stood out.  It was her face, her eyes; bold, worldly and, I couldn’t help but think, oddly womanly.  She looked so modern compared to the very Victorian attitude of the others.   The caption informed me that she was seven-year-old Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church.  She was also the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland.

I was stunned.  I had no idea there was ever a real little girl named Alice.  I wondered what happened to her, after she grew up.  I wondered what happened between the two of them—artist and muse—to result not only in Wonderland, but also this very startling photograph.  I thought there might be a story there.

I went home, and eventually, I decided to write it.

In the process, I learned so much.  I learned that the relationship between a man and a child could remain the subject of speculation and rumor 150 years after its mysterious demise.  I learned that Victorian clothing was almost as stifling as Victorian etiquette.  I learned that immortality as a child does not spare one tragedy as an adult.

I learned about a remarkable woman of great strength and character.

And I learned that inspiration can be anywhere, even in the basement room of an art museum.  We only have to keep ourselves open to every possibility, every topsy-turvy notion.

Just like a certain little girl in Wonderland.

Bertelsmann Media Worldwide