…of fact and fancy and fairness…

Jul 2, 2012 | 2 comments

I’ve always enjoyed historical fiction.  It seems to satisfy that itch for learning about people and places of a time-gone-by, yet keeps me engaged in a story rather than just delivering text-book facts.

Occasionally, I consider (oh-so-briefly!) writing in that genre, myself.  After all, there are lots of Oysterville topics that would lend themselves to a fictionalized treatment – “Kidnapping the County Seat” or “The Ghost of Mrs. Crouch” or “Fort Oysterville: Built by Indians.”  But, so far the reading public has been spared, not only because I’m uncertain of my capabilities along those lines, but also because of an indistinct feeling that there is a huge responsibility that goes along with such writing.

Take Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin, for instance. It is a fictionalized account of the relationship between Alice Liddell (the Alice of Alice in Wonderland) and Charles Dodgson (forever immortalized by his pseudonym, Lewis Carroll.)  Told from the point of view of Alice at age eighty-two, it explores the ramifications that Dodgson’s book(s) had on Alice and her intimates throughout the nineteenth century.

There has long been speculation, of course, that the relationship between Dodgson and little girls, in general (but especially Alice), was an unnatural one.  That there was a break in their friendship when Alice was eleven has been more-or-less documented, but throughout their lifetimes both Dodgson and Alice remained silent on why that occurred and, compounding the mystery, the pages of Dodgson’s diaries dealing with the period are missing.

We listened to the CD of Alice I Have Been on our journey back from California.  It left me feeling vaguely uncomfortable.  Although the treatment of both Alice and Dodgson was sympathetic, I could not shake away the author’s portrayal of Dodgson as a rather socially inept human being whose books were more a happy accident than anything else.

How unfair this portrayal is to Lewis Carroll, the author who has given so much joy to so many generations of children (and adults!)  And, I was left with an unpleasant feeling about author Melanie Benjamin, as well.  “How presumptuous of her to give serious character flaws and questionable motivations to these icons of my childhood!” thought I.

If nothing else, Benjamin’s book has caused me to table any notions of writing historical fiction.   For the time being, I’ll stick to what can be documented…  It seems only fair.


  1. Stephanie Frieze

    Thank you for the recommend, Sydney. I, too, love historical fiction for the same reasons as you. Dare I say that I will look for this book when I take my boxes to Half Price. Kind of defeats the purpose, but there will still be more room on my shelves.

    Sydney, you tell your stories so well that I see no reason for you to not be MORE than capable of creating historical fiction! Keep it in the back of your mind while you forge ahead with your current projects. You certainly know enough about the various periods or how to research details to make these stories come alive. Maybe I can quit working and become your assistant!!

    • sydney

      You’re sweet!
      But as they say… don’t give up your day job!


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