Picks and Pans Review: Still She Haunts Me
A demented haberdasher, a cat with invisibility issues, a queen who lusts for capital punishment. Ever wonder what sort of deliciously renegade mind invented the Alice's Adventures in Wonderland characters? Meet Charles L. Dodgson (pen name: Lewis Carroll), a stuttering bachelor and amateur photographer who was teaching at Oxford when he met an enchanting girl named Alice Liddell.
In an accomplished first novel informed by unpublished manuscripts, letters and Dodgson's diary, Roiphe imagines a love story of sorts. In Victorian England, Dodgson avoided women his own age to spend time with Alice, the daughter of his college dean. For four years he took her photograph, he wrote her letters, he told her stories—until the day Mrs. Liddell wrote to say that his visits were no longer welcome. The reasons why have been deleted from the historical record.
Roiphe's impressionistic style is packed with period and biographical detail. Her Dodgson, a shy insomniac, could be the spokesman for Victorian repression. Yet she paints a delicately convincing portrait of a chaste courtship that culminates, in Roiphe's rendering, in a near fatal opium overdose. (Dial, $23.95)
Bottom Line: Class, inside the looking glass