Other sorts of relationships Katie Roiphe likes to imagine as ‘complex’ and ‘romantic’

In addition to all of this, readers of a certain Slate article (which we aren’t linking to) may want to bear in mind that Katie Roiphe is the author of a novel re-imagining the relationship between Charles Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll) and Alice Liddell, the child he met when she was four years old, eventually became obsessed with, and was ultimately banned (by Alice’s mother) from seeing again. Her novel has been described as “building in liltingly literary prose what comes close to a case for pedophilia”, emphasizing Alice’s awareness of, enjoyment of, and manipulation of her power over Dodgson. Here is an excerpt from (a generally positive) review:

But the strongest character in the book is, fittingly, Alice herself: the object of Dodgson’s desires (whatever their form) and, by extension, ours. And again, Roiphe’s work with Alice is distinguished by the complexity of her character development. Alice is no mere victim of Dodgson’s illicit desires; she is, even when she first appears in the novel as a four year old, fully cognizant of both the way people see her and the way she can manipulate her own image for their benefit (or shock). Feeling the men watch her in that first scene, Roiphe writes that Alice “stuck out her stomach” and “turned to stare in a way he [Dodgson] had never seen a child stare.”

Far from offering a simple victim / violator relationship, Roiphe draws out a decidedly more complicated one in which the expected roles are reversed: Dodgson silent and flummoxed, Alice cool and teasingly manipulative. Even when they are alone and Dodgson is most comfortable, the power structures in the relationship are pointedly even, if not actually tipped Alice’s way. Here, for example, is a superb scene in which Alice sits in Dodgson’s lap and listens to a story he’s making up for her benefit:

“Alice felt his legs underneath her, more fragile and birdlike than her father’s. She played with his collar as he spoke. She knew he was telling the story just for her, that he was making each moment up to please her. Oysters wearing shoes. Her mother served oysters at a party. He anticipated her desires even before she knew what they were, and she felt her presence in the story itself, her imprint on its invisible, muscular form. I weep for you, the walrus said: I deeply sympathize. With sobs and tears he sorted out those of the largest size. What does Alice want? She could feel Dodgson thinking as he spoke, underneath, and that question, that anticipation was it: her participation. The ideas thrown up from the depths just for her. This was something she understood right from the beginning, the collaboration of the story. These stories were not just for her, they were from her.”

So. . .yeah. There’s that.