New promotional videos on Louisa May Alcott biography added to this site

Click on the Audio/Visual tab and scroll down to the VISUAL section where I’ve just posted a promotional video featuring Susan Cheever discussing her book, Louisa May Alcott A Personal Biography. She does a nice job of explaining the motivation behind the book and her feelings about Louisa being such a modern woman who can speak to women today so effectively through her writing.

I also added a cute promotional video for Kelly O’Connor McNees’ The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott.

Getting back to Moods tonight at the gym and I’ll write more tomorrow!

A brief lesson (for me) in editing

I admit it’s a bit confusing reading both versions of Moods at the same time but it’s sure been an eye-opener with regards to editing. As I sheepishly admitted in a reply to a comment from a recent post, I thought once a book was published that it was set in stone. Reading  Little Women certainly changed that notion, recalling all the changes made in later versions as cited in the Norton Critical edition.

Louisa cashed in on her clout as a world famous author to revise Moods in 1882 by restoring several chapters and changing the ending. I’m wondering if readers felt the way Star War purists feel about the first 3 movies being updated with new special effects (I know my son wishes fervently that George Lucas would just leave it alone!).

It didn’t take long to see the differences. As mentioned before, the 1882 version begins the book with the original chapter two (and changes the title from “Whims” to “Sylvia,” effectively introducing the main character), and eliminates the subplot involving Warwick with a Cuban lover, Ottila. When Louisa originally shortened the book, she cut out chapters introducing Geoffrey Moor and Adam Warwick, and a chapter that provided a more  in-depth look at Sylvia. Chapter 5, “Afloat”, includes an extra scene with Sylvia entertaining her brother, Moor and Warwick with her dramatic playacting skills. The 1864 version doesn’t include these chapters but incorporates them pretty nicely and logically into the “Afloat” chapter, with Sylvia asking her brother, Mark (Max in the later version – I’ll be interested to see if there is something about that name change in Louisa’s journal entries as I am curious why she changed it) about each man during the camping trip.

Editing a large manuscript must have been such a daunting task, especially the first time when Louisa had to lay her first-born on the table and “chop it up” as described in a previous post. I only wish we had access to the original manuscript and could read the book as she had intended it originally.

Perhaps Louisa loved Moods too well, preventing her from having that all-important objective eye. Her original publisher felt she needed to eliminate much of the conversation and move the story along faster.

At any rate, it’s an interesting study for a new student like myself.

How “Moods” is helping me to get to know Louisa May Alcott, and myself, better

Progressing through Moods, I can see that even though I love it, it may not be a book to suit everyone’s tastes. Of all the current biographies (meaning in the last 30 years) that I’ve read or are reading on Louisa (Louisa May Alcott: A Modern Biography by Martha Saxton, Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen and Louisa May Alcott A Personal Biography by Susan Cheever), only Saxton seems to have really liked Moods on its own merits. I was going to read and comment on her chapter on Moods but decided to wait until I’ve read the book because I don’t want to read all the spoilers. But I will comment on her take once I’m done.

At any rate, I know my interest in Moods may be rather unique. If you’ll pardon the expression, it’s personal. What I’m discovering is how much Louisa and I could have shared in common regarding our interests and temperaments, and I believe that is what drew me to her in the first place. Saxton’s biography, heavy-handed as it is, pointed that out to me. I never did suffer from the extremes of moods that Louisa suffered from (and lately my emotional landscape has evened out nicely) but I can very much relate to her turbulence, anger and depression: how such things can make life miserable and yet feed creativity.

Having just finished chapters 3 and 4 of Moods (the earlier incarnation), Sylvia-as-Louisa is showing me some of the interests I could have shared with Louisa. Chapters 3 and 4 laid out the story of a 3-day camping trip including Sylvia, her brother Mark (or Max), Warwick and Moor. I imagine most people might have been bored with Louisa’s seemingly endless descriptions of what it was like out in the boat, how serene it was, what the world looked like from the water, etc., etc. As an avid kayaker and naturalist, I reveled in the descriptions (especially since we’ve been buried in snow and cold here in the Northeast!). I was transported into our tandem kayak on a beautiful and hot day, lazily drifting down river, drinking in the scents and sounds, spying on people’s houses and dreaming of a summer place of our own, and mostly, loving the silence and the peace. The descriptions were so authentic that I knew she must have spent time rowing and perhaps enjoyed it as much as I do. After several minutes adrift on the water, Louisa writes:

“Slowly they drifted onto the current, slowly Warwick cleft the water with reluctant stroke, and slowly Sylvia’s mind woke from its trance of dreamy delight, as with a gesture of asset she said, ‘Yes,  I am reading now. That was a happy little moment, and I am glad to have lived it, for such times return to refresh me when a many a more stirring one is quite forgotten.”

Exactly how I feel. It’s like when you’ve just finished a delicious meal and then eat it all over again in your mind, just to relish the feeling.

Immediately after, Sylvia sees a fire off in the distance and wants to explore it, oblivious to the possibility that it might be dangerous (and of course it turns out to be!):

“A moment after she added, eagerly, as a new object of interest appeared: ‘Mr. Warwick, I see smoke. I know there is a wood on fire; I want to see it; please land again . . . I love fire, and that must be a grand one, if we could only see it well.’ “

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done that; you might call me a fire chaser! I could do that with tornadoes too (yes, I’ve seen the movie Twister a million times and love it every time). The point is, I really connected with Sylvia’s desire to chase that fire.

Finally, there was the moment shared between Warwick and Sylvia which I’m figuring must have happened between Louisa and Henry David Thoreau. Louisa describes a scene where Warwick is feeding wild birds bread crumbs out of his hand, and my ‘love’ for Warwick grows as does Sylvia’s:

“The appearance of a thirsty sparrow gave her thoughts a pleasant turn, for, sitting motionless, she watched the little creature trip down at the pool, drink and bathe, then flying to a willow spray, dress its features, dry its wings, and sit chirping softly as if it sang its evening hymn. Warwick saw her interest, and searching, in his pocket, found the relics of a biscuit, strewed a few bits upon the ground before him, and began a low, sweet whistle, which rose gradually to a varied strain, alluring, spirited, and clear as any bird voice of the wood. Little sparrow ceased his twitter, listened with outstretched neck and eager eye, hopping restlessly from twig to twig, until he hung just over the musician’s head, agitated with a small flutter of surprise, delight, and doubt. Gathering a crumb or two into his hand, Warwick held it toward the bird, while softer, sweeter, and more urgent rose the invitation, and nearer and nearer drew the winged guest, fascinated by the spell . . . His last fear conquered, and he flew confidently to Warwick’s palm, pecking the crumbs with grateful chirps and friendly glances from its quick, bright eye. It was a pretty picture for the girl to see; the man, an image of power, in his hand the featured atom that, with unerring instinct, divined and trusted the superior nature which had not yet lost its passport to the world of innocent delights that Nature gives to those who love her best.”

All my life I have been a passionate (albeit it amateur) bird watcher and I’ve had the privilege of having wild birds feed out of my hand. It happened at a bird sanctuary in the Hamptons on Long Island, known for the birds being so tame that they will literally feed out of your hand. Louisa, being so keen an observer, must have witnessed that wonder for herself and I believe I know just how she must have felt.

These various experiences, of course, advance the love story and Warwick and Sylvia grow closer, walking hand in hand through the woods and back to the camp. I very much enjoy how they try to read each other and then describe each other to their colleagues. People watching is also something I’m passionate about and I’ve been told I’m pretty good at it.

I apologize since this post has really been all about me and not much about Moods! Pretty self-indulgent. :-) I’m just really surprised at how much I’ve learned about why I am passionate about Louisa May Alcott from reading this lesser known work of hers. I’ve often pondered why I have this obsession – Moods is helping to shed some light on that.

That being said, I can hardly offer an unbiased, intelligent review of this book. I can only offer how it speaks to me. Hopefully it will speak to you too.

The eBook experience

Okay, I admit it! I was one of those purists who said I’d NEVER convert to eBook reading because I loved the tactile experience of holding a real book and turning the pages. And I still do. BUT . . . I am loving the eBook experience since I got my iTouch. Here’s why:

1. Much easier on the eyes – the backlit screen is really easy for my very far-sighted eyes to see.

2. I can read anywhere I want now without carrying a big, bulky book – even at night while my husband watches TV, and I don’t have to worry about lighting. :-) And it’s great for short or long trips.

3. It’s much easier to read at the gym – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve nearly fallen off elliptical (and the treadmill too) trying to turn the pages to Gone With The Wind, let alone just keeping the book open. Worth it though (and almost done! ) :-)

3. I can keep my favorite books with me at all times – especially books I want to reference while writing this blog! And you can highlight passages and take notes – heaven!

4. I now have access to TONS of old, rare, forgotten FREE  books thanks to Google eBooks – LOTS of stuff by LMA fall into that category. :-)

Reading eBooks on the iTouch is awesome because you can download free Kindle, Nook and Google eBooks apps. I don’t feel a need to have any of the actual devices because the type is large enough on my iTouch to make it a satisfying experience.

And as fate would have it, I am now working on converting a book I self-published on the Rosary into ePUB format so I can sell it online. Super easy way to make a little extra money. I have to say if I weren’t used to reading eBooks, I would have really fought against the dumbing down of the graphics/design portion that I worked so hard on with the print edition. But it’s worth it if it’ll make the book more available to people. And I can see why it’s necessary.

So, I guess I’ve crossed over to the dark side. :-) Have you done it too? What do you think?

 

Getting to know the principal characters in “Moods”

The 1882 version of Moods includes 3 interesting chapters which develop the principal characters of the novel and their interaction with each other.

Geoffrey Moor

Chapter 2 gives us a glimpse into Geoffrey Moor, based upon the loyal, lifelong friend of Bronson Alcott, and the Good Samaritan who quietly and discreetly helped the Alcott family on countless occasions when the family was destitute. Emerson was kind in other ways to the family, encouraging the child Louisa’s love of reading by loaning her books from his library and often discussing them with her. Louisa jokingly commented that she used to borrow his books the way she borrowed his kittens. As she grew older, he supported her writing as well. Emerson always seemed to be there at the most important moments, kissing the bride, Anna, on her wedding day, or breaking the news gently to Louisa about the passing of her sister, May.

Louisa imagined herself as Bettina to Emerson’s Goethe, writing love letters in the night and leaving them at his door. Subsequently there is a reference to Bettina and Goethe in the chapter as Sylvia shares with Moor her admiration of Goethe, wishing she was Bettina:  “I always envied Bettina and longed to be in her place. People now adays are so unheroic and disappointing, even the famous ones.”

My impression of Sylvia’s attraction to Moor is that he was a port in the middle of her storm, the turmoil that was her constant shifting of moods. Moor had a inner tranquility about him, a maturity born of  patient suffering (taking care of his sister for 5 years until she finally passed away). He had 30 years of life experience heightened by virtuous sacrifice  which mellowed him and made him wise and kind. She, on the other hand, saw herself as as constantly pulled back and forth by her emotions, causing her to be impulsive. Moor seemed attracted by Sylvia’s sheer life force, leading him out of his sadness. There’s a good basis for their attraction to each other.

Sylvia Yule

In chapter 3, Louisa, in typical fashion, takes a “time out” from the book in a rather amusing fashion (naming the chapter “Dull, but Necessary”) to enlighten the reader with vital information about Sylvia and her life. I had seen this tact used several times in Little Women and thought it odd, but the chapter was hardly dull and definitely necessary! Knowing about her parents’ unhappy marriage, the death of her mother upon her birth, and her lifelong craving for love set the stage for Sylvia’s other potential love interest, Adam Warwick.

Adam Warwick

Chapter 4 introduces us to Adam, fashioned after the other great love interest in Louisa’s life, Henry David Thoreau. I admit that I don’t know a lot about Thoreau apart from his friendship with the Alcotts, and often it is his softer side: his interest in nature, his way of delighting the child Louisa with fantasy-laced stories of the natural world that I’ve seen. Thoreau, however, was also known as an iconoclast demonstrated in his most well-known essay of an individual’s protest against the government, “Civil Disobedience.” He was known to have spent a night in jail for not paying his poll tax. Louisa obviously admired Thoreau’s strength of character, intellect and adherence to his principles as she describes Adam as the “manliest man” she has ever met, not only in demeanor but in stature, standing a head taller than Moor. The story plays out with Adam saving Sylvia from nearly drowning after being caught unexpectedly in the high tide and leads to a meeting of the minds as both enjoy watching people and discerning their characters. Here is a very different love interest, setting the stage for the conflict to come.

As a side point, I’ve read in at least three biographies that Louisa’s near attempt at suicide is used in two works: her other major adult novel, Work A Story of Experience, and a short story, ” Love and Self-Love.” I’m curious as to why Moods is not also cited since there is definitely a contemplation of suicide by Sylvia in this chapter (though I am not certain as to how serious it really was). It is not driven so much by despair as it is grief over never knowing her mother, and a fierce longing, a fantasy-type desire to join her mother in the afterlife. It makes me wonder if Louisa’s thoughts at the Mill Dam to throw herself into the water in despair figured into this episode for Sylvia.

A Personal Connection

I am very much enjoying Moods so far. When I was younger, I was subject to the kind of interior distress Sylvia describes with her turbulent moods, and I felt guilt over that distress as I think she might have too. I also have a deep temper like Louisa that would often turn inward, causing depression. Aging has its advantages, one of them being a mellowing out of the peaks and valleys, and I no longer experience that kind of distress (my devotion to my Catholic faith helps a great deal too). But when I first learned of Moods through a reading of Martha Saxton’s biography, Louisa May Alcott A Modern Biography back in my 20s, I felt an emotional connection to Louisa, seeing a kindred spirit. As a child I had shared Louisa’s love of acting and producing plays, and in writing, but once I learned of her very adult emotional turmoil, I made a much deeper connection. Why I didn’t read Moods after finishing Saxton’s biography is beyond me, but reading it now brings back powerful memories of a time when I was a slave to my emotions. My connection to Moods is quickly becoming very personal. And knowing how personal Moods was to Louisa makes the reading of it even more powerful.

“Moods” so far

Moods was Louisa May Alcott’s first serious novel and her”baby,” most likely the book that Jo referred to in Chapter 27 of Little Women, “Literary Lessons.”

Louisa describes Jo’s writing process which likely mirrors her own. “Falling into a vortex,” as she calls it, it’s like Louisa/Jo steps into another dimension, oblivious to the outside world:

“Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and ‘fall into a vortex’, as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace.”

This other dimension had its share of rituals for Jo, and I wonder if they didn’t hold true for Louisa as well:

“Her ‘scribbling suit’ consisted of a black woolen pinafore on which she could wipe her pen at will, and a cap of the same material, adorned with a cheerful red bow, into which she bundled her hair when the decks were cleared for action. This cap was a beacon to the inquiring eyes of her family, who during these periods kept their distance, merely popping in their heads semi-occasionally to ask, with interest, “Does genius burn, Jo?”

If we are to assume that the descriptions of Jo as writer are accurately paralleling Louisa’s actions, then I must say that, always an actress at heart, Louisa had a flair for the dramatic as demonstrated by her need to visually show how she was doing:

“They did not always venture even to ask this question, but took an observation of the cap, and judged accordingly. If this expressive article of dress was drawn low upon the forehead, it was a sign that hard work was going on, in exciting moments it was pushed rakishly askew, and when despair seized the author it was plucked wholly off, and cast upon the floor. At such times the intruder silently withdrew, and not until the red bow was seen gaily erect upon the gifted brow, did anyone dare address Jo.”

Eminently practical, Louisa/Jo found it necessary to “chop up” her “baby” if it was ever to see the light of day as a published book”

“Having copied her novel for the fourth time, read it to all her confidential friends, and submitted it with fear and trembling to three publishers, she at last disposed of it, on condition that she would cut it down one third, and omit all the parts which she particularly admired . . . So, with Spartan firmness, the young authoress laid her first-born on her table, and chopped it up as ruthlessly as any ogre. In the hope of pleasing everyone, she took everyone’s advice, and like the old man and his donkey in the fable suited nobody.”

And therein lies the origins of Moods, albeit probably romanticized in Little Women as many things were. There was no doubt, however, that she had to do violence to her first novel, cutting out nearly half of it. Published originally in 1864, Louisa revisited the novel again in 1882 and restored some of the lost chapters, and changed the ending. She felt the book had been misunderstood and took advantage of her fame to “give my first novel, with all its imperfections on its head, a place among its more successful sisters: for into it went the love, labor, and enthusiasm that no later book can possess.” (from the preface of the 1882 version of Moods).

She goes on to say, “When Moods was first published, . . . it was so altered, to suite the taste and convenience of the publisher, that the original purpose of the story was lost sight of, and marriage appeared to be the theme instead of an attempt to show the mistakes of a moody nature, guided by impulse, not principle.”

After Moods was first published, Louisa addressed a letter from a Mr. Ayer who apparently “so entirely misunderstood Moods that I am anxious to set you right as far as I can in a hasty letter” (pg. 109 The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott, edited by Joel Myerson, Daniel Shealey and Madeleine Stern). (I had the privilege, by the way, of seeing this letter when I visited the Special Collections Room of the Concord Free Public Library; it was one of the ones I hand copied in part – here are my two posts on that visit: part one and part two). She goes on to explain again how the state of marriage was not her point (and she makes quite an eloquent case for the importance and sanctity of marriage, despite the fact that  her parents had such a difficult relationship), but rather “to show the effect of a moody person’s moods upon their life . . .” (pg. 110 The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott). I intend to revisit this letter in another post.

So what’s the point here? I felt it necessary to go over a very brief history of Moods because I am reading both versions. I was lucky enough to find a free copy in Google Books of the 1864 version, and Barnes and Nobles’ Nook has the 1882 version (yes, I have crossed over into eBooks since acquiring the iTouch, but that’s yet another whole post. :-)) I intend to compare, contrast both versions, and express my final preference.

Here is a brief summary of the plot of Moods, showing the differences between the two versions, as described on the website, Fantastic Fiction:

“Like her later works for children, Alcott’s first novel is well and imaginatively written, highly moralistic, unlikely, and moving.” –The Antioch Review Moods, Louisa May Alcott’s first novel, was published in 1864, four years before the best-selling Little Women. The novel unconventionally presents a “little woman,” a true-hearted abolitionist spinster, and a fallen Cuban beauty, their lives intersecting in Alcott’s first major depiction of the “woman problem.” Sylvia Yule, the heroine of Moods, is a passionate tomboy who yearns for adventure. The novel opens as she embarks on a river camping trip with her brother and his two friends, both of whom fall in love with her. These rival suitors, close friends, are modeled on Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Aroused, but still “moody” and inexperienced, Sylvia marries the wrong man. In the rest of the novel, Alcott attempts to resolve the dilemma she has created and leaves her readers asking whether, in fact, there is a place for a woman such as Sylvia in a man’s world. In 1882, eighteen years after the original publication, Alcott revised and republished the novel. Her own literary success and the changes she helped forge in women’s lives now allowed her heroine to meet, as Alcott said, “a wiser if less romantic fate than in the former edition.”

I have since read 2 chapters of each version and found interesting differences already. The 1864 version opens with a subplot that was dropped from the 1882 version in which Adam Warwick is “taking a break” (to use a modern phrase) from a Cuban lover who he feels has deceived him. The second chapter (which is the first in the 1882 version) then goes on to describe Sylvia. Already in this chapter, I see slight changes, such as her brother Mark being referred to as Max in the new version. She also changes the way Geoffrey Moor first perceives Sylvia as she is out gardening – the original version makes it out like Sylvia is a lad, but the 1882 version states that he sees a “girl.”

Right away I felt like Louisa was trying to soften Sylvia by calling her a girl rather than a lad. I rather liked the idea that Moor mistook her for a young boy as she worked in the garden. To me it added to her charm.

Now in the next chapter of the first version, called “Afloat,” I am reading a most delightful description of Sylvia’s time in the boat with Moor, Warwick and her brother. Being a kayaker myself, I found Louisa’s descriptions of floating in the boat to be so much like my own. I loved Louisa’s descriptions of the other boaters, the houses and people on the shoreline, and Sylvia’s own happiness. I felt like I was Sylvia because I have felt all those things too. Louisa must have loved the water very much, as I do.

It’s confusing flipping back and forth between the two books and I see that in the second version, Louisa devotes chapters to Moor and Warwick, so I will have to go back and read those before I post next time.

So far I am preferring the 1864 version but I imagine that could soon change.

I know some of you have read Moods already, what are your thoughts about Louisa’s “first born?” Which version did you read?

Note: Thanks to Harriet Reisen for sending me the original book cover of Moods.

Winona Ryder learns from “Little Women”

Here’s an article of interest regarding the resurrection of Winona Ryder’s career after her arrest and conviction. Before I give my opinion, how about I get yours? What did you think of this writer’s take on Little Women and how the movie interpreted it?