Do take-offs on classics always work? Little Women and Me by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

I thought for fun I would try one of those fiction books based on Little Women.

The premise of Little Women and Me by Lauren Baratz-Logsted looked interesting: a 14-year-old high school freshman (Emily March) must write a paper for English class on a favorite book, where she is to pick three things she loved, and one thing she would change. Emily chooses Little Women (a favorite because of her last name), deciding she would like to save Beth from dying (although she’d also love to see Laurie end up with Jo). When she opens the book, she is transported back in time, into the story. She becomes the “middle March” sister!

Little Women with a twist

Little Women and Me follows the original Little Women faithfully, chapter by chapter (even skipping 3 years when the first volume ends and the second one begins – pretty confusing for Emily!). Baratz-Logsted explains in the Author’s Note how she would read a chapter in Little Women and then write the chapter for her book, inserting Emily into the mix.

What did I think?

I wish this book had worked for me but it didn’t. In fact, about a third of the way through I so disliked it that I scanned the rest of the book to see what happens, just to get it over with.

Not believable

The book didn’t work because the premise wasn’t believable. Much as I tried to go with the flow, I wasn’t buying it. This made the big twist at the end (which I won’t give away) even harder to swallow.

Unsympathetic main character

I couldn’t bond with Emily. She was disagreeable, self-absorbed, whiny … a typical teenager. Supposedly her experience of being a part of Little Women changed her but I didn’t care.

Little to go on

There was no character development of Emily before she was transported into Little Women. I never met her parents and only knew she had two sisters whom she was competing with for the affections of a boy. She also had a best friend. Oh, and I found out she was a middle sister and enjoyed writing. That’s it.

Lifeless characters

The original March sisters were, for the most part, flat stereotypes: Meg was prim, Jo was wild and boyish, Beth was sweet, Amy was selfish . . . yawn!

Laurie was flat too and Emily’s interest in him (she thought him “hot”) was lame.

A Jo I couldn’t like??

Baratz-Losted’s treatment of Jo made her almost as unlikeable as Emily. Jo came across as snarky, rude, brusque and uncaring. Where was the vibrant and strong spirit, the talented creative force that inspired so many readers? That Jo was not in this story. She was an unsympathetic character, constantly at odds with Emily. It should have been fun, but it wasn’t.

Beth the saving grace

No life was breathed into Meg and Amy was, well Amy. This is why Beth was a port in the storm. She was the only character that seemed real to me and she was the perfect foil for Emily.

The one winning part of Little Women and Me was Baratz-Logsted’s insights into the character of Beth. Emily’s observations of Beth’s tender care of her mutilated dolls, her love for her pets and her passion for home were touching and amusing. When Beth and Emily were together, Emily became someone I could like.

Feeling cheated

The most frustrating part of the book was that Emily was catapulted out of Little Women (and back to her own life) before the climax was reached – Jo turning down Laurie and Beth’s death. I never got to see how Emily would react to either event and that was my whole interest in the story!

Distractions

Finally, I found the constant references to current trends (computers, cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) and the use of slang words distracting. The book has only been out since 2011 and already it’s a bit dated (what teenager has a flip phone anymore?). Little Women and Me is missing that universal appeal that Little Women has.

Have any of you read Little Women and Me? What did you think of it? What do you think of books that work off of classics?


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Louisa May Alcott’s summer retreat

A trip to a warehouse bookstore in the middle of nowhere produced a great find! I had just about given up the hope of finding something interesting until this book caught my eye:  Nonquitt A Summer Album, 1872-1985, edited by Anne M. Lyell.

What is so significant about Nonquitt? This is where Louisa May Alcott spent her summers in the last years of her life. This book was such a great find because of new pictures of Louisa, her nephews, the cottage she rented and the summer home she eventually purchased.

The book devoted a short chapter (chapter 9, pages 94-97 – all references come from these pages unless otherwise noted.) to Louisa with anecdotal stories of her summers in the southeastern Massachusetts seacoast town near New Bedford.

What brought Louisa May Alcott to Nonquitt?

Recollections from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian suggest that Louisa came to visit the family and fell in love with Nonquitt. He writes:

“I was spending a summer at Nonquitt and she came to visit a friend. I walked over to the cottage and sat an hour with her on the veranda. She was tall, rather rustic looking, dressed in black silk, her shoulders a little bent, her checks somewhat thin, her big, black eyes sparkling now and then with humor or irony.”

Louisa was in her late forties at the time, obviously showing the ravages of her constant battle with her health. Remembering how vibrant she once was, it is sad to read how much her poor health had aged her.

Renting the first cottage

Louisa rented a house in 1881, sharing it with her niece, then 2-year-old Lulu (daughter of younger sister May who had passed away soon after childbirth). Her older sister Anna also summered at the cottage with her two teenage sons, Fred and John.

Anna’s memories

Anna writes, “I went to Nonquit[t] where Louisa had a cottage, a lovely green paradise which offers everything one can wish. Here I rested, and for fun got up theatricals (as usual), charades, etc., and grew quite young and festive, and enjoyed my lark so much I didn’t not want to come home . . . we [Louisa and Anna] take turns and so keep our boys there eight or ten weeks.” (pg. 141, The Alcotts As I Knew Them by Clara Gowing, e-book version).

Still in love with the theatre

Louisa, Anna and sons Fred and John took active part in the summer theatricals (Fred and John are shown in the above picture). Having never outgrown her love of the theatre, Louisa wrote and rewrote scripts and took on the jobs of coach, scenery designer and stage manager.

Summer paradise

Louisa rarely did any serious writing while summering in Nonquit. Mostly she took great pleasure in watching her little niece, Lulu:

“My poppet is a picture of health, vigor and delightful naughtiness. She runs wild in this fine place with some twenty other children to play with – nice babies, well-bred, and with pleasant mammas for me to gossip with.” (from a letter to a friend, 1882)

The Pied Piper of Nonquitt

An anecdote from the New Bedford newspaper speaks of Louisa often out walking with her red parasol in hand, followed by a group of children (she was, of course the famous “Miss Alcott” by this time). The newspaper goes on to say:

“There seemed to be a certain magnetism about her that drew the little ones to her, and it was a familiar sight to see the famous writer seated on her porch, or on a rock on the beach, a dozen or more children grouped around her, while she told children’s stories to them . . . Then when a demand would be made for the retelling of some one particular story, she would purposely change some character or some situation in it. The children would immediately correct her, and tell to her in their own way, the stories she had previously related to them.”

Always writing . . .

Even though Louisa came to vacation in Nonquitt, she could never stop writing. She contributed several short stories to the local paper, the Nonquitt Breeze.

Buying her piece of paradise

In 1883, Louisa purchased her own property,a cottage at the northeast corner of Narragansett and Central Avenue (presently called Old Wharf Road). She recorded in her journal on June 24:

“To Nonquitt with Lulu and K. and John (Pratt), Fixed my house, and enjoyed the rest and quiet immensely. Lulu wild with joy at the freedom . . .” In July she wrote, “Restful days in my little house, which is cool and quiet, and without the curse of a kitchen to spoil it . . .”

Louisa took her meals at the local hotel.

Failing health

By the end of 1885, Louisa was troubled by vertigo and rheumatism. It was then that she began to destroy letters and journals that she didn’t want prying eyes to see.

June of 1886 was her last visit to Nonquitt before poor health settled in. In a letter to Mary Mapes Dodge (friend, and editor of St. Nichoas Magazine where many of her books had been serialized), Louisa writes:

“Lu and I go to Nonquitt next week; and after a few days rest, I will fire up the old engine and see if it will run a short distance without a break-down.”

She fought against her ill health and finished her last book, Jo’s Boys.

The fate of Louisa’s cottage

In 1888, Louisa died and the nephew she adopted, John Pratt Alcott, inherited the Nonquitt house. In 1907 it was sold to John’s brother Fred who added on to the house.

In 1945 it was moved one block and is owned as of 1987 by Daniel Strohmeier.

The store where I found the book

So where did I find this book?

The store is known as the Book Bear in West Brookfield, MA. They are decidedly old-fashioned, not accepting credit cards and not doing email! They do have a website (click on the name) so you can get an idea of what they have.

I definitely will be visiting again soon!

Nonquitt A Summer Album, 1872-1985 is available online through Amazon and other outlets (the link leads to Amazon). I look forward to reading the rest of this fascinating book.


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Eight Cousins: Educating Rose

Uncle Alec affected big changes in Rose’s life as chapters 7 and 8 of Eight Cousins demonstrate.

Joy lacking

“Rose and her Aunts”, frontispiece illustration to the first edition, Roberts Bros, Boston, 1875 (Wikipedia)

Early in the book, there were several reasons why Rose was a timid, teary child (the untimely death of her dear father, too many “cooks in the kitchen” with all her aunts, etc.). Much of the joy had been taken out of her life and most especially in her education.

Too preachy?

Bronson Alcott’s presence is strongly felt in Louisa’s commentary on Rose’s education. Eight Cousins seems to be full of such commentaries (remember chapter 5, A Belt and a Box). I can see why readers complain about the preachy nature of her books for children.

The “Miss Power” approach to education

Illustration by Robert Doremus

Rose loved studying with her father but found the boarding school and Miss Power oppressive:

“I used to understand a great deal better when papa taught me a few lessons than when Miss Power hurried me through so many . . .”

Uncle Alec chose a wonderful way to describe the problem:

“ . . . I find and I dare say it would be if the benighted lady did not think it necessary to cram her pupils like Thanksgiving turkeys, instead of feeding them in a natural and wholesome way. It is the fault with most American schools, and the poor little heads will go on aching till we learn better.”

The voice of Bronson

Uncle Alec is obviously the mouthpiece of Louisa’s own father who proposed many educational reforms. Louisa has a talent for taking the often obtuse way Bronson would record his ideas and making them understandable for children.

A gift of gab

Fred Willis & Louisa; Illustration by Flora Smith

A frequent boarder with the Alcotts, Frederick Llewellyn Willis (who became like a brother to the girls) wrote in his Alcott Memoirs that “Mr. Alcott’s table talks were constantly delightful . . . he took especial care to so discourse that the youngest listener might comprehend and fully understand.” He quotes a child as saying, “I love to hear him talk. He is so plain and tells me so much I didn’t know, fastening it on to what I know.”

Talk doesn’t translate into writing

Perhaps this is how Louisa was able to distill her father’s philosophy of education into simpler form. It’s a shame that Bronson’s writing could not capture the magic of his dialog with children!

Everyday lessons

Like Bronson, Uncle Alec uses the experiences of everyday life to teach Rose her lessons:

  • A boat trip out on the harbor ends with a visit to a ship in from Hong Kong where Rose meets two men from China and soaks up the local color.
  • Alec helps Rose sort through her account book to teach her how to manage her financial affairs. Rose has a terrible time with figures but swears she will “hunt up her old arithmetic and perfect herself in the first four rules, before she read any more fairy tales.”
  • Rose reads aloud to her uncle who feigns tiredness; he is so enchanted with her skill that he asks her to read some more.

Enter the dreaded Aunt Jane

When Aunt Jane stops in to visit, she is very critical of Alec’s methods (although she is judging without having actually seen them). Jane is the very strict member of the Aunt-Hill; she is a great believer of the Miss Powers method of teaching, bragging that her sons hit the books all day long.

Rose shows her!

Jane assumes that Rose has been petted to death by her uncle and wasting her time reading “trash” with him, but Rose has the last laugh when asked about her lessons:

“I’ve had five to-day, ma’am . . . Navigation, geography, grammar, arithmetic, and keeping my temper.”

Aunt Jane blown away!

She then proceeds to show off her knowledge of China after her visit to the boat from Hong Kong which shocks Jane:

“The effect of this remarkable burst was immense . . . it entirely took the wind out of Aunt Jane’s sails; it was so sudden, so varied and unexpected, that she had not a word to say. The glasses remained fixed full upon Rose for a moment, and then, with a hasty ‘Oh, indeed!’ the excellent lady bundled into her carriage and drove away, somewhat bewildered and very much disturbed”

A triumph indeed!

Needless to say, Alec and Rose enjoyed their triumph thoroughly:

“She would have been more so if she had seen her reprehensible brother-in-law dancing a triumphal polka down the hall with Rose in honour of having silenced the enemy’s battery for once”

Bronson, I’m sure, would have been quite pleased as well.

This book is fun but . . . do you find Eight Cousins to be preachy? Does it bother you?


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Louisa on Twitter – don’t miss out on the tweets!

Do you tweet?

If you’re on Twitter, be sure and follow this blog at http://twitter.com/LMAismypassion.

I often post interesting links to stories about Louisa May Alcott and the Civil War era that you won’t find on this blog or on the Facebook page.

My  Twitter feed is on this blog in the right hand column where you can see examples of some of my tweets.

It’s also a great way to keep up with new posts on this blog.

Come and tweet with me!

Click on the picture to follow LMAismypassion on Twitter. See you there!


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A darker side of fashion in Louisa May Alcott’s time

With regards to our discussion of Eight Cousins, a reader asked some questions about fashion in reference to chapter 5, “A Belt and a Box.”

The question was, “Do you know of any information about what Louisa and her mother taught about fashionable clothing? Do you know if she was reading doctors or feminists who were revealing the deleterious nature of fashion?” (thanks to Sarah).

Did Louisa read up on fashion? Apparently …

I belong to the Louisa May Alcott Society and posted the question to members. Melissa M. Pennell, Ph.D., professor of English at UMass Lowell responded with the following:

“There was lots being discussed about women and dress reform in New England – you might like to consult some of the writing done by Mary Livermore and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps*, as well as Amelia Bloomer. LMA and her mother were certainly aware of the work of these writers.  There are also a number of items that appear in the “medical” and advice literature of the time.”

From left to right, Mary Lvermore, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps and Amelia Bloomer

I haven’t had the opportunity to look up the opinions of these writers on fashion, perhaps some of you have. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Interesting tidbit

*Elizabeth Stuart Phelps was an author, writing for children as well as adults. I found this line from an online biography rather interesting (bold emphasis is mine):

“Phelps also wrote the four-volume Gypsy Brenton series, her best-known juvenile work. One commentary notes that Gypsy, a more tomboyish figure than the characters in the Tiny series, “set the pattern for the engaging tomboy heroine [later popularized by Alcott's Little WomenSusan Coolidge's What Katy Did, and subsequent characters such as Carol Ryrie Brink's Caddie Woodlawn and Wilder's Laura Ingalls] and demonstrated the popularity of the tomboy’s story.” (click here to read the entire bio).

Here are a couple of the books:

Gypsy Breynton by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps
Gypsy’s Cousin Joy by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps

Outright dangers

Sarah, the poser of the question, posted something on her blog,  Frigate to Utopia, developing the comment she made earlier about the role of Seventh Day Adventist Ellen White. There are wonderful pictures and descriptions of fashions of the time, I highly recommend you read this post! Talk about suffering for beauty – strikes me as rather sadistic on the part of men (and masochistic for women) to adhere to these fashion trends. The corset was pretty dangerous but I wonder – is the 5″ heel any less dangerous?

Hidden Dangers

On another fashion tangent, one of my favorite blogs, the Two Nerdy History Girls blog, ran a post about a hidden danger that rose up due to the mass-production of clothing. Here’s a teaser:

Godey's Fashions for January, 1866

By the middle of the 19th c., more and more clothing was being mass-produced rather than individually hand-sewn for the wearer, with technological advances such as sewing machines and high-speed textile looms bringing the industrial revolution to fashion . . . In 1856, an eighteen-year-old chemistry student named William Henry Perkin (1838-1907) accidentally created the first aniline dye, a vivid purple dubbed mauveine, and from this sprang a whole spectrum of colors . . . There was only one catch: that lovely, brilliant shade of Perkin green (one of the most popular of the new colors) contained arsenic . . .

Click here to read the entire post.


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Fleshing out Anna Alcott Pratt

Friends and biographers of Anna Alcott Pratt are so busy singing her praises as a loving and selfless daughter, wife and mother that is was hard to find more substantive information. That is, until I came across Little Women Letters from the House of Alcott. Co-authors Jessie Bonstelle and Marian deForest offered journal entries from Anna’s childhood revealing more of her inner life.

Loved even spiders??

Anna’s passages were direct and sweet (I made sure to copy them exactly rather than correct spelling or grammatical errors). Always her father’s daughter, she demonstrated his (and her) love of all of God’s creatures: “We watched a little spider and gave it some water to drink.”

What  made Anna tick?

These next two passages helped me understand what made Anna tick (note: bold is my emphasis):

“Mother went to Boston and Louisa and I cleaned house all day. I love order above all things and I take great pleasure in seeing all neat about the house.”

 “I find I accomplish so much more when I have a plan and certain times for certain things. I never can do things without order. I like to have something planned for every moment of the day, so that when I get up in the morning I may know what to do.”

May wasn’t the only sister to appreciate beauty

Like Meg, Anna appreciated beauty in many forms. In this entry, referring to a book called Miss Bremer’s Brothers and Sisters, Anna writes,

“It is most beautiful such a happy family. I think Miss Bremer would make a lovely mother the mothers in her books are so sweet and she has beautiful ideas about family’s. I love to read natural stories.”

Anna’s appreciation for beauty transcended material things (not so obvious with Meg):

“I read one of Krummacher’s parables in German. I think they are very beautiful, the language is so elegant. I love to hear beautiful words and these stories are told so simply and are full of such sweet thought.”

Vanity, vanity …

A touch of vanity is revealed as she lamented about turning old someday:

“I think it is a dreadful thing to grow old and not be able to fly about . . . it is horrid to think about being an old woman wrinkled and blind. I wish I could keep young forever. I should love to live among those I love and be with them all the time.”

“Silly Stories”

I can see here why Louisa would keep her potboilers a secret from all members of her family:

” . . . Louisa read me a very silly story called “The Golden Cup.” I think there is a great deal of nonsense written now a days, the papers are full of silly stories.”

Dreams and …

Anna, like many pre-teen girls, had her dreams:

I sometimes have strange feelings, a sort of longing after something I don’t know what it is. I have a great many wishes. I spent the day in the usual manner, sewing and studying. In the evening Louisa and I walked through the lane and talked about how we should like to live and dress and imagined all kinds of beautiful things.”

… Aspirations

In a separate entry,

“As for me I am perfect in nothing. I have no genius. I know a little of music, a little of French, German and Drawing, but none of them well. I have a foolish wish to be something great and I shall probably spend my life in a kitchen and die in the poor-house. I want to be Jenny Lind or Mrs. Seguin and I can’t and so I cry.”

Jenny Lind (L) and Mrs. Sequin (R)

A woman of her time

Anna did end up becoming a “household drudge” (her words) but embraced the life willingly. She grew into a graceful, serene and loving wife and mother, fitting easily into the life of women of her time. Memoirs penned by friends (Clara Gowing, Llewellyn Frederick Willis) emphasized again and again her giving nature, her value as a friend, her loyalty as a daughter, and her commitment to her boys.

Love above all

Whether she was raising her children, caring for her aging father and ailing sister, or dealing with a public eager to see “Miss Alcott” or learn from the Sage of Concord, Anna did it all with great love and without complaint, earning the esteem of all who knew her.

Anna ultimately lived the life she chose to live.

If you want to learn more about Anna Alcott Pratt, here are some interesting links:

Were you surprised at Anna’s ambitions? Do you think the character of Meg March does her justice?

Meet the real Meg March

Ever wonder about the woman who inspired the character of Meg March?

About Meg

In Little Women, Meg is the oldest of the March sisters and in all respects, the most mainstream member of the family. She is pretty, dutiful and virtuous, almost old for her age.

Fancy dress

Meg’s major flaw is her yearning for material wealth now that her family is poor. She is cured of this desire when she visits her wealthy friends Sallie Gardiner and the Moffat girls and indulges in the shallow life of the well-to-do. All dolled up for a party, she faces the disapproval of Laurie and recognizes the hollowness of vanity and the value of simpler living.

Meg marries a man as virtuous as herself – hard-working poor John Brooke. They have two children and create a loving home; Meg lives the life of the quintessential 19th century Victorian woman.

Based upon Louisa May Alcott’s oldest sister Anna Alcott Pratt, Meg is prettier but her real-life counterpart was more interesting.

Getting to know you

Born on March 16, 1831 and the eldest of the Alcott sisters, Anna was the most studied baby in history. Her philosopher-educator father Bronson, eager to prove his theory about the divine nature of children, observed her in a scientific way, recording her physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual development in the minutest fashion.

Pleasing her father

Infant Anna, always eager to please, picked up on this vibe; her mother Abba noted that Anna “seems as if she is conscious of his observations, and were desirous of furnishing him with an item for his record.” (The Alcotts As I Knew Them, Clara Gowing, p. 43).

Love of acting

Anna inherited her father’s peaceful nature with such a retiring manner that “no one meeting her casually would ever imagine the amount of sentiment and romance in her nature.” (Gowing, p. 107). She loved the theatre and could have been an accomplished actress had she the ambition (partial deafness later in life made acting very difficult though she never lost of love of it).

She and Louisa shared this love of acting, writing plays together and entertaining the family with tableaux and original melodramatic plays such as “Norna, or The Witch’s Curse.”

Unexpected rewards

Although she never pursued acting professionally, it still granted her many rewards, the best being meeting her future husband, John Bridge Pratt. They played the romantic leads in “The Loan of a Lover” and soon became lovers themselves.

Both she and Louisa were powerhouses on the stage but Anna faded into the background once off the stage. She preferred to defer to others and bask in their success.

Love of words

writing

Anna’s abilities weren’t limited to acting. Several books mention her writing skill and her ability to easily learn foreign languages. In Eden’s Outcasts, John Matteson quotes family friend Llewellyn Frederick Willis (from his Alcott Memoirs ) regarding Anna, “Skilled in learning languages and a thoughtful writer, she perhaps exceeded all her sisters in terms of her pure intellectual gifts.”

Anna however, lacked ambition. Matteson continues, “Unlike Louisa, however, she lacked the confidence to try to publish them. Her excellent mind was ‘shown more in the appreciation of others than in the expression of herself.’ ” (p. 210 of the ebook).

A quick portrait

Matteson also writes of Anna,

“She was the most even-tempered and amiable of the four. Her sense of humor was keen but without Louisa’s tartness. While she partook enthusiastically in the game of her friends and sisters, her zest was tempered with a sense of dignity. She was more beautiful in her graceful bearing than in her physical features.”

More to come …

In my next post, I will share lesser-known facts about Anna including journal entries she made as a girl that reveal a dreamy pre-teen full of yearning (and even a desire to be famous). We’ll find out in part, what made Anna tick.

Are you finding Anna to be more interesting than Meg March? What did you think of Meg as a character in Little Women?


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What’s your Louisa May Alcott IQ?

Think you know a lot about Louisa? Test your knowledge with these fun quizzes found at Fun Trivia.

You will have a choice of three different ways to take the quiz (the questions are the same for all 3 choices).

Click here to begin and let us know how you do!


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Eight Cousins: In my room

How are you enjoying Eight Cousins so far? After all the heavy reading I’ve been doing lately, I find it a refreshing change. It’s such an easy read and I really enjoy immersing myself in Louisa May Alcott’s version of childhood.

Getting to know you . . .

Chapters 6 and 7  of Eight Cousins build on the budding relationship between Rose and Uncle Alec. I bet a lot of readers would have loved to have had an uncle or dad like Dr. Alec (I imagine Louisa probably wished her father was more like Alec). He’s so steady and sure of himself which made him a wonderful parent figure for Rose. He took his responsibilities toward her seriously and yet he also had a sense of fun. He surely loved Rose and relished the role he was privileged to playi in her life.

A mysterious room

In chapter 6, Alec shows Rose a special room, a room that she believes belongs to him. Louisa’s description of this room is delicious and made me want to make it my own:

“This chamber . . . had three windows one to the east, that overlooked the bay; one to the south, where the horse chestnuts waved their green fans; and one to the west, towards the hill and the evening sky. A ruddy sunset burned there now, filling the room with an enchanted glow; the soft murmur of the sea was heard, and a robin chirped ‘Good-night!’ among the budding trees.”

The view alone is worth the trip! There were other details . . .

This room is dreamy . . .

Could Rose’s toilet table have resembed this one? From the Victorian Interiors and More blog (click on picture to visit)

“Then her eye went on to the tall cabinet, where a half-open door revealed a tempting array of the drawers, shelves and ‘cubby holes’ which so delight the heart of children . . . A round old-fashioned mirror hung over it [the toilet table], with a guilt eagle a-top, holding in his beak the knot of blue ribbon that tied up a curtain of muslin falling on either side of the table, where appeared little ivory-handled brushes, two slender silver candle-stocks, a porcelain match-box, several pretty trays for small matters, and most imposing of all, a plump blue silk cushion, coquettishly with lace, and pink rosebuds at the corners . . .”

The room is mine??

Needless to say, Rose was enchanted. So you can imagine her delight when Uncle Alec announced that the room in fact was not his, but hers! The room was “part of the cure,” giving her “plenty of sun, fresh air, and cold water; also cheerful surroundings . . .” Work (also part of the cure) would be required to keep the room neat and clean.

This sounds like Louisa’s dream room. I wonder if in fact she had a room like that in her life?

A special haven

I remember as a child being allowed by my parents to completely redecorate my room. The bed was moved from the traditional center to the corner and I got to hang a very typical late 1960s lamp from the ceiling surrounded with red tassles and covered with the same flowered cloth that lay on the little round table below it. While moving the bed made the room a lot bigger, the cozy corner with special hanging lamp and table created a special place where I could think, journal, moon over my French teacher, listen to the Beatles and Joni Mitchell, learn to play my guitar, and stay up half the night writing songs.

Lucky girl

That room was so special to me  and I appreciated the fact that my parents allowed me to put my own touch on it. It became a haven and I thought of it when I pictured Rose in her wonderful room created and decorated with such love and care by her uncle.

What a lucky girl Rose was! I was too.

Did you have a special room of your own when you were young? If not, did you have some other haven you could retreat to?

I will get to chapter 7 in the the next post . . . :-)


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Why is Louisa’s voice so powerful in my life? A childhood recollection

It’s been slow at work the last couple of days so I’ve been able to indulge in reading and research (one of the best perks of my job). It gave me a chance to revisit one of the first biographies I read on Louisa, Louisa May Alcott by Katharine Anthony. Published in 1937, it was one of the early biographies aimed at adults.

I’ve been considering submiting a proposal to Orchard House’s annual Summer Conversational Series, the theme being “Legacy of a Powerful Voice.” There is no doubt Louisa’s voice has been powerful in my life but I never could really pinpoint why.

Anthony’s biography reminded me, especially with the chapter on Louisa’s years at Hillside.

The happy years

The Wayside, then known as Hillside, drawn by Bronson Alcott in 1845.

Hillside has always been my favorite period in Louisa’s life. There was stability, harmony, joy and freedom, even some normalcy in the life of the family. She herself refers to the Hillside years as the happiest. It is during this period that I see parallels between her and me that explain why she speaks to my heart so powerfully.

A room of one’s own

The first was Louisa getting her own room. A space to call one’s own was important to both of us. I finally got my own room at around the same age and it meant the world to me. Going through my “horse phase” at the time unlocked my creativity and I expressed it in a variety of ways, beginning with filling my new room with pictures of horses that I drew.

illustration by Flora Smith from The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell was my favorite book and love of that story spurred me on to write my own sequel. It was such fun writing that book that I wrote others. I had also discovered my other favorite book, The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard and I pictured the illustration of Louisa sitting in her “Poet’s Corner” writing stories. I felt a kinship with her.

Best friends

Anthony mentions that one of Louisa’s best friends was a neighborhood boy, Cyrus Hosmer whom she had met earlier while staying at the Hosmer Cottage. Louisa spoke of him fondly saying, “Cy was a comrade after my own heart.” My first best friend was also a boy who lived next door. While Louisa and Cyrus enjoyed wild physical escapades, Dolph and I enjoyed our adventures through our imaginations. Dolph was exceedingly intelligent,  having an imagination that just wouldn’t quit. We could entertain each other for hours on end. Every other friend seemed boring by comparison.

Playacting

Louisa first started acting back at Still River (just after Fruitlands). Illustration by Flora Smith.

Like Louisa I loved putting on plays.  I organized all the theatricals and while we didn’t have Hillside’s barn, we did have our basement.. We’d stage our favorite fairy tales  (mine was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs where I played the Wicked Queen).

Spies, stories and fashion

As I grew older, this playacting continued through a friendship with the smartest girl in the school who matched Dolph in the imagination department. The other kids made fun of her (and I had too) because she was so unusual but once I got to know her, I knew we would enjoy many an adventure. Playing the part of exotic British spies a la Diana Rigg in The Avengers, Kathy and I would spend whole days acting out impromptu TV episodes. We wrote plays together, and we pretended we were fashion designers, designing our own book of exotic clothes.

Tomboy in name only

I only wished I had been athletically inclined like Louisa. I wasn’t well coordinated and it made me very cautious when it came to climbing trees and other physical activities. I envied Louisa’s daring but alas, could only live her escapades in my dreams.

Hillside as a haven

illustration by Flora Smith from The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard

After re-reading Katharine Anthony’s biography, I could see why Louisa counted her years at Hillside as her happiest. It was the one time in her life when she could truly be herself, and it was before she would take on the heavy mantle of family provider.

Anthony used the words “fierce,” “hoyden,” and “wild” to describe Louisa; I would say she had a personality that was bigger than life. She was permitted to live a life that freed her as much as possible from convention and duty. Free to run and romp, she had the license to work out her physical and emotional energies. She was also given space to indulge in her rich inner life which produced a flurry of stories and plays. Nature’s expanse and beauty continually revived her spirits, and best of all, her dear family was living in harmony.

I too had those advantages. Around the same age as Louisa, I reveled in mine as she did in hers.

Joan Howard’s biography became very dog-eared. Every time I read the chapter on Hillside I would relive those happy memories. I would then finish the book and dream bigger dreams.

What’s your connection to Louisa?
How has her voice been powerful in your life?


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