I recently picked up a lovely volume from the library entitled Louisa May Alcott An Intimate Anthology, put together the by New York Public Library using materials from their archives.
The book contains stories and essays Louisa wrote about herself, excerpts from her journals, intimate poetry, short stories and recollections from friends.
is futile …
Although I already have much of what is in here, the book is so aesthetically pleasing with its squarish size, typography and illustrations that I know I’ll be visiting Amazon soon!
Who says print books are dead? Much as I love ebooks, there is still something very charming about a book like this.
Impressions from a neighbor
That being said, an essay by Edward W. Emerson, son of Ralph Waldo, caught my eye. What would be his impressions of his extraordinary neighbors, the Alcotts?
He obviously admired Orchard House and the simple elegance the Alcotts brought to it. Describing it as “extremely picturesque” with a “superb elm” which served as a “great parasol in summer,” he went on to describe the orchard of apple trees, “pink and white in May, and red and yellow in September” which gave the house its name.
The interior of the home was distinguished with plain and unpretentious décor. As an example, he described the windows as uncluttered with the usual array of curtains, shades and blinds which blocked the sun. Instead they were adorned simply with “pretty muslin curtains, made out of old party dresses:; the trees outside “temper[ed] the light.”
An interesting side note is Edward’s description of Louisa for he obviously thought her to be the most physically attractive despite her boyish manner:
“Louisa was very fine looking, had the most regular features of the family, and very handsome, wavy brown hair like her mother’s. She had always a rather masculine air, and a twinkle woke constantly in her eye at the comic side of things, a characteristic that carries many persons through hard experiences that crush or sour others. Her talk was always full of little catches from her favorite Dickens.”
He described Anna as “plain” with a sweet disposition and a quick sense of humor “without the ingredient of tartness that Louisa’s sometimes had.” May, “the darling of the family” was a “tall, well-made blond, the lower part of her face irregular, but she had beautiful blue eyes and brilliant yellow hair.”
“A memorable evening at the Alcotts’ house”
Edward elaborated on something I’ve longed wanted to know about: what was it like to spend an evening with the Alcotts? Biographies mention how the family would entertain neighbors on a weekly basis. What was it like to go over to Orchard House for a visit?
A typical visit to Orchard House began with a hearty greeting from Abba. Edward lauded the fact that everyone remained together calling it “bad taste” the way that young girls often slipped off to other rooms with their callers.
Louisa displayed her wicked wit and theatrical flair, appearing in costume as colorful characters from plays she had written. May, in high spirits, would play the piano encouraging raucous singing and dancing. As the evening wore down, “short stories on the porch might follow as twilight deepened into dark, and they were sufficiently ‘creepy.’”
Fun and games
The Alcotts loved their games such as pin-running and bean bag tossing. Edward remarked that to “play for a prize was unheard of. We played for fun, the best of prizes, and thus there was no unwholesome excitement …”
Warm memories, useful lessons
Reminiscing on those days, Edward celebrates the simple way that the Alcotts lived, noting that “Great pleasure may be had very simply and cheaply.” He continues,
“The family whose beautiful life I celebrate first made themselves happy in adversity by their methods, and later hundreds of others. One trait remains which I have hardly emphasized enough. I have never known a family who equaled the Alcotts in generosity, even in their poverty.”
Is it possible to imagine a time without TV, video games, computers and mobile devices? Edward thought life in his time was becoming increasingly complicated even in household life and amusements. Imagine what he would have thought with the ways we entertain ourselves today!
Next time the power goes out, think about Orchard House, a warm gathering of neighbors, and simple games, songs, dance and stories that passed the time so pleasantly.
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