Wrapping up Work A Story of Experience: The Spiritual Subplot

I acknowledge that Work: A Story of Experience is an important feminist work (see previous post). It was groundbreaking in that respect and makes it a relevant book for today in understanding the condition of single working women in the nineteen century. Work would be an especially valuable read for women of the Millennial generation who have not lived through the struggles of their predecessors.

Examining a subplot

I believe, however, that Work is also an important religious work. While Louisa was never a member of any particular congregation, she was a lifelong seeker. Her frustration with conventional religion is summed up in a stinging summation in chapter 7, “Into the Mist” (see previous post). Christie’s spiritual journey is nuanced, gritty and authentic. It’s an exquisite look inside the heart, mind and soul of the author.

Chapter 19, “Little Heart’s-Ease” demonstrates Christie’s spiritual growth in the way she works through her grief over David’s death and how she perceives a sacred moment in the mundane.

Mystic insight

transparent eyeballIn his essay, “Nature,” Ralph Waldo Emerson refers to the “transparent eyeball:” “Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.” (from chapter one). Contemporary spiritual writer Richard Rohr in his book The Naked Now employs a similar term of the “third eye.” Both authors are describing the insight of a mystic, that of being able to discern God in all things no matter how mundane, and being one with all things.

The ability to discern God in everyday life, to “read between the lines,” so to speak, is a precious gift of sight, most likely what Jesus was referring to with comments such as ” … blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear …” (Matthew 13:16). He often spoke these words after relaying a parable, knowing that many would not grasp the meaning, but others would “see.”

Insight leading to consolation

David's death drawing by Sol Eytinge, http://archive.org/details/workastoryofexpe04770gut

David’s death drawing by Sol Eytinge, http://archive.org/details/workastoryofexpe04770gut

Christie’s search for religion granted her that sight, giving her a beautiful experience of consolation.

Despite comforting words from the Rev. Power, Christie would not be consoled without a concrete sign: “Christie could not be content with this invisible, intangible recompense for her hero: she wanted to see, to know beyond a doubt, that justice had been done …”

Louisa then writes,

“Then, when no help seemed possible, she found it where she least expected it, in herself. Searching for religion, she had found love: now seeking to follow love she found religion. The desire for it had never left her, and, while serving others, she was earning this reward; for when her life seemed to lie in ashes, from their midst, this slender spire of flame, purifying while it burned, rose trembling toward heaven; showing her how great sacrifices turn to greater compensations; giving her light, warmth, and consolation, and teaching her the lesson all must learn.”

Hearing David’s “voice”

Sitting in David’s room one day, surrounded by his things, Christie experiences the sign she sought. In the stillness she hears a melodious sound as a gentle breeze brushes past David’s flute. She can “hear” the music of that flute that she once dubbed as David’s “voice,” expressing all the joys and sorrows of his life that he never shared in words. The sign had been given:

“Ah, yes! this was a better answer than any supernatural voice could have given her; a more helpful sign than any phantom face or hand; a surer confirmation of her hope than subtle argument or sacred promise: for it brought back the memory of the living, loving man so vividly, so tenderly, that Christie felt as if the barrier was down, and welcomed a new sense of David’s nearness with the softest tears that had flowed since she closed the serene eyes whose last look had been for her.”

From the collection at the Concord Free Public Library www.concordlibrary.org

Thoreau’s flute
From the collection at the Concord Free Public Library http://www.concordlibrary.org

This passage struck a chord in me for I too experienced such a sign on the day of my mother’s funeral.

A series of personal signs

It was April 22 and the day was warmer than usual. The sky was as deep a blue as I had ever seen it. Spring was several weeks early that year, resulting in a burst of floral beauty. The air was alive with birdsong. The season was at its peak.

The chapel in the Unitarian Church in Wellesley, Massachusetts was decorated with a stunning arrangement of flowers favoring a purple theme.

Unitarian Church in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts

Unitarian Church in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts

This was the first sign for my mother loved flowers and birds, having studied Botany at Wellesley College and then working for the department for several years. One of her jobs was to help arrange the flowers for the annual Boston Flower Show display.

The chapel was filled to overflowing with family and friends. After the formal eulogy given by my older sister, her husband rose to speak. His recollections of my mother were funny and poignant considering the complex nature of their relationship. An alpha male, Tom choked up remembering his mother-in-law who lived next door to his family’s home for so many years.

chipping sparrowTom’s comments were followed by neighbors who stood up and recalled memories of my mother and father encouraging the neighborhood children to sled and play on the hill in their yard. My mother’s intense interest in the lives of everyone around her was recalled with humor and affection.

A second sign, for my mother in her dementia and despair, had felt unworthy of love. Her friends and family had not forgotten her.

I remember approaching the casket after the room had emptied, kissing it and saying, “I told you so! I told you that you were loved!”

At the internment as my husband, a deacon in the Eastern Catholic Church, said the prayers over the grave, a chipping sparrow sat overhead singing his spring song.

A third sign. I knew then for sure that my mother was safely home with God.

As with Christie, these signs were like the parables of Jesus: many would hear but only some would actually “see.”

The crux and the heart of Work

While the crux of Work is its feminist message, the heart of the story lies in Christie’s inner life. In this thinly veiled autobiography, we not only learn of Louisa’s working life with its struggles and triumphs but also of the woman within, so keenly attuned to that still, small voice within, ever searching for connection and meaning.

Like most good writers, Louisa was gifted with insight and relentless curiosity. A deep connection to something greater than herself was a key element of that insight, enabling her indeed to see with that “third eye.”

It’s what keeps me coming back for more.

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Taking Louisa May Alcott is My Passion on the road – teaching a class at Norwalk Community College for the Lifetime Learners Institute

Norwalk Community CollegesignThis blog has led me places I never thought I would go! One of those places was Norwalk Community College in Norwalk, CT where I donned a hat I have not worn since a year after I graduated from college with a BS in Elementary Education: the hat of a teacher.

A longtime reader of this blog, Nancy Gluck of the Silver Threads blog, invited me a year ago to teach a class in her multi-part series on Louisa May Alcott offered through the Lifetime Learners Institute at Norwalk Community College.

colleges

A snowstorm last fall cancelled the first attempt but on February 20, Mother Nature cooperated and I was able to conduct the class in front of forty wonderfully engaged students.

classes

It was here that I shared the story of my lifelong friendship with Louisa May Alcott, beginning with a children’s biography (The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard), growing in intensity over the years as I read more and more about her life, and culminating with this blog. I used all the different biographies about Louisa and books by her that I’ve read as the vehicle and provided an extensive reading list for my students.

teachingI shared about all the adventures I’ve had because of this friendship with Louisa; reading adventures that have so broadened my mind, visits to the Concord Library Special Collections and Houghton Library at Harvard (and the privilege of reading papers written in Louisa’s hand), meeting authors, scholars and librarians, and best of all, meeting so many others like myself who just love Louisa and her work. My intention was the inspire the students with the desire to read, learn and pursue their own passion. and see where it will take them.

nancy gluck teaching_croppedNancy Gluck is one of those people, a new friend that I am delighted to have. Meeting her has introduced me to a most extraordinary association, the Lifetime Learners Institute at Norwalk Community College.. Here is a perfect partnership of older people eager to learn and the institution that can provide the opportunity. Both groups work together and enhance the community. I am hoping Central Massachusetts holds similar opportunities.

I am more than happy to continue bringing Louisa May Alcott is My Passion to colleges, libraries and churches in the New England area. If your organization is interested in hosting me, write me at louisamayalcottismypassion@gmail.com and let’s talk!

Click to Tweet & ShareTaking Louisa May Alcott is My Passion on the road – teaching a class at Norwalk Community College http://wp.me/p125Rp-1pj

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New releases coming! New annotated Little Women edited by Daniel Shealy; plus book on Louisa May Alcott and Edith Wharton

Get your credit cards ready! Here are two new exciting releases coming up this year for Louisa May Alcott lovers.

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I found out about this one from Daniel Shealy. We conversed recently about his volume on Louisa’s fantasy stories (which I will be writing about soon).  This looks like a wonderful addition to make to my library: (all the information below comes directly from Amazon.com:

little women annotatedLittle Women: An Annotated Edition

Louisa May Alcott (Author), Daniel Shealy (Editor) Release date: March 25, 2013

Little Women has delighted and instructed readers for generations. For many, it is a favorite book first encountered in childhood or adolescence. Championed by Gertrude Stein, Simone de Beauvoir, Theodore Roosevelt, and J. K. Rowling, it is however much more than the “girls’ book” intended by Alcott’s first publisher. In this richly annotated, illustrated edition, Daniel Shealy illuminates the novel’s deep engagement with issues such as social equality, reform movements, the Civil War, friendship, love, loss, and of course the passage into adulthood.

The editor provides running commentary on biographical contexts (Did Alcott, like Jo, have a “mood pillow”?), social and historical contexts (When may a lady properly decline a gentleman’s invitation to dance?), literary allusions (Who is Mrs. Malaprop?), and words likely to cause difficulty to modern readers (What is a velvet snood? A pickled lime?). With Shealy as a guide, we appreciate anew the confusions and difficulties that beset the March sisters as they overcome their burdens and journey toward maturity and adulthood: beautiful, domestic-minded Meg, doomed and forever childlike Beth, selfish Amy, and irrepressible Jo. This edition examines the novel’s central question: How does one grow up well?

Little Women: An Annotated Edition offers something for everyone. It will delight both new and returning readers, young and old, male and female alike, who will want to own and treasure this beautiful edition full of color illustrations and photographs.

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Thanks to a husband who totally supports this passion of mine (thank you, Rich!) I found out about this book, scheduled to be released in July of this year:

(from Amazon) Publication Date: July 9, 2013 | Series: Becoming Modern: New Nineteenth-Century Studies

sacramental shoppingSacramental Shopping: Louisa May Alcott, Edith Wharton, and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism

(Becoming Modern: New Nineteenth-Century Studies) [Paperback]
Sarah Way Sherman (Author)

Written a generation apart and rarely treated together by scholars, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868) and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth (1905) share a deep concern with materialism, moral development, and self-construction. The heroines in both grapple with conspicuous consumption, an aspect of modernity that challenges older beliefs about ethical behavior and core identity.

Placing both novels at the historical intersection of modern consumer culture and older religious discourses on materialism and identity, Sarah Way Sherman analyzes how Alcott and Wharton rework traditional Protestant discourses to interpret their heroines’ struggle with modern consumerism. Her conclusion reveals how Little Women‘s optimism, still buoyed by otherworldly justice, providential interventions, and the notion of essential identity, ultimately gives way to the much darker vision of modern materialistic culture in The House of Mirth.

Sarah Way Sherman is an associate professor of English and American studies at the University of New Hampshire.

I just placed my order. :-)

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A feminist manifesto: wrapping up Work A Story of Experience (part two)

“…Work is an expression of Alcott’s feminist principles and a major effort toward synthesizing in popular, readable form the broad set of beliefs encompassing family, education, suffrage, labor and the moral reform of social life that defined feminist ideology in the nineteenth century.” (pg. 191 from Critical Essays on Louisa May Alcott edited by Madeleine Stern)

So writes Sarah Elbert in the introduction to the 1977 edition of Work: A Story of Experience.

Message brought into the open

Such beliefs had already been hinted at in Little Women and An Old-Fashioned Girl  (most especially the latter). Now confident of her bully pulpit, Louisa put them forth in adult form using her life experience as the means.

Transcendental influence

According to Elbert, the influence of Transcendentalism with its belief in self-reliance and individual improvement as the means to a better society loomed large in Louisa’s brand of feminism. This is most evident in the last chapter of the book, “Forty” where Louisa sends a lady of fashion, Bella Carroll, on a mission to educate her friends on leading a more purposeful life through deliberate conversation and reading (see previous post).

From personal to universal

parker and power

Rev. Theodore Parker (left), the prototype for Rev. Power

In Work Louisa was able to fashion a personal search for meaning through a tale with universal appeal. Elbert points to the Reverend Theodore Parker, a radical preacher (see previous post) whose sermons, “The Public Function of Woman” and “Laborious Young Women” deeply inspired Louisa at a time when she was at her lowest point. He became the Rev. Power in the story whose words, practical assistance and guidance led Christie from her despair into a new life full of purpose.

In the beginning

christie and aunt betseyChristie Devon was a pioneer of sorts. As an orphan freed from taking care of aging parents, she opted for independence over marriage announcing to her Aunt Betsey that (taking words from the Seneca Falls Convention – Ibid, pg. 193) “there’s going to be a new Declaration of Independence.” She then proceeded to knead her bread most vigorously, “kneading the dough as if it was her destiny, and she was shaping it to suit herself …” (Chapter 1, Work A Story of Experience from archive.org).

War brings change

Elbert saw this as a symbolic gesture marking a farewell to the rural way of life, a narrow way which for generations had so shaped a woman’s life. The Civil War, much like World War II, had shaken society and the family to its foundations. Because the men were called away, the women stepped up and took their places, as head of households and workers in the public sphere. (pg. 193 from Critical Essays on Louisa May Alcott).

Skillful yet unappreciated

Wages were seen as a path to independence but that path would be very hard. Christie, like most women, was trained in housewifery, a skill that was not valued in the workplace. She soon learned it was necessary for her to cultivate one skill.

Subtle humiliation

servant The obvious place to start was domestic service. By all outward appearances, being a servant didn’t seem all that bad: the work place was in a fine home with many comfortable accoutrements. It was not long before Christie saw the pitfalls: she was expected to serve the family with all the devotion and loyalty of a family member but without any of the benefits. She was not even allowed to retain her own name. It was work meant to keep her in her place through endless and subtle humiliation, with the ultimate being her firing because her “fashionable” employer forgot herself in chastising her employee and couldn’t live with it.

Evolving

In her search for meaningful employment, Christie went through a succession of jobs, from actress, to governess, to companion, to seamstress in a factory.

Choosing between being true or being successful

actressChristie grew quite talented as an actress and could have been successful. She felt, however, that the unwholesome temptations and vanities prevented her from being a true woman of character. Louisa had long dreamt of a life on the stage and through Christie she realized that dream only to have it fade when the consequences of that life proved too costly. Undoubtedly Louisa too flirted with the unwholesome aspects of the stage, and she knew some success but not at the level that Christie enjoyed. In a sense, she used Christie’s experience to rationalize her own decision to leave the theatre.

One other option

fletcher and christieAs a governess, Christie was tempted to “marry for a living” with Philip Fletcher thus securing a position in the world of fashion. It was the only alternative to low wage work or slavery. Louisa must remain true to herself and therefore so must her heroine, and Christie refuses his marriage proposal. Elbert pointed out that marriage of this sort could only mean subordination and dependency; this surely was in opposition to the life Christie meant to live when she declared her independence from her Aunt Betsey. Again, she chose to walk away.

The need for friendship

Domestic service did not lend much opportunity for friendship. Christie did manage to maintain relations with Hepsey, a freed slave who worked with her as a servant, and chapter 20 demonstrated that she also kept in touch with Helen’s younger sister Bella whom she eventually sent out on a mission (see previous post). True friendship however did not come until she became a seamstress in a factory. Her relationship with Rachel, a fallen woman trying to start her life over again proved both costly (she quit her seamstress job because Rachel was being fired because of her past sin) and life-giving (Rachel saved her from suicide). Rachel and Christie enjoyed a sisterhood that became formalized when it was revealed she was David’s long lost sister, Letty.

True womanhood at odds with working

seamstressElbert pointed out an interesting scenario created by Rachel’s presence at the factory. Hired because of her “superior” taste, she is subsequently fired when it is revealed that she had an unmarried affair with a man. Elbert wrote, “The respectable workshop manager must be intent not only on production but also on maintaining the legitimacy of such a system by hiring only girls of good character. In a dramatic confrontation between the necessities of production and the maintenance of social order, Rachel is fired as an undesirable influence on the workers, and the contractions between true womanhood and waged work are made explicit.” (Ibid, pg. 197).

True to her friend

Christie’s response to the injustice and harsh judgment visited upon Rachel was swift with her own resignation. She offered to take Rachel in but Rachel insisted on leaving in order to redeem her life and be worthy of Christie’s friendship.

Live-giving sisterhood

rachel rescues christieAgain, Christie stood tall and walked away but her independent stand came at her own peril. Subsequent lack of work coupled with terrible isolation drove her to attempt suicide. It was poetic on Louisa’s part to have Rachel reappear to be Christie’s savior, demonstrating that for the independent woman, a sisterhood was essential: a familiar theme in Little Women and in An Old-Fashioned Girl.

Elbert wrote, “Female friendships were doubly important to spinsters.” Louisa observed that “a brief but most sincere affection between two women was a viable experience which could open the heart to happiness that was its right.” (Ibid) Independence like anything else must be maintained in community.

Equality and love, short-lived

Mrs. Sterling and David

Mrs. Sterling and David

After her bout with despair, Christie met Cynthy Wilkins and through her, the Rev. Power. He sent Christie to the home of a Quaker woman, Mrs. Sterling, and her son, David whom Christie eventually married.

The romance between David (an idealized Thoreau according to Elbert) and Christie began with friendship, one of equality based on mutual interests, and evolved into a companionate marriage. The two served together in the Civil War as evidence of this equality but the marriage was cut short by David’s death. While Louisa believed that a companionate marriage was possible, she didn’t believe it was for her; if she couldn’t realize it, her alter ego could not either.

Fully evolved

sisterhoodDavid’s death released Christie back into the working world, something that Louisa felt a lot surer about (Ibid, pg. 200). Rather than simply live off of her husband’s pension, she developed his flower business and hired women like herself. Her evolution is complete at forty, where, as a confident and independent woman comfortable in her own skin, she is able to share her experiences in a public forum, inspiring other women.

The vibrancy of Work

Elbert concludes, “Louisa May Alcott was a working woman all her life, moving through the experiences of domesticity, jobs, and unemployment. Her awareness of these experiences as sharing women’s responses to the expectations raised by the dominant ideology of individualism enabled her to write more vividly and with a greater sense of urgency in Work than in any of her more commercially successful novels … she was able to present both the common sensibility of women and their individual experiences in a way that exhibited the conflict of interests manifest in their lives … The strength of her vision is revealed in the authenticity of Work; the facts of women’s lives in the mid-nineteenth century, as well as we can reconstruct them, are vivid and true in Alcott’s novel.” (Ibid, pgs. 200-201)

All drawings by Sol Eytinge, from Work A Story of Experience online

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A tale of two books: wrapping up Work A Story of Experience (part one)

work-title-pageSeveral months ago I started reading Work: A Story of Experience, one of Louisa’s few adult novels. The story, like Little Women, is a thinly disguised, romanticized yet gritty autobiography coupled with wishes Louisa might have had regarding the course of her life.

First, my impressions

In this first of three planned posts on this book, I want to share my own impressions. In the second, I will explore an essay by Sarah Elbert on Work which deals mainly with the important feminist theme of the story. And in the third, I want to return to the theme of religion (specifically a focus on chapter nineteen) which runs through the book.

A tale of two books, and its inherent weakness

In six posts I wrote mainly about the first half of the book which is basically a collection of short stories about the various paid positions that Christie had held, most of which Louisa herself had done. There appeared to be no particular storyline running through these chapters although there were memorable characters.

Rachel rescues Christie drawing by Sol Eytinge, http://archive.org/details/workastoryofexpe04770gut

Rachel rescues Christie drawing by Sol Eytinge, http://archive.org/details/workastoryofexpe04770gut

The sixth post focused on the pivotal crisis in Christie’s life which led to a suicide attempt. This crisis transitions into the second half of the book where a true plot takes over.

And this is where I began to lose interest in this book.

It was interesting when …

Helen Carroll drawing by Sol Eytinge, http://archive.org/details/workastoryofexpe04770gut

Helen Carroll drawing by Sol Eytinge, http://archive.org/details/workastoryofexpe04770gut

It’s easy to tell when Louisa is writing from her own experience because her voice is authentic and powerful. I found it quite fascinating living through Christie’s different work experiences with the most compelling being chapter five, “Companion,’ when she cares for Helen Carroll, the woman doomed to madness. Her experience with domestic servitude was revealing and chilling (giving me a greater appreciation for my newly discovered love, “Downton Abbey”).

I also found Christie’s search for God and Louisa’s devastating description of religion in her time to be equally compelling.

… and it lost me when …

The story became a bit of a dull formula when David Sterling entered the picture. It was obvious that Louisa had had little personal experience with romance and none with marriage.

David Sterling drawing by Sol Eytinge, http://archive.org/details/workastoryofexpe04770gut

David Sterling drawing by Sol Eytinge, http://archive.org/details/workastoryofexpe04770gut

Loosely based on Henry David Thoreau, David Sterling was a romantic enough character, high in virtue, a strong and somewhat silent type with a touch of melancholy due to a secret past. Like Thoreau, he played the flute; Christie dubbed his playing as “David’s voice” and was able to discern much sadness in it. He tended flowers and took care of his mother, and his lack of ambition along with his grave expression puzzled Christie. Their friendship grew and she soon found herself falling in love with him.

Predictable games

Enter Kitty, a pretty and frivolous girl, and a completely useless character. With her came the typical cat-and-mouse game where the heroine and hero misunderstand each other, the heroine leaves and assumes the hero is lost to her forever. It all ended up with the hero suddenly visiting the heroine and spilling his deep, dark secret, and then professing his love.

Yawn.

An excess of virtue

At this point in the book Christie and David seemed weighed down by an excess of virtue. Louisa did have a tendency to be heavy-handed in her morality plays and this was one time when I found it to be too much.

Heaven forbid that any character in a book with Louisa’s name on it should be anything but virtuous! Because she was a slave to her reputation, Louisa would never associate her real name with her thrillers, even A Modern Mephistopheles which was published in Roberts Brothers’ “No Name” series after Little Women. If it hadn’t been for the discovery by Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern in the 1940s, no one would have even known she had written them. Readers would have been robbed of a rich legacy of works which revealed an interesting dark side to the author.

A marriage too short

David and Christie marry drawing by Sol Eytinge, http://archive.org/details/workastoryofexpe04770gut

David and Christie marry drawing by Sol Eytinge, http://archive.org/details/workastoryofexpe04770gut

Christie and David did eventually marry but without firsthand knowledge of married life, Louisa chose instead to separate them. Enter the Civil War where David gallantly served as captain of his regiment and Christie as a nurse.

Louisa’s brief but significant stint as a nurse in the war provided rich experiences for Christie. She excelled at nursing and was quickly promoted. I had to smile, wondering if Louisa pictured herself becoming that “super nurse” had she not been struck down so early by typhoid pneumonia.

A familiar death

David's death drawing by Sol Eytinge, http://archive.org/details/workastoryofexpe04770gut

David’s death drawing by Sol Eytinge, http://archive.org/details/workastoryofexpe04770gut

David’s passing in chapter eighteen reminded me a lot of John Suhre’s in Hospital Sketches. Both were valiant and virtuous men dying painful deaths from a wound to the lung. And both were loved by strong, capable independent women who happened to be nurses in the Civil War: David by Christie, and John by Louisa.

Real life getting in the way of the story

I wish that Louisa had explored more fully the marriage between David and Christie. Their relationship grew from a deep friendship into a true companionate marriage where both parties were equal. Louisa’s lack of experience in marriage plus her deep skepticism that a companionate marriage could ever take place (especially for her) most likely discouraged her from doing so.

“Little Heart’s –Ease” to the rescue!

Christie and Ruth drawing by Sol Eytinge, http://archive.org/details/workastoryofexpe04770gut

Christie and Ruth drawing by Sol Eytinge, http://archive.org/details/workastoryofexpe04770gut

Just when it seemed I might completely lose interest in Work, along came chapter nineteen, “Little Heart’s-Ease” which began the enormous task of tying together all the loose ends of this story.

This chapter picks up from David’s death to follow Christie’s long journey of grief from sad resignation, to inconsolable storms resulting in open rebellion against God, to finally a place of peace and reconciliation. Pregnant with David’s child, the birth of Ruth (which means “little heart’s-ease) brings Christie back to life.

I will devote my third post on the wrap-up of Work to this chapter which, to me, did a wonderful job of resolving Christie’s issues with faith and religion.

Revisiting old characters

Cynthy and Hepsey drawing by Sol Eytinge, http://archive.org/details/workastoryofexpe04770gut

Cynthy and Hepsey drawing by Sol Eytinge, http://archive.org/details/workastoryofexpe04770gut

The final chapter continued to tie together the loose ends, bringing back Helen’s younger sister Bella, freed slave Hepsey (whom Christie had worked with as a domestic servant) and Cynthy Wilkins (the wife, mother of six and laundress who eventually connected Christie to David). Christie at forty years of age appeared for the first time to be truly comfortable in her own skin as evidenced by the impromptu speech she made at a women’s group meeting about her experiences.

The feminist theme comes full circle

A strong feminist theme ran through Work but this final chapter displayed Louisa’s eloquence in expressing her desires for women (this will be explored in the second post through Sarah Elbert’s essay). A running theme for Louisa has been for women to lives of purpose, whether it is on the work front or in the home. We saw this theme before in An Old-Fashioned Girl where Louisa lamented the frivolous “life of fashion;” you recall that Polly, a working girl, helped Fanny find her purpose in the care of her family after they lost their fortune (see posts on An Old-Fashioned Girl).

True reform

What I most appreciate about Louisa as a reformer was her belief that reform came incrementally through the work of individuals. The combination of her father’s Transcendentalism which promoted the improvement of the individual for the good of society, and her mother’s practical application created a reformer who understood that true change comes from within. And she knew how to suggest practical means of achieving that change.

The good news

christieThis played out in the mission that Christie created for Bella. Rather than directly serve the poor which Christie astutely discerned was not appropriate for a women of Bella’s background, she inspired Bella to educate her friends on the need for lives of purpose, much the way Polly inspired Fanny. She was, in a sense, sending out her first disciple to spread the good news of a changing way of life for women that included a growing sense of autonomy.

Final thoughts

Despite its flaws, Work was a frank and gritty look at the life of women in the 19th century who long to be more than what they are permitted to be. It forecast an epic struggle that would ultimately grant women the political power and many choices they enjoy today along with the complications of those choices.

Yet, I found Work to be far more than a feminist study. There were so many other subplots that to me, made the book truly interesting in the end.

Louisa’s commentary and personal understanding of faith was look inside of her character and her drive for reform. Her unique brand of candor and poignancy opened windows into class, race, mental illness, despair and a kind of love that embraced equality.

Redemption for Christie came through a perfect blending of purpose-filled work and domestic bliss with her child, Ruth. It came after many years of hardship and great cost.

Louisa was a great believer in the redemptive nature of suffering as she wrote in chapter nineteen: “from the dust of a great affliction rose the sustaining power she had sought so long.”

Click to Tweet & ShareA tale of two books: wrapping up Work A Story of Experience (part one) http://wp.me/p125Rp-1op

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Introducing the first official French biography of Louisa May Alcott

Sometime ago I was contacted by Charline Bourdin who blogs about Louisa May Alcott in France. She recently authored a book on Louisa’s life, published by Devin Editions.

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LOUISA_LOW_116Titled Louisa May Alcott Ou la véritable histoire de Josephine March, this is the first official biography of Louisa in French.

Charline Bourdin was born in Rouen, France. She studied literature before becoming a secretary in a high school. Her favorite authors are especially Anglo-Saxon: Lewis Carroll, Jane Austen, Lucy Maud Montgomery, and of course, Louisa May Alcott whom she discovered when she was nineteen. Charline is very interested also in the life of younger sister May Alcott Nieriker; She currently resides in Meudon where May lived.

lis adams with french louisa bio for webCharline was kind enough to send me a copy of the book for my library plus one I requested for Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House. Last Thursday I presented the book to Lis Adams, Education Coordinator at Orchard House.

I encourage you to visit Charline’s excellent blog; Google will translate the French into English. In her latest post, she put up a beautiful set of photos of Grez Sur Loing where May spent a summer in 1877. In such a picturesque place, one can certainly imagine gracious and statuesque May, armed with her enthusiasm and sketching pad and pencils producing many wonderful sketches and perhaps a painting or two.

Louisa’s legacy continues to grow and spread!

Click to Tweet & ShareIntroducing the first official French biography of Louisa May Alcott http://wp.me/p125Rp-1o0

Are you passionate about Louisa May Alcott too?
Send an email to louisamayalcottismypassion@gmail.com
to subscribe, and never miss a post!
Facebook Louisa May Alcott is My Passion
More About Louisa on Twitter

Susan’s ebook, “Game Changer” is now available From the Garret – download for free!