Louisa May Alcott loved cats and so do I – Helping out cats, kittens and people with a special book

cover croppedSince Louisa May Alcott loved cats (and I love Louisa), I wanted to share with you a book I recently self-published known as The Critter Room Memory Book Volume One on sale now for $19.95 to raise funds for an extraordinary no-kill cat shelter known as Purrfect Pals. Before encountering Purrfect Pals I would have thought that supporting a cat shelter was a frivolous thing; shouldn’t my efforts go towards helping humans instead?

It turns out Purrfect Pals does help humans, and here’s how.

Two years ago I “met” John Bartlett online. He is a volunteer for Purrfect Pals having fostered 43 litters of kittens. Nearly 200 kittens and mother cats have found permanent homes as a result of his efforts.

A friend alerted me to the live kitten cam John had on Livestream and after my first visit, I was hooked. Over the span of several weeks I could watch newborn babies grow to healthy and beautiful kittens ready to take on the world.

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It was fun watching them grow from squirmy little sausages with pencil point tales to the fur balls of fun. Imagine watching little kittens working their tiny paws back and forth in rapid succession as they nursed from their mother … envision little spitfires “zooming” around the room, leaping, tumbling and snuggling … I couldn’t stop watching.

Offering joy and comfort

I enjoy watching the kitten cam for a good laugh or just to get away for a spell from all the bad news in the world. At first the draw was the kittens but soon it became the community—thousands of people from around the world tuning in to watch kittens, chat together, share their life stories and offer comfort to other members who needed it. Along with the comical remarks about the kittens (kitten lovers have a great sense of humor) were stories of chronic illness, unemployment and other matters that isolate people from their world. Some community members are homebound and the live kitten cam community became a lifeline for them, filling their days with smiles and love.

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Why The Critter Room Memory Book?

Tears are shed on adoption day as the kittens go off to their new homes. We’re all thrilled and yet we miss them. That’s when I came up with the idea of The Critter Room Memory Book Volume One, a scrapbook full of pictures of kittens along with fan fiction, art and commentary on how the Critter Room community is a microcosm for how the world could work when we could but adopt a common cause.

Prison outreach

prison-programFoster Dad John helps kittens find homes and his cam gives joy to people in need. But there’s more. Purrfect Pals has a prison outreach program called Prison-Foster where inmates are given semi-feral kittens to socialize and to love so that they can then be adopted. That’s when I knew I wanted to support this wonderful organization.

I would hope Louisa would be pleased.

In support of Purrfect Pals

If you would like to support Purrfect Pals in their work, you can purchase The Critter Room Memory Book Volume One, and all royalties go to Purrfect Pals. For every $19.95 you spend, Purrfect Pals makes $10.35. Makes a great gift!

How to double your donation

critter room memory book box art2Another great way to help is to “double” your donation by purchasing books for Purrfect Pals to sell during their adoption events. Their address is 230 McRae Rd NE, Arlington, WA 98223 in care of Executive Director Connie Gabelein.

You can find out more about Foster Dad John and The Critter Room by visiting the Facebook page.

Thanks for your support!

Louisa’s poem in tribute to her cat

A Lament For S. B. Pat Paw

We mourn the loss of our little pet,
And sigh o’er her hapless fate,
For never more by the fire she’ll sit,
Nor play by the old green gate.

The little grave where her infant sleeps
Is ‘neath the chestnut tree.
But o’er her grave we may not weep,
We know not where it may be.

Her empty bed, her idle ball,
Will never see her more;
No gentle tap, no loving purr
Is heard at the parlor door.

Another cat comes after her mice,
A cat with a dirty face,
But she does not hunt as our darling did,
Nor play with her airy grace.

Her stealthy paws tread the very hall
Where Snowball used to play,
But she only spits at the dogs our pet
So gallantly drove away.

She is useful and mild, and does her best,
But she is not fair to see,
And we cannot give her your place dear,
Nor worship her as we worship thee.

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Free online writing retreat being offered by Loyola Press author Vinita Hampton Wright

Whether you are a published author, an aspiring author or someone who just loves writing in your diary or journal, I highly recommend this free week-long writing retreat offered by Vinita Hampton Wright of Loyola Press.

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You can subscribe to receive the posts in your email by clicking here. Each day you will receive writing exercises and teaching from Vinita; you can choose when and where you “attend” this retreat thanks to the flexibility of the online experience.

This year’s theme is “Writing for the Soul.” Vinita offers details here:

WritingRetreat book_Soul Tells a StoryI also highly recommend Vinita’s book, The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life; this book changed my life. This book is not just for writers but for anyone engaged in creativity. Vinita shares her own experiences along with sage advice, leading you on a journey within that will reveal an unexpected treasure trove within yourself.

Besides adding a tremendous dimension to my writing, I found myself coming to understand the creative within me and how to deal with it. This is a gritty read; the exploration and authentic living of the creative life is necessarily risky. It also is a life brimming over with exhilaration and joy, opening your eyes and your heart to a whole new world.

Check out this wonderful, and FREE, week-long writing retreat!

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Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard house to Launch Kickstarter Campaign in September for Documentary Film

From the official press release:

(Concord, MA) This fall will be a busy one in Concord at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House. Orchard House is most noted for being home to the talented Alcott family, and as the place where Louisa May Alcott wrote andset her beloved classic novel, Little Women. But, the house is also rich in history dating all the way back to the 1600’s. To enhance their mission of sharing this history, the house is embarking on a documentary film project.

To fund this project Orchard House hopes to raise at least $150,000 by running a Kickstarter
funding campaign, which officially launches on September 17th.

Watch a preview video here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/632439913/orchard-house/widget/video.html
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Tremendous legacy

Orchard House is one of the oldest, most authentically-preserved historic house museums in America, and brings the Alcott legacy in the fields of literature, art, education, philosophy, and social justice to life every day.

Unique tour experience

Named Best Literary House in New England by Yankee Magazine this June, Orchard House offers highly acclaimed tours, unique living history events, curriculum-based educational programs, and irreplaceable original family furnishings and archives. Annually, more than 50,000 visitors from all walks of life and every corner of the globe experience Orchard House — and discover what it means to be ‘home’.

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A chance to share stories

“We’re so delighted to begin this project” says executive director Jan Turnquist, “there are many stories to be told about Orchard House. While we won’t have the time to tell all of them, the documentary will certainly be a positive tool for us to share many of them and to engage generations of supports – old and new – from around the world.”

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First time on film

The history of the house, its inhabitants, and supporters have not been the subject of a documentary before. Once made, the film will offer highlights from each period of the house’s more than 300 year history and feature interviews with celebrity supporters of the house, such as Annie Leibovitz and John Matteson. Along with executive director Turnquist, the Orchard House Board of Directors and its many dedicated staff and volunteers are looking forward to this opportunity for progressive outreach.

 

For more information on
Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House:

Executive Director, Jan Turnquist jturnquist@louisamayalcott.org
Louisa May Alcott House Orchard House
399 Lexington Road
Concord, Massachusetts 01742
www.louisamayalcott.org

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/632439913/orchard-house 

Handsome new collection of lesser known Alcott stories (Susan Cheever, editor) now available

Yet another new book regarding Louisa May Alcott!

I just received my copy of Alcott: Work, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom, Stories & Other Writings edited by Susan Cheever. This is the third book that Cheever has been involved in regarding Louisa May Alcott; her others include Louisa May Alcott A Personal Biography (see previous post) and American Bloomsbury (see previous post). She has added notes at the end of the volume regarding the works included.

alcott book edited by susan cheever

Each story is illustrated with the original drawings from the first edition.

The other writings include:

  • Address to the Republican Women of Massachusetts
  • Kate’s Choice
  • How I Went Out to Service
  • Woman’s Part in the Concord Celebration
  • Letter to the Woman’s Journal, June 29, 1876
  • Anna’s Whim
  • My Girls

There is also a chronology, note on texts and miscellaneous notes.

The overall theme of the book is Louisa’s feminist writings.

Appealing book

This is a lovely volume with a glossy cover, nice quality semi-gloss paper and a ribbon to mark your place. The book stays open which is something I always like. I enjoyed having the original illustrations and I am particularly pleased to see Work getting wider exposure.

A moment for a rant

Just as a personal aside: I do wish Work would be examined for its other significant parts. I realize that most people reading it for the firs time will be drawn in by the feminist theme and the autobiographical nature of the story. But there is so much more to this book! It seems that the second half is nearly dismissed. It’s true that the courtship of Christie and David is the weakest part of the story and their marriage is cut way short by his death. But Christie’s search for her spiritual self, for meaning in life, her near suicide, her grief journey and her eventual involvement with a circle of sisters is what makes the book special to me. I guess I’m just too much of a wonk! :-)

Here’s my various posts on Work.

I was hoping for some kind of introduction to each story from Susan Cheever. Instead there is a scant two and one half pages at the end of the volume about them. There are other notes in reference to particular parts of the stories.

The suggested price of $40 is steep! Fortunately you can get it for about $28 on Amazon.

This book is issued by the Library of America in their efforts to preserve literary history.

A question

Allow me now to show my ignorance: I had not heard of “Anna’s Whim” nor “My Girls.” I saw in the notes that they are both part of the Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag series. Have any of you read these stories?

Alcott: Work, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom, Stories & Other Writings does not include anything different for those of us who immerse ourselves in Alcott. It does, however, present something new to those who are just getting started, especially Work.

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Book recommendation: The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick

I have had a secret longing to read young adult books because they read quickly. With all the heavy reading I’ve had to do lately, it’s nice to just fly through a book without taking notes or analyzing each paragraph. Yet, I always felt I should not be reading such books since I am an adult. After hearing Cathlin Davis’ stirring defense of the value of children’s literature at the Summer Conversational Series (see previous post) I confessed to the group that I felt like I had received permission to read children’s literature!

I had already started reading The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick and this made the reading even more fun.

About the author and the premise of the book

Heather Vogel FrederickThe Mother-Daughter Book Club (first in a series) focuses on four mothers and their pre-teen daughters living in Concord, MA and reading Little Women. The project was suggested to the author as she herself lived in Concord for seven years, right down the street from Orchard House. In the notes following the story she writes that she rode her bike past the home, dreaming of becoming a writer. She likens herself to Louisa in her love of exploring nature, reading books and writing stories.

Main characters

The main characters mirror in part the March sisters: Emma is the wanna-be writer and bookworm, Jess is the gentle and shy animal lover, Megan is the vain and spoiled aspiring fashion designer and Cassidy is the rambunctious tomboy and athlete who plays hockey. It appears that Meg is the only March sister not represented by this group.

Unique point of view

the-mother-daughter-book-club (for LMA blog)Frederick uses an interesting method in laying out the story, devoting chapters to each girl, using their unique point of view to describe what is happening. While it gets a bit confusing trying to remember whose mom is whose, it’s a wonderful way to get inside the head and heart of each character.

Familiar territory

The Mother-Daughter Book Club covers the sixth grade year of the girls with all the familiar drama of middle school. I found myself reminiscing about life in the sixth grade as I read about the Fab Four (the cool kids who terrorize everyone – Megan is a part of this crowd), crushes on boys, the obsession with clothes, and sticking out for being “different.” It reminded me of just how complicated it was to be twelve years old.

Each daughter has a dilemma:

  • Emma, who is plain, overweight and wears hand-me-downs, has a mad crush on Zack, the hunk.
  • Jess lives on an organic farm that dates back to the Revolutionary War and is teased mercilessly by the Fab Four who call her “Goat Girl.”
  • Megan comes from a family who suddenly came into wealth and has been changed from Emma’s imaginative friend into an elitist snob who shuns her friend in favor of becoming part of the Fab Four.
  • Cassidy is an out-and-out tomboy who is grieving the loss of her father and finds comfort in playing hockey, something her mother disapproves of.

The mothers have their stories too:

  • Emma’s mom is the town librarian and cooks up the idea of the book club so that mothers and daughters can spend more time together. She is supportive of Emma and the family is close.
  • Jess’ mom up and left Concord suddenly, deciding to live out her long-held dream of being an actress and landing a plum job on a top soap opera called Heartbeats. Jess, her dad and her younger twin brothers miss their mother desperately.
  • Megan’s mom is the in-your-face champion of all kinds of causes. She is a big believer in all-natural and organic foods and wants to push Megan into attending MIT so she can become an environmental lawyer. Megan would prefer being a fashion designer, something her mom feels is a frivolous pursuit.
  • Cassidy’s mom was once a fashion supermodel known as Clementine. She is all woman: beautiful, gracious and very talented in the domestic arts; a total opposite of her daughter.

Well developed, poignant and fun

little women norton versionThis then is the set-up for the four arcs of the story. They are well-developed, funny and sometimes rather poignant. There are the stereotypical minor character “bad girls” (Becca, one of the Fab Four and her obnoxious mother Calliope) and of course the book club meetings where there are many references to Louisa May Alcott and Little Women. Frederick also uses many references to Concord right down to street names, Sleepy Hollow cemetery and the recreation of the first battle of the Revolutionary War at the Old North Bridge. Being so familiar with Concord, it was fun imagining the scenes.

I enjoyed being a witness to the response of today’s pre-teens to Little Women. I also appreciated that the girls, although similar to the March sisters, had their own very distinct personalities and stories.

While the book does wrap up all the loose ends and everyone lives happily ever after, the solutions are, for the most part, believable because of the care Frederick takes in working out each dilemma.

Stamp of approval

I very much enjoyed The Mother-Daughter Book Club; it read so fast that it was hard to put down; I was sorry to see it end. I enjoyed reliving my own memories of being twelve and identified with each character.

So Cathlin Davis was right: there is no shame in reading children’s literature. I will have to do it more often as it gives me a chance to “get away from it all.” Is it a guilty pleasure? A pleasure, to be sure, especially with books like The Mother-Daughter Book Club.
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Elizabeth’s form of genius; Beth’s power in Little Women (guest post by Kristi Martin)

Warning: this is a long post but I believe, well worth the time. I was so fascinated when I first heard the presentation at the Summer Conversational Series that I opted not to take notes and just enjoy it!)

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Kristi Martin

At the recent Summer Conversational Series, Kristi Marti (tour guide de force; she has been a guide at nearly every major historical home in Concord) presented her paper on the genius exhibited in each of the Alcott sisters. Normally we don’t think of genius extending to the quieter sisters Anna and Elizabeth; Kristi presented a compelling argument in favor of Lizzie’s form of genius which extends in the character of Beth March in Little Women. Kristi was kind enough to send me a copy of her paper, a portion of which I am presenting here as a guest post.

From “Beth’s Stage-Struck!”: The Alcott Sisters and “the Difference Between Talent and Genius,” presented on Monday, July 14, 2014 at the Summer Conversational Series at Orchard House:

Surrounded by genius

560 kristi teaching2The daughters of Abigail and Amos Bronson Alcott were no strangers to “Genius.” Anna, Louisa, Elizabeth, and May were immersed within a community of New England’s most renowned literary and artistic intellects, with Lydia Maria Child, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and artist Washington Allston among their parents’ dignified and intimate friends. Indeed, Hawthorne and Emerson were the Alcott family’s sometime neighbors in Concord, with Thoreau living in the same town. Like the four muses, each of the four sisters possessed striking talents in different branches of the arts: Anna possessed a passion for theater, Louisa had a gift of words and expression, which took a literary bent; Elizabeth was a musician; and, the youngest, May, was an accomplished artist …

Henry David Thoreau, Lydia Marie Child, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson

Henry David Thoreau, Lydia Marie Child, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson

Kristi weaves her discussion of the Alcott sisters in with the fictional March sisters. Here she begins her discussion of Beth’s importance to the story, and the real life young woman Beth was based upon:

Beth’s unsung role in Little Women

jo and beth… But Jo does have a conscience. As Beth lay ill with scarlet fever, Jo tells Laurie, “Beth is my conscience, and I can’t give her up.” (Little Women, pg. 188) With Beth confined to her sick bed it becomes clear that quiet, shy, and domestic Beth has perhaps the largest sphere of influence in the novel. “Everyone missed Beth. The milkman, baker, grocer, and butcher… even those who knew her best were surprised to find how many friends shy little Beth had made.” (Little Women, pg. 186) As Jo witnessed Beth’s physical distress, she “learned to see the beauty and the sweetness of Beth’s nature, to feel how deep and tender a place she filled in all hearts, and to acknowledge the worth of Beth’s unselfish ambition to live for others, and make home happy by the simple virtues which all may possess, and which all should love and value more than talent, wealth, or beauty.” (Little Women, 185) Meek and too often taken for granted, I contend that Beth is in fact the most powerful character in the novel. Her influence is quiet, but potent. It is Beth who suggests the girls buy Christmas presents for Marmee, rather than themselves (Little Women, pg. 7) It is Beth who sanctions Laurie’s admittance into the Pickwick Club. “Yes, we ought to do it, even if we are afraid,” Beth advises her sisters, “’I say he may come…’ This spirited burst from Beth electrified the club…” and Laurie was voted in unanimously (Little Women, pg. 108). It is Beth who makes the invalid Frank laugh more than he has in “ever so long.” Amy boasts of her sister’s captivating qualities, “Beth is a very fastidious girl, when she likes to be…,” Amy, of course “meant ‘fascinating.” (Little Women, 104) Beth’s strength is both a moral power and a useful power.

Lizzie’s sense of humor

lizzie alcott2Alcott scholars have been disappointed in the archival material left by Elizabeth Alcott. Unassuming and private, Elizabeth’s writings are not overtly revelatory when compared to the voluminous journals and letters left by other members of her family. Her family too was troubled by her quiet evasiveness, her father complaining that she hid her “feelings in silence.” (Madelon Bedell, The Alcotts Biography of a Family, pg. 247). Family biographer Bedell wrote, “One might seek forever in those childish pages for a word or even an intimation of a wish, a dream, a longing, a reaction, or a feeling, and never find it.” (Bedell, pg. 248) This, however, is somewhat of an exaggeration. Alcott biographer John Matteson refers to “spirited arguments” Elizabeth had with a friend over vegetarianism, but he too concludes that Lizzie seemed “never to have wanted more from life than a quiet, comfortable smallness.” (John Matteson, Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father, pg 186) Yet, Susan Bailey has uncovered some of Lizzie’s letters in the archives of Houghton Library, which are more telling. There is a passive aggressiveness in some of her letters to her father, the yearning for attention and affection. Other family members’ letters intimate her depression during her final illness, the “natural rebellion” that Louisa hints at in Little Women as well. Lizzie possessed a resiliency and the Alcottian humor of her mother and sisters, too. As she was dying in 1858, Louisa wrote in her journal that Lizzie was trying to keep her sister’s spirits up (The Journals, pg. 88). Louisa also delighted in Lizzie’s letters, telling Anna that Lizzie “writes me the funniest notes.” (The Selected Letters, pg. 9). This sense of humor comes through strongly in one of Lizzie’s extant letters written to her family, while she and her mother Abba were traveling for Lizzie’s health. Lizzie teasingly admonishes her father that if “he grows thinner on her account … I shant write any more letters … and he will not know how I am. It must seem so good not to have to run every minute to my bell or hush all the time. I know you miss your little skeleton very much don’t you.[sic]”. Telling of her journey, she recalled a woman who “put her head” into the carriage “very saucily to inquire if I was an invalid and where going if I had been sick long.” She seems to have disliked the impertinent concern of some: “Miss Hinkley came in, and was horridly shocked at my devouring meat … and stared her big eyes at me, she will probably come to deliver another lecture soon. I don’t care for the old cactus a bit,” (Letter, August 6, 1857; see previous post with entire letter) sounding like Louisa.

Was Lizzie actually like Beth?

beth and jo march from little womenDistinctly unlike Beth in Little Women, who “was too shy to enjoy society,” (Little Women, pg. 380) at the seashore, Lizzie was ecstatic at the idea of visiting the ocean. She wrote, “Joy, Joy, we are going to Lynn.” Far from not wanting a world beyond her home, she declared that she was “not homesick one grain,” but enjoying herself at the Sewall home in Boston. She reported that she played checkers in the evening, and went often to Boston Common in company with Tom, which was “delightful.” In this letter, Lizzie did not seem to shrink from society, but rather to observe those around her. As with the woman in the carriage, Lizzie wrote of her cousin Mary: “She is a queer girl and spends such funny days, mending old sheets and looking at me while I eat my food…” Those around Elizabeth seem to have been concerned and solicitous for her comfort and welfare. (Letter, August 6, 1857) Like Beth, Lizzie seemed to make friends wherever she went. Louisa wrote after the funeral that the family had longed for their uncle Samuel May or Theodore Parker to preside over the service, remarking that Parker “loved Lizzie and always missed her face when she was not at church.” (The Letters, 33)

Making sense out of death

Coming to terms with the inevitable

Coming to terms with the inevitable

In Little Women, Beth is able to die peacefully, content in the knowledge that “her life had not been useless.” (Little Women, pg. 427) She entreated Jo to take her place in the household, assuring her, “you’ll be happier in doing that than writing splendid books or seeing the world.” (Little Women, pg. 428) Both Beth and Lizzie’s death is presented as “the good death.” Like “Sylvia” in Alcott’s Transcendental novel Moods, Beth/Lizzie “proved that she did know how to die,” a Thoreauvian principle, that Alcott envisioned as “strength purified and perfected…,” an “unconscious power, which we call influence of character .. which is the nobelest.” Alcott, Louisa May. Moods. (Ed. Sarah Elbert. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1999), pg. 203) Both Beth and Sylvia’s deaths, perform an Emersonian compensation, in which the true purpose is gained within a seeming loss. It is Beth, the domestic character, who is Jo’s conscious. Beth thus comes to represent true genius in the novel, which in Alcottian terms is the higher conscious that she embodies. In giving writing advice to an admirer, Louisa quoted Michael Angelo: “Genius is infinite patience.” (The Selected Letters, pg. 231) It is Beth/Lizzie who exemplified infinite patience, both in the novel and real life. When Jo finally has success with her writing, it is only when she writes a story with “truth in it,” and she credits her parents and Beth for the goodness that is in her book. (Little Women, pg. 446)

How do you feel about Beth’s role in Little Women? Did she possess genius? Were you surprised at the sauciness of the real life Elizabeth?

Kristi also had many interesting things to say about May Alcott which I will present in the next post.

2014 Summer Conversational Series: Margaret Fuller and the Problem of Female Genius

john matteson1The Conversational series welcomed back a perennial favorite in John Matteson whose Pulitzer-prize winning book Eden’s Outcasts is a standard in Alcott scholarship. He has also written a fine book on Margaret Fuller called The Lives of Margaret Fuller; she was the focus of his presentation entitled “ ‘The Mind in the Full Glow of Power’: Margaret Fuller and the Problem of Female Genius.”

Was Fuller a genius?

Fuller tackled an age-old problem: was genius for men alone? Although Fuller was probably the best-educated woman in America, she denied herself the mantle of genius. It was a source of great consternation to her; more on that a little later.

The evolving definition of genius

Matteson gave a brief history of the definition of “genius” and how it has evolved over the centuries. It was originally associated with pagan belief (coming from a more magic realm) and was considered contrary to the scriptures. It was generally believed that Genius was a personal god, directing the individual, a belief that endured in Fuller’s time. The meaning then morphed into what was considered a “good” genius versus an evil genius. Some felt genius was influenced by the stars.

The root of genius

Matteson pointed out that Genius and Genesis have the same root; Genesis only allows for one genius, God. Genius is polytheistic, each person having it. Therefore, Genius was considered a heresy since it was perceived to be against God.

Influence of Romanticism

samuel taylor coleridgeThe Romantic Movement influenced the change in the definition of genius. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a major influence in the Transcendental Movement, had a lot to say about genius, following up on Kant. Coleridge connected genius to the spiritual and the artistic. Talent was appropriating the knowledge of others whereas genius was original.

Genius and Transcendentalism

Genius to the Transcendentalist was divine in origin. Coleridge felt that genius needed be controlled whereas Emerson saw no need for genius to be hindered. Coleridge felt that genius was for men only but there were feminine traits. Genius is meant to inspire awe and the sublime; thus the results of genius were large and by nature, public, which placed it out of reach of women who never meant to be in the public sphere.

Unfulfilled potential

Fuller’s father was responsible for her incredible education but then felt he had created a “monster” and set her off to finishing school. Although she edited The Dial for Emerson’s Transcendental community, she was never paid for her work. Once she reached New York she was hired by a major newspaper as a correspondent. It was there that her gifts were finally appreciated and compensated.

Was there a genius to be found in America?

margaret fullerFuller felt that America had yet to produce a poetic genius. American literature and knowledge was yet to be respected. She felt that America’s diversity hindered its growth (moral and intellectual) with regards to talent and the higher pursuits. She did not find her criteria of genius being met in any American woman.

Fertile ground for genius

Transcendentalism felt that genius was the ultimate goal; Affiliated with this movement, Fuller used her conversation classes to cultivate and seek out genius in women. She discussed the meaning of gender thoroughly along with the question of genius. She also took up the quest of education for women. She did not see a lot of difference between what girls learned versus what boys learned but as Matteson pointed out, her training was unique. In general the education of girls was broader and shallower. Men were expected to “reproduce” what they learned; this is neglected for women. Fuller took up conversations to cultivate and grow education for women so that they too could “reproduce.”

Fear of genius

Female education led in the opposite direction from genius; male education cultivated talent but not genius. Creating something original was not encouraged, perhaps a leftover bias from the religious culture due to fear of the intellect.

Was genius moral?

Fuller maintained that genius demanded two forces – mad passion and ordered consistency. Genius was not merely to be held in awe but to be feared. While Channing held that genius was the highest order of good, Fuller believed there was a moral indifference with genius sometimes delighting in evil. It occurred to me that if genius was considered amoral, even evil, it would make sense why society would not associate it with women who were commissioned to tame their men and make them adhere to moral values. How could a woman do that and be a genius?

No women geniuses?

the lives of margaret fullerFuller believed that a woman should cultivate her talents and intellect. A female genius was possible but she never was able to identify any woman as such. As an example, Fuller was well versed with music but could not name a woman composer.

Genius out of reach?

Fuller did not believe she was a genius despite the fact that she felt herself to be one of the greatest minds in the country. This was devastating to her. Her father saw the potential and crammed her head with everything possible. Her sense of self and her emotional well-being depended on the growth of her potential. She did not see herself however as original and this was very hard for her.

Did no one measure up?

Transcendentalism was infused with the binary, such as genius versus talent, finite versus infinite, etc. In Emerson’s mind one had to be a genius to be a part of his circle; therefore he obviously felt that Fuller was a genius. Fuller tasted all the loneliness of being exceptional but never the satisfaction of being exceptional. If she was not a genius, could anyone achieve it? Her own mind was the yardstick, the utmost development of the female mind and yet she did not believe herself to be a genius; thus there were no women she could call a genius.

Promoting genius

If Fuller could not be a genius, she would promote others who were, using her writing skills; she became a critic (he critic is the younger sibling of genius). She believed as a critic that she must be well-versed in all the forms she critiqued. For example, she could not critique a poem if she was unable to write one herself. The critic must be very observant. Fuller was the chief critic for a NY publication.

The ideal for women and men

Like many women, Fuller believed women were imprisoned by being subservient; she also believed that men too were imprisoned because of this concept. Her ideal was that men and women would relate to each other as equal partners so that both could be freed from convention (something Louisa desired, writing about it in Work A Story of Experience through the marriage of Christie and David). Parties would meet mind to mind; mutual trust would be needed. Seeing marriage as an intellectual communion, it would become a pilgrimage. Fuller married later in life (though a legal marriage has never been confirmed) to Giovanni Ossoli, a younger man she met as a foreign correspondent in Italy. One wonders if she found that intellectual communion she sought in a partner and how that marriage would have fared had she lived longer; tragically she, Giovanni and their baby were drowned in a shipwreck.

Can each of us possess a little genius?

As all of us listened, wondering if genius existed in us or perhaps lamenting that it did not, Matteson ended his presentation on a hopeful note: Fuller did not believe one had to be a genius to possess genius. It is entirely possible to cultivate our own genius.

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