A room of one’s own: what if your “room” could be portable?

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susanwbailey:

Louisa’s yearning for private space and her glorious room at Hillside/Wayside always made me crave a special space too. I never dreamed it could be portable!

Here’s a picture of where her room was in the house at Wayside. Nathaniel Hawthorne changed the house after he bought it from Bronson and Louisa’s little room no longer exists. But you can stand in the space where it was. Very cool.

 

Originally posted on Be As One:

What happens when you get the urge to create?

  • Do you retreat to a music studio to write a song?
  • Do you go to your specially designated study to write?
  • Do you paint your latest masterpiece in a light-filled studio?
  • Do you shut the door when you enter your room?

Why do secret hideaway places draw us like magnets?

I wanted a room of my own when I first discovered Louisa May Alcott as a kid. There was an illustration of Louisa in her special room where it was quiet and she could think. When she had finished writing her latest poem or story, she could indulge in her other favorite passion, running, by racing out the door to her room that led outside.

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

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

Getting away from the noise

Louisa’s family was noisy; quiet and privacy…

View original 399 more words

Revealing the real Abigail Alcott to the world must include Bronson

bronson-abba

Slowly but surely I am getting through Abba’s letters in relation to my research on Lizzie Alcott. These letters cover a period from 1953 to 1958. Abba’s handwriting is difficult; it appears she often wrote in haste. Her eyesight was poor so it’s amazing she could write letters at all considering she was writing either by daylight or candlelight. The funny thing is, the more time you spend reading someone’s handwriting, the easier it is to read. I started by only being able to make out less than half of the words and the task seemed overwhelming. Now, depending on the nature of her scrawl, I can make out eighty to ninety percent as I have figured out her patterns and the quirks of the era with regards to handwriting (such as in the case of words ending in “ss” – the first “s” looks more like an “f.” Figuring that out opened up a lot of words!).

Creating a two-way conversation

bronson letters and journalOne of the things I plan on doing once I complete these transcriptions is to group the letters together in such a way as to create a two-way conversation; in other words, match up the correspondences. All of Bronson’s letters have been gathered into Richard L. Herrnstadt’s fine volume The Letters of A. Bronson Alcott so it’s just a matter of matching up the dates so that you get the reply back to the letter. I believe this conversation is essential to understanding Abigail Alcott fully.

Just the beginning

marmee and louisaEve LaPlante’s ground-breaking Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother was excellent but there appeared to me to be a bias against Bronson (understandable). I don’t believe LaPlante is necessarily hostile towards Bronson (she was actually asked that question at a forum at Fruitlands when the book first came out and she denied she was hostile towards him but rather felt sorry for him). But Bronson is nearly left out of the correspondences in My Heart is Boundless Writings of Abigail May Alcott, Louisa’s Mother; after going through each page of the book I found only two letters from him. Considering the number of letters they exchanged, this is a real gap.

Bringing a private life to the forefront

my heart is boundlessDon’t get me wrong, I am not faulting Eve LaPlante. One must have a certain focus when writing a book of this nature; there is just no way to include everything. LaPlante desired and succeeded in showing the world the brilliant fire of Abigail Alcott and the suffering that women of her ilk endured in a male-dominated world. What I am saying is that more needs to be done.

Setting forth the challenge

If I could clone myself or if I was twenty years younger, I would take on the task of gathering together all of Abba’s letters to Bronson, coupling them with his replies and releasing them to the world. But my work on Lizzie must come first (and I have another book on a different subject I am also writing).

I will throw out this challenge however. If someone did desire to put together such a book, I would happily share all the letters I will have transcribed by the time my Lizzie book is done. Consider it and don’t be shy about asking.

A letter from Abba to Bronson

I transcribed a letter today from Abba to Bronson dated December 22, 1857. I’d like to share some of it with you:

“I am pinching all I can to meet up the demands on the 1st – Mr. Davis asks me constantly what you are going to do with his note – I told him you would do the best thing you were able to do what I could do nothing but take care of my family this winter – you would be here early in the spring – and if successful would pay him – Now go and doing the best you can – Money is needed in a heap to get all things …”

“Should this prove dear Lizzy’s last winter with us – they will be glad they did not leave her – I try to believe all will go well with the dear child and that father will return to greater joy than we have yet known.”

“Your letters are a great comfort to us – at times I feel too sad to live – then I think of you and how with Spartan intensity you have stood by your life-test – and that my girls are hopefully striving with circumstances – And their mother ought to be a staff of protection – if she cannot be a vehicle of progress for them so I cheer up and say from my heart “Lead thou me on”

“God help you friend – be careful of cold.”

All from Houghton Library, letter dated December 22, 1857, Amos Bronson Alcott Papers, MS Am 1130.9 (25-27) (used by permission)

A glimpse into a heroine

abbaWhat do these fragments tell us? They tell me that first of all, Abba was under tremendous pressure keeping the home front together while her husband was out on the road. She not only had to take care of a dying daughter but she also had to take care of the financials while at the same time, trying to keep a brave face for her other daughters so as to be a good example. Certainly a heroic effort and one that ultimately succeeded. But what I am constantly struck by, both in this letter and the many others, is her loyalty and devotion to Bronson. It almost never wavers. As much as we look back and shake our heads wondering how she could have stayed with him, put up with him, loved him, she did. She loved him. She encouraged him to do what he was doing because she felt it was right for him to do so. And she admired his adherence to his principles.

Bronson’s awareness of his wife’s worth

amos bronson alcottThese letters are an important part of Abigail’s history and legacy. Bronson obviously thought so as he chose to read through them and her journals after he died. We know that many were destroyed, perhaps at her request, perhaps to protect his reputation, it likely was both. But LaPlante writes on page 264 of Marmee and Louisa that “Bronson found the experience unexpectedly painful. Abigail’s accounts of him and their marriage filled him with shame.”

Troubled marriage, great love

Abigail and Bronson’s marriage was troubled but despite that trouble she was devoted to him. He may have had an eye for younger women when he was older (such as Ednah Dow Cheney to whom he wrote intimate letters and took long walks) but he did love Abba as much as he was capable. The problem of course was that she was far more capable of selfless love than he was. Likely they were a product of their time: women were trained to be self-sacrificing and live in a private sphere whereas men were trained to go out and conquer the world.

bronson-abba

Completing her legacy

I hope that a by-product of my research on Lizzie will be a book someday by someone that will include a two-way conversation between Abigail and her husband. Her legacy is not complete without him.

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Louisa May Alcott The Women Who Wrote Little Women by Julian Hawthorne

Check out this fascinating anecdote-rich article by an Alcott contemporary, Julian Hawthorne (son of Nathanial Hawthorne) Written in the 1920s he gives a unique perspective on the popularity of Little Women during the free-spirited flapper era. He also spills some gossip about he and Abby May. :-) Enjoy!

http://clickamericana.com/eras/1920s/louisa-may-alcott-the-woman-who-wrote-little-women-1922

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Holiday Greetings from Louisa May Alcott

louisa may alcott is my passion christmas card 2013

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Happy birthday! Bronson Alcott at 214, Louisa at 181

Louisa May Alcott had remarked in her journal that memories of her November 29th birthday were not always happy ones.

The gift of self-denial

The Temple School

The Temple School

There’s the famous story of birthday number 3, celebrated at her father’s Temple School where, in the end, she had to deny herself her own birthday treat and give it to a student because there were not enough. Her “gift” was praise and a kiss from her mother for her self-denial. Bitter sweet.

Letter from her father

Then there is this story which I recently discovered in my re-read of Madelon Bedell’s The Alcotts: Biography of a Family. On her tenth birthday, she received this letter from her father:

“The good Spirit comes into the Breasts of the meek and loveful to abide long; anger, discontent, impatience, evil appetites, greedy wants, complainings, ill-speakings, idelnesses, heedlessness, rude behavior, and all such as these drive it away, o grieve it so that it leaves the poor misguided soul to live in its own obstainate, perverse, proud, discomfort; which is the very Pain of Sin and is in the Bible called the worm that never dies, the gnawing worm, the sting of Conscience.” (The Alcotts Biography of a Family, pg. 244)

Good grief!

bronson to louisa on her 7th birthday

from Little Women Letters from the House of Alcott by Jessie Bonstelle and Marian DeForest

Favortism

Bedell maintains that Bronson and Louisa may have been uncomfortable with the implied intimacy of sharing the same birthday, given their tempestuous relationship. In an effort to downplay the meaning, Bronson made sure every member of the family got a gift on their respective 43rd and 10th birthdays: Abba received a new rocking chair, Anna a silver pencil case and gold pen and inkstand, Lizzie two books. The birthday girl received the same gift as her baby sister Abbie: “little stories,” hers being titled “Flora’s Dial.” (Ibid) So only did every family get a gift on their birthdays, but some members got better gifts. How it must have stung Louisa’s heart to see the obvious favoritism Bronson showed towards her older sister (and where the money came from for such extravagance is a mystery).

Gradual reconciliation

512 louisa says goodbye to bronson

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

Yet, over the years, Louisa and Bronson came to appreciate one another as one matured and the other mellowed out. Her sacrifice of health during her Civil War nursing stint showed Bronson that his daughter was of extraordinary character. He was proud of her, and that pride continued through her literary success. It is said that he lived off of Louisa’s success in his subsequent conversation tours but could he have not also just been a proud father?

In the end they would share the closest of intimacies, dying within three days of each other, he inviting her to come “up” with him, pointing heavenward.

Happy birthday Bronson and Louisa!

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Continuing to trace the steps of Little Women: Madeleine B. Stern’s brilliant analysis, part three: Can you tell what’s real and what is made up?

Little Women  has been called autobiographical because Louisa May Alcott used so many episodes from her own childhood and that of her family to create the story. But where does fact end and fiction begin? Or does it even work like that?

Stern says, “Fact was embedded in fiction, and a domestic novel begun in which the local and the universal were married, in which adolescents were clothed in flesh and blood.”

True or False?

play and amy and joLet’s have a little quiz, True or False – is the following a real episode or fiction? Warning: the answer isn’t always black and white so pick True if it’s more black than white and False if the opposite.

Copy the entire list and then put TRUE or FALSE after the statement and we’ll compare notes.

  1. Hannah the servant
  2. The Christmas play (“The Witches’ Curse, an Operatic Tragedy)
  3. Amy burns Jo’s manuscript
  4. Marmee’s temper
  5. Amy falling through the ice
  6. Jo pinching Meg’s papered locks before the ball
  7. Meg being dressed up as a doll at Annie Moffat’s
  8. Amy bewailing her pickled limes
  9. Beth receiving the piano from Mr. Lawrence
  10. Mr. March’s illness
  11. Jo sells her hair.
  12. Beth wasted away and died peacefully.
  13. Jo published her first story, “The Rival Painters.”
  14. Amy writes her own will.
  15. Jo rejects Laurie’s love.

Answers in the next post. Good luck!

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On vacation with Louisa May Alcott: Last Day of the Summer Conversational Series – Being and Doing: Louisa explores herself and her beliefs through her writing (Part Two)

Cathlin Davis on Louisa’s philosophy of life

cathlin 560Continuing with Day 4 of the series, Professor Cathlin Davis from California State University presented on “Practice Philosophy: ‘I want something to do.’” Through passages from Hospital Sketches, Work, Little Men and some of the rarer short stories (“May Flowers” from A Garland for Girls and “What Becomes of the Pins” from Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag, volume 5), Davis presented a thorough analysis of Louisa’s philosophy for life: work as salvation.

Christie’s personal search for salvation

Davis presented one of my favorite passages from Work where Christie is searching for religion. Work is seen by most as an autobiographical feminist manifesto but often the important spiritual element of the book is overlooked. Davis did a masterful job of tracing the story of Christie showing how she “got religion” by finding meaningful work in her life. Christie has led a hard life and is in need of healing; the protection of the home (and her baby, “Little Hearts-Ease”), something to do (purpose), her tasks in taking care of the greenhouse which generates the income (and surrounds her with nature) and good friends bring that healing.

Purpose and acceptance

Davis continues with Little Men, demonstrating through Demi, Dan and Nan how each found their salvation through their purpose. Demi, the contemplative, surprisingly takes on a practical occupation as a journalist to support his family but still maintains that harmony of body and soul. Dan, a troubled street boy, finds acceptance at Plumfield after traveling a rocky, winding road. Demi’s acceptance of him was most important:

“No honor that [Dan] might earn hereafter would ever by half so precious as the right to teach his few virtues and his small store of learning to the child whom he most respected; and no more powerful restraint could have been imposed upon him than the innocent companion confided to his care …” (Little Men, from Davis’ handout)

Teaching the children

Louisa used her rich imagination in short stories “May Flowers” and “What Becomes of the Pins” to drive home the same point – that purposeful work is the means to salvation. In essence, Louisa was an active contemplative, one who blended being and doing into perfect harmony.

John Matteson on Louisa and Emerson

DAY 4 john 560The series ended with Orchard House favorite John Matteson from John Jay College in New York; he is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Eden’s Outcasts. His presentation was titled “Innocence and Experience: Alcott, Moods, and the Emersonian Prism.” Using what Louisa considered to be her most personal book, Matteson demonstrated how Louisa sough to live out the teachings of Ralph Waldo Emerson in her own life.

How does Emerson deal with artistic genius?

Matteson raised several important questions centered on artistic genius:

  • Can Emerson’s masculine philosophy be applied to feminine thinking?
  • Can the philosophy apply to minds in distress?
  • What about self-denial versus self-expression, and self-governance/service to others versus self-exploration of artistic genius?

Fear of genius

Suggesting that Louisa might have battled privately with a bipolar disorder, Matteson traced the life of Sylvia Yule and her mercurial nature as evidenced by her moods. He asserted that Louisa was fearful of the power and mania of her vortexes; Sylvia’s fear of the intensity of Adam Warwick plays out this concern. She sought to “tame” Sylvia as a means of achieving more of a balance as seen in the conventional ending of the 1882 revised edition of Moods where Sylvia resolves to remain with Geoffrey Moore, her husband (in the 1864 version, a younger Louisa felt she had no choice but to kill Sylvia off to consumption). Matteson believes Moods lost its power as Sylvia drew closer to that balance and maturity.

Contradictions

Emerson’s contradicting thinking on the nature of the mind had to have caused confusion for Louisa. Because Emerson did not believe in neat and tidy endings (since everything to him was fluid and open-ended), he could simultaneously hold the belief that all men were part of one universal mind and yet each man is a unique individual. The universal mind connotes community (something Louisa experienced much of in her early life due to Bronson’s views on consociate families); Louisa challenges Emerson as to whether genius can live in community since it does not lead to commonality. Sylvia is an early depiction of Louisa: full of contractions, longing for harmony due to the inner turmoil of her genius.

On the outside looking in

It is sad to consider how rigid Victorian society was at the time of Louisa’s life, it was vital it was to “fit in” to narrow expectations (which were even more narrow for women) and yet Louisa by nature was far outside of convention. Sylvia was a frustrated intellect who suffered from an overactive and overwrought mind and a heart that never rested.

Violent nature

Mattteson brought up the fascinating point about nature. Emerson promotes nature as healing and stimulating but what happens when nature becomes turbulent and dangerous? Matteson noted three occasions in Moods where Sylvia encounters this part of nature: the thunderstorm that threatened her company’s boat journey, the brush fire that nearly consumed her and the high tide that nearly swept her out to sea. She is challenging Emerson: what happens when the inner life becomes turbulent and dangerous?

Cleaning it up

In the end, Louisa gives Moods the tidy ending, perhaps not having the courage to explore the more open-ended thinking of Emerson.

Final thoughts

The Summer Conversational Series is a wonderful experience of intellectual stimulation and discussion with like-minded people. It’s not just that we discuss Louisa but more on how we discuss life. I have increasingly found it difficult to think like the rest of the world as I read more and more. I was surprised at how much of a Transcendentalist I actually am. Like Louisa, I don’t understand all the thinking of people such as Emerson and Bronson Alcott, but intuitively, I know what they were promoting. To me it is a joy to overlay the Transcendentalist way of thinking onto my Roman Catholic faith; it is helping me to embrace the mystic in me, something I once feared.

I made several new friends this week, friends that I will get together with outside of the Conversational series. To be in the company of such thoughtful and caring people, to find that kind of fellowship gave me the kind of vacation I truly enjoy.

DAY 4 audience laughing 560

DAY 4 jan3 560My heartfelt thanks to Jan Turnquist, Lis Adams, all the presenters and all the Orchard House volunteers for a week I will never forget.

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Book review: Little Women An Annotated Edition, edited by Daniel Shealy

I am delighted when Gabrielle Donnelly, author of The Little Women Letters (see previous post) offered to review this wonderful new edition of Little Women. Ed.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

560 LW Shealy1There are two ways to read Daniel Shealy’s new annotated version of Little Women (Belknap Press, $35.00): the sensible way and the irresistible way. The sensible way is to open at the beginning, and read through to the end, checking the footnotes as you go. That is the sensible way.

Every detail you could ever want

The irresistible way, is to open at the beginning … read the first couple of footnotes … realize that this book will tell you every single thing that you have ever wondered about in the background to Little Women … and proceed on a wild treasure hunt of March family trivia that will take you zig-zagging across the text until your head spins.

  • Was the town where the Marches lived really based on Concord? (No – although there are similarities between the Marches’ house and Hillside, the Alcotts’ house when the daughters were teenagers, the house in the book is quite specifically located in a ‘suburb’ of Boston while the more rural Concord is 18 miles away.)
  • What really were pickled limes? (Precisely what they sounded like, and, inexplicably, hugely popular with nineteenth century schoolchildren).
  • What was the game called ‘Rarey’ that Laurie played with his horse while Amy sketched him? (Not a game at all, interestingly: there was famous horse whisperer of the time called John Rarey, whom apparently Laurie was emulating).
  • Did May Alcott, the real life inspiration for Amy March, ever really sleep with a clothes pin on her nose? (Yes, and was less than delighted to have had this fact immortalized in print).

Many ways to read

The bad thing about reading the book the irresistible way is that it will leave you dazed and giddy, with your mind stuffed with far too much information properly to process. The good thing is that, after you have suitably sown your Alcottian wild oats, you will then have the time to go back and read the book the sensible way to see what you’ve missed.

For the fan and the scholar

Quite simply, the book is the Little Women lover’s dream come true. It’s physically imposing, with pages that are nine inches wide and divided into two columns: the text of the book runs through the two inner columns, while the outer are devoted to the footnotes. And what footnotes they are. There is something in them for everyone, from the neophyte who needs to have it explained that that beloved Alcottian adjective ‘decided’ means ‘determined’ in modern English, to scholars of all levels, of literature, of history, of women’s studies, of social studies, and of just plain fun.

Pages 246-247 - the footnotes are in red, the book text in black. The exquisite design of this book is exemplified through the choice of type (note the lovely drop cap at the beginning of the chapter) and the quality of the paper. From Little Women: An Annotated Edition by Louisa May Alcott and edited by Daniel Shealy. Copyright © 2013 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Pages 246-247 – the footnotes are in red, the book text in black. The exquisite design of this book is exemplified through the choice of type (note the lovely drop cap at the beginning of the chapter) and the quality of the paper.
From Little Women: An Annotated Edition by Louisa May Alcott and edited by Daniel Shealy. Copyright © 2013 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Serious facts, fun trivia

Information comes trivial and weighty, and the skill with which all of it is woven around the text is exemplary.

A chance comment of Marmee’s that she doesn’t want the girls to ‘delve like slaves,’ leads to a concise, but full, outline of the antislavery movement.

Similarly, the information that Meg’s husband John Brooke went to fight in the Civil War and was wounded – although we are told that the real life John Bridge Pratt did not go to fight at all – provides an opportunity for some sobering paragraphs on the ‘horrific’ human cost of the War on the population in general.

Louisa and her alter ego, Jo

Louisa’s real-life literary career is recounted alongside Jo March’s fictional one; and no less meticulousness is given to detailing the various fashionable fineries with which all sisters adorn themselves throughout the book. Louisa’s views on marriage are expounded, as are her views on women’s emancipation; Bronson Alcott’s philosophy is given its due airing, as is a history of salt cellars, a recipe for beef tea, and a completely delightful anecdote which I had never heard before, about a visit to Boston by the then Prince of Wales in 1860, during the course of which he captured the heart of Louisa and a friend by winking to them flirtatiously as he passed by in a carriage.

Classic illustrations through the ages

Pages 336-337 features a delightful depiction of Amy, foot stuck in plaster; illustration by Frank Merrill, 1880 version. From Little Women: An Annotated Edition by Louisa May Alcott and edited by Daniel Shealy. Copyright © 2013 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Pages 336-337 features a delightful depiction of Amy, foot stuck in plaster; illustration by Frank Merrill, 1880 version.
From Little Women: An Annotated Edition by Louisa May Alcott and edited by Daniel Shealy. Copyright © 2013 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Nor are the treasures of this book confined to its words. Running through the pages is a veritable wealth of illustrations, ranging from historical photographs of Louisa, her family, and the time she lived in, to book illustrations from different editions of Little Women, to stills from the various movies.

You will flick from Norman Rockwell’s no-nonsense depictions from 1937, to Frank Merrill’s elegant pen and ink figures from 1880 (my personal favorite is of Jo wearing glasses and addressing the Pickwick Society), to the sweetly wistful sisters of Barbara Cooney from 1955.

You will find stills of Katharine Hepburn as Jo in 1933, Christian Bale as Laurie in 1994, and a lavishly made-up Elizabeth Taylor as Amy in 1949.

Picture, pictures and more pictures

Along the way you will chance on other joys – the warmly welcoming interiors of the magnificent Orchard House museum in Concord, a Victorian mourning locket, an old playbill, a group of early suffragettes, or sometimes, just because it’s pretty, an illustration of a sweet pea or a dahlia. Amy would approve wholeheartedly.

Totally worth it

This book is not a casual purchase: priced at $35.00 and weighing in at a whopping 4.2 pounds, it is not something you’ll be slipping into your basket on the spur of the moment. But for the person in your life who loves or could learn to love Louisa May Alcott, and who you think deserves a special treat – be it your daughter, your best friend or even (why not?) yourself – it is worth each penny of cost and each ounce of weight several times over.

Gabrielle Donnelly is the author of the novel The Little Women Letters, published by Touchstone.

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Book Review: Louisa May’s Battle: How the Civil War Led to Little Women by Kathleen Krull; illustrated by Carlyn Beccia

louisa may's battleHow did serving as one of the first nurses of the Civil War lead to Louisa May Alcott’s runaway best seller, Little Women? Children’s author Kathleen Krull explores this journey in a delightful picture book entitled Louisa May’s Battle: How the Civil War led to Little Women, published by Walker & Company, New York.

Making extensive use of Hospital Sketches plus quotes from Louisa’s journals, Krull tells the story of Louisa’s burning desire to participate in the historic war by means of serving as a nurse. She writes,

“ ‘I long to be a man,’ Louisa May Alcott scribbled one day, ‘but as I can’t fight, I will content myself with working for those who can.’ Coming from a family that was part of the Underground Railroad to shelter runaway slaves, she burned to help the war effort.”

Krull presents a very human Louisa, fighting her fears and frustrations during the long and complex journey to Washington, D.C. by train and ferry. One gets the sense of a sheltered woman experiencing the outside world for the first time, working through those fears and embracing the excitement of being out on her own.

Krull’s lively descriptions, complemented by Caryln Beccia’s vivid and colorful illustrations, transports the reader into the thick of the action at the Union Hotel hospital where the wounded stream in after the infamous Battle of Fredericksburg. Again Louisa must confront her fears to care for the men: bathing them, comforting them during surgeries (where often either was not available), reading to them, writing letters, listening and keeping up their spirits. Hiding her own emotions behind a sharp wit, Louisa uses the Charles Dickens books she had brought to entertain her patients.

Krull conveys the attachment that Louisa has to her “boys” along with the pride she takes in her work and her sense of being a part of history in the making.

louisa may's battle nursing

Illustration by Carlyn Beccia copyright 2013, published by Walker & Co., NY

She describes the letters Louisa sent home, letters full of “snap and bite.” These correspondences would later lead to her first real success as a writer, Hospital Sketches.

Louisa pays a high price for her service with a serious illness that left her with lifelong ailments. Krull writes,

“Yet she had no regrets: ‘All that is best and bravest in the hearts of men and women, comes out in scenes like these; and though a hospital is a rough school,’ she had learned so much about human nature – and herself.

Krull sets the logical course for Hospital Sketches and Little Women, citing Louisa’s desire to make money for the family through her writing. In the course of compiling Hospital Sketches, Louisa realizes that she has found her style, that of writing from her own experience, combining her humor with her large heart.

Krull then chronicles Louisa’s writing of Little Women; here Beccia’s illustrations really shine, complete with a composite of scenes surrounding a portrait of the author with pen in hand.

Illustration by Carylyn Beccia copyright 2013 , published by Walker & Co., NY

Illustration by Carylyn Beccia copyright 2013 , published by Walker & Co., NY

Wrapping up her experience with the Civil War and its after-effects Krull writes,

“Being a war veteran was the key to all that she accomplished: ‘My greatest pride is . . . that I had a very small share in the war which put an end to a great wrong.’

It was service to her country that made Louisa May Alcott the author of books that would live forever.”

Louisa May’s Battle shares an accurate and fleshed-out version of Louisa while highlighting an important universal theme: that stepping outside the comfort zone and working for the greater good can lead to accomplishments never before imagined.

This book is beautifully designed, well-presented, and will engage young readers in a wonderful story about a woman who dared to be brave despite the hardship.

Louisa May’s Battle may be found at your favorite bookstore, on Amazon, and on BarnesandNoble.com.

Click to Tweet & ShareBook Review: Louisa May’s Battle: How the Civil War Led to Little Women by Kathleen Krull http://wp.me/p125Rp-1pP

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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.

Click to Tweet & ShareWrapping up “Work A Story of Experience:” The Spiritual Subplot http://wp.me/p125Rp-1pF

Are you passionate about Louisa May Alcott too?
Send an email to louisamayalcottismypassion@gmail.com
to subscribe, and never miss a post!
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Susan’s ebook, “Game Changer” is now available From the Garret – download for free!