From Hillside to Thoreau to Irish Immigrants

I just finished the section in Louisa May Alcott A Personal Biography by Susan Cheever about the 3-1/2 years the Alcott Family spent at Hillside (must make a point of touring Hillside, now known as the Wayside, next summer). Cheever spent a couple of pages on Thoreau and how Louisa felt about him and it made me want to read Walden again. I couldn’t imagine how I could fit in yet another book between reading this biography and Gone With the Wind (the most fun I’ve had since reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix).

I lucked out! Librivox.org has Walden available free as a downloadable audio book so I can listen to it during my commute. I hadn’t read Walden since college and wasn’t sure what to expect. I did remember liking it back in school though I’m sure I didn’t fully understand it. Right away though the first chapter, “Economy,” captured me. Thoreau threw in so many gold nuggets that I couldn’t digest it all. I keep nodding my head, saying “yes!”, and laughing as he poked fun. I kept thinking of my son who tries to live a minimalist lifestyle. I understood like never before what Thoreau was talking about: how we must rise above our everyday mundane lives, throw off the shackles of materialism and think totally outside the box. I loved his commentary on success and the idea that there is more than one definition of “success.”

I loved getting into the mind of this man that Louisa so cherished. While sharp and candid, there was also a gentleness there. I had never thought of Thoreau as witty (and maybe he wasn’t trying to be) but I found myself laughing out loud several times with understanding of what he meant.

Since I was raised by a naturalist mother who studied botany at Wellesley College, introducing me to a love of animals (especially cats!) and teaching me how to observe and identify birds (one of my favorite hobbies), I totally identify with Thoreau’s connection with nature.

I’m pretty sure I would have had a schoolgirl crush on Henry David Thoreau too! I look forward to my daily commute, getting more and more inside his head.

Next, I started Chapter 4 of Cheever’s book and read an interesting paragraph about the Irish immigrants that Abba Alcott served in her role as one of the first social workers in a mission for the poor in Boston. It reminded me of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s fantastic biography, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, and my favorite part of that book, Book One on the Fitzgeralds. She writes at length about Irish immigrants emigrating to America to escape the potato famine, detailing their lives in the slums of the North End of Boston and how one family rose from such abject poverty and hopelessness. I found myself wanting to read that book again but it will have to wait for another time. Suddenly there aren’t nearly enough hours in the day to devote to reading!

I love how my interest in Louisa is branching out to include more in-depth study. I’m hungry now for more of the back story. I think this is part of the reason why Gone With the Wind is such a timely read right now, learning about the Southern perspective from the same time period.

Who knew life could be this much fun, just from picking up a book? :-)