Summer Conversational Series taking place this week

The Summer Conversational Series is taking place all this week at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House. The theme is “Heaven in the Mind:” The Spirit of Place in Transcendental Concord. I will be going to the Tuesday and Wednesday sessions.

3schoolpath

I believe registration is still open–here is information on topics and who is presenting (scroll down a bit to see).

Last year I was remiss in not sharing all that I learned at the series because frankly, I was awash in notes! It occurred to me that all I really need to do is summarize and make my notes available to you for download. That is what I will be doing this year so that you will not miss out.

A call out to those of you attending:

If you are taking notes, could you please share them with me so I can, in turn, share them with all of you? I would love to have all the days covered. Write to me at louisamayalcottismypassion@gmail.com.

Notes from 2014

Rose_Peckham_-_Abigail_May_Alcott_Nieriker_(d._1879)I include here all of last year’s notes for your perusal–Notes from Summer Conversational Series 2014. These include notes from other participants who graciously sent their notes to me. One of my favorite presentations which I wish I had written about was Anne-Laure Francois’ excellent talk on May Alcott–now you can see for yourself.

This is my fourth year attending the series; it is the highlight of my summer. Getting together with Alcott friends is the best!

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Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House needs your help!

Just yesterday I received this letter from Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House regarding their annual appeal. I present this letter to you. Please consider giving what you can to help preserve Orchard House from damage this winter:

Dear Friend:

Perhaps you’ve heard our recent great news: The “Kickstarter” campaign to fund the first-ever documentary about the amazing history and significance of Orchard House was a success! To all those who spread the word and pledged support, I send sincere thanks on behalf of everyone affiliated with Orchard House.

Unfortunately, the very next day we received bad news: Orchard House has major roof problems with costly structural implications, issues which must be addressed quickly because of leakage. With winter about to set in, we simply can’t afford to wait. As this letter goes to press, we are in the midst of acquiring bids — and working to finance these repairs.

orchard house in winter

So goes life! Something wonderful; something challenging! Every day at Orchard House, we strive to …

do something splendid … something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten

(to quote Jo March in Little Women). But we are continually aware that we do so only because of the devoted support of people like you. As you give us strength to persevere through our trials, you also champion our achievements in education, preservation, research, and tourism, and for that we are again very grateful.

In order to continue our (hopefully) “splendid, heroic, wonderful” work, however, our Annual Appeal must raise at least one-third of our operating budget — in this case, $240,000. Otherwise, we risk losing our ability to not only preserve the House in its time of need, but also maintain the high-caliber staffing needed to conduct our award-winning guided tours and educational programming.

There are so many worthy causes to support, especially at this time of year; so many pulls on your purse strings. Please don’t let Orchard House be forgotten in your charitable giving. In the past, extremely generous supporters like you have helped us meet or exceed our Annual Appeal goals. I ask you now to please consider giving as much as you can.

Author John MattesonProf. John Matteson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father, recently wrote:

Orchard House is more than boards and nails; it has a soul that evokes love and family. It redeems us. It welcomes, inspires, and reminds callers from the next town over and pilgrims from across the globe of the goodness and grace of our past, and points us toward a kinder future. Orchard House is precisely what we need.

What we need is your help to ensure that a place so embraced by splendor, heroism, and wonder continues to exist for many years and many generations to come!

If you have donated to us in the past, please continue to do so at or above the level of your last gift. If you donated to our Kickstarter campaign, please know that those funds are only available specifically for the documentary project; we cannot use them for vital operating expenses or preservation, so your Annual Appeal gift is vital. And if you have never donated to us before, know that by doing so, you become an important partner with a site that symbolizes the American family — and you become part of our family, too.

With deep gratitude and bright hope,

jan turnquist signature

 

 

Jan Turnquist, Executive Director
Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House

annual appealAll donations received by January 31, 2015 will still count toward the 2014 Appeal.

You can give by downloading the annual appeal card, and mail it with your donation to:

The Annual Appeal for Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House
P.O. Box 343
Concord, MA 0142-0343

Or, you can donate online at http://louisamayalcott.org/contribute.html

Let’s help Orchard House make its goal of $240,000 by January 31, 2015!

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Share your love for Louisa May Alcott with everyone!

Check out this perk for supporting Orchard House with a membership:

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Now I can share my love of Louisa May Alcott with everyone!

Here’s how you can join and support
Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House.

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Answers to the Little Women quiz; information needed on a late 19th-century British version of Little Women

Results of True/False Quiz

beth playing pianoI see some of you tried the True/False quiz of what was real and what was made up in Little Women. No one got 100% but you were very close! Here are the answers:

  1. Hannah the servant FALSE – The Alcotts could not afford any servants in those days
  2. The Christmas play (“The Witches’ Curse, an Operatic Tragedy) TRUE – this play is actually a composite of actual plays written and performed by Louisa and Anna.
  3. Amy burns Jo’s manuscript FALSE
  4. Marmee’s temper TRUE
  5. Amy falling through the ice FALSE
  6. Jo pinching Meg’s papered locks before the ball FALSE
  7. Meg being dressed up as a doll at Annie Moffat’s FALSE
  8. Amy bewailing her pickled limes TRUE
  9. Beth receiving the piano from Mr. Lawrence TRUE – in Harriet Reisen’s book Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women, Lizzie received a piano as a gift in Walpole, NH when she was twenty from Dr. Henry Whitney Bellows (see chapter 9 in the book)
  10. Mr. March’s illness FALSE – Louisa was writing about her own illness her Civil War nursing stint
  11. Jo sells her hair. FALSE but it was based on something true, that Louisa had all her hair cut off during her illness after the Civil War
  12. Beth wasted away and died peacefully. FALSE Lizzie (aka Beth) did waste away but she was in tremendous pain, was often quite anxious, and even went through a spell where she rejected her family and wanted to be left alone (Anna said in a letter that Lizzie had called her “horrid.”)
  13. Jo published her first story, “The Rival Painters.” TRUE
  14. Amy writes her own will. TRUE? Not sure on this one (I know, I shouldn’t have included it if I didn’t know the answer!)
  15. Jo rejects Laurie’s love. FALSE

LIttle Women, British volume, 1898

Here are some pictures from an exquisite British version of Little Women which even includes the dedication to the reader on a lovely sticker.  The only thing I can be sure of is that the illustrations are done by Frank T. Merrill, who illustrated the American version,  copyright of 1880 and renewed by Louisa’s adopted son John Pratt in 1896. Note that the text had been edited for this version, leaving out some of the slang and smoothing out some of the language.

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Click to Tweet & ShareAnswers to the Little Women quiz; information needed on a late 19th-century British version of Little Women http://wp.me/p125Rp-1ze

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Looking for new blogs and sites to visit? Here’s some that I can heartily recommend

It’s been quite a while since I shared with you different blogs and webpages of interest. Lately I’ve come across several that I’d like to share with you:

mark twain partyLight, Bright and Sparkling: This is author Diana Birchall’s blog. She has a fascinating post with lots of pictures on Mark Twain’s 70th birthday. Her grandmother is one of the guests!

Her Book Self – Lisa’s Literary Life: this blog covers a wide range of books from a true read-a-holic.

Musings of a Bookworm: several great posts about our favorite author on this blog.

Yet Another Journal: an interesting potpourri of “Nostalgia, DVDs, old movies, television, OTR, fandom, good news and bad, picks, pans, cute budgie stories, cute terrier stories, and anything else I can think of.” The budgie stories I’d like to see!

Women, Words, and Wisdom Powerful truths in women’s voices: a blog dedicate to women writers

Reading, Writing, Working, Playing: wonderful literary blog

A Life Reading: this one’s in French but Google Chrome will translate it into English. Great pictures!

catsSilver Threads: Books, Silver, Slide Shows: This blogger reads a lot and offers very intelligent commentary on what she reads. Here’s what she wrote on Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters, and Journals, edited by Ednah D. Cheney

Finally, I was invited to try out Forgottenbooks.org and agreed to write something about the site, something I am glad to do. This is a wonderful site for public domain books. You might say, “Sure, I can find these books on Google Books or archive.org” but you won’t find them as nicely formatted as these. Forgottenbooks.org presents a clean, new edition of the book in various formats supporting the Kindle, Nook and PC (although for the Nook you can only get a PDF version unfortunately). Books can also be read online and you can copy portions of the text for research purposes – you’re just asked to cite the particular book and Forgotten Books. I really like this feature as I cannot do this on my Nook.

forgotten booksThe site is well organized, offering many different book categories. You can keep your own personal library on the site. There is also an image search.

I started my membership by downloading Elegant Affinities by by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe and have been enjoying reading the PDF version on my Nook. The site offers instructions on how to put your books onto your devices.

There are various levels of membership from free (reading the online versions) to paid (downloading up to 10 or 100 books per month).
There’s a lot more to this site that I haven’t looked at yet, but I encourage you to visit Forgottenbooks.org if you’re interested in public domain books in a clean, readable format.

This is just a small selection of interesting sites that I list on my Other Sites of Interest page. I invite you to visit it and check out the various blogs and sites.

Click to Tweet & Share: Looking for new blogs and sites to visit? Here’s a bunch that I recommend highly http://wp.me/p125Rp-1xl

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Unpublished Alcott letters: Anna to Bronson, Walpole March 16, 1857

Thank you for your enthusiastic responses! I have a handful of letters that I can share with you that I have transcribed as completely as I could. Some words were not readable, mostly because the letters were bound in a volume so that words close to the binding could not be made out. If I could not make out a word, I replaced it with “…” or guessed at the word, surrounding it with brackets and putting a question mark. It is usually possible to make out the meaning despite the missing words. As a rule, I kept the punctuation as I saw it unless it interfered with understanding what was written (and these cases were very rare).

My intention is to present these letters without initial commentary, though I will comment on it after reading yours.

walpole nhThe setting of this first letter is Walpole, NH. It appears that only Anna, Abba and Lizzie are living in the rented house. Lizzie is convalescing after her bout with scarlet fever last year.

This letter comes from the Houghton Library at Harvard University, from the Amos B. Alcott Family Letters, MS Am 1130.9 (27).

Here is how Anna was seeing her life in March of 1857:

Dearest Father,

This being my 26th birthday I … feel cross, old, and miserable, in which … and Christian state of mind I sit down and write to you who never feel either.

The day is dark and dismal and things don’t look very cheering within or without but we are hoping great things from your … which I am sure will cheer mother up more than anything that could happen, and … us all as to the summer plans.

walpole nh squareI rather think it will be decided to stay here in the old house and try another season, tho’ we hope you will bring some new ideas with you to impact this last one which I’m afraid didn’t suit mother, but we can arrange something till you come. A “least said poorest mended” is a wise old proverb.

I found in my journal this little birthday poem from mother

“More to me than jewels rare.
“Are my Anna’s graces fair
“Goodness, Truth and Love.
“All are there my gentle dove.
“If our bark be tempest tost (sic)
“God’s our refuge we’re not lost
“May love be thine
“Firm hope by mine

They are sweet lines and I pray they may come true. I am sure she deserves everything good that can be heaped upon her poor [dear?] woman and I’m sure all will be right sometime.

anna largeI am awfully blue[,] discouraged about myself [&] my future doings but I try to amuse myself and when I get very cross, run on gossip about town to cheer up. It is better than nothing and makes the dull days pass.

Louisa is deep in Theatres, Abby in drawing; both write cheerful funny letters, both [advise?] us to keep still for the present and “want” (?). Lizzy is miserably and tho’ better today out of sorts bodily and thin as a rail, but hoping much from the warm days and sunshine of which we see very little just now.

The young people are all leaving town and everything is quieter and sensible. There are no news I believe and all else I leave mother to tell. We are looking for a letter tonight [&] hope to kiss your “wise” face very very soon. & so goodbye – Annie

I put in my birthday note from Louisa which is a more lovely letter than I believed she could write. Pussy is dead, ain’t you glad.

Click to Tweet & ShareUnpublished Alcott letters: Anna to Bronson, Walpole March 16, 1857  http://wp.me/p125Rp-1wY

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Finishing up Eight Cousins: Your own worst enemy

Having finally finished Eight Cousins, it amuses me that an overarching theme of this book is that women can be their own worst enemy.

Who comes out well …

eight cousins under the mistletoe rose and uncle alecFor Rose, Uncle Alec is the hero and the boys are her true friends. Anyone who knows anything about Louisa May Alcott knows her penchant for boys (and how she longed to be one herself) so it’s no surprise that the male characters come out smelling sweet.

… and who doesn’t

The female characters do not do as well. Had the aunties had their way, Rose would have been a weak, neurotic, totally trussed-up caricature of a woman, lacking intellectual curiosity (let alone ability), unable to move even a step forward without great effort, either physically or emotionally.

eight cousins annabel bliss and rose chapter 15

And what of female friendship? Louisa’s offering was Annabel Bliss: a shallow, frivolous gossip with a slavish attachment to fashion.

There are always exceptions

eight cousins rose and phebeNow granted, we do have Aunt Peace, Aunt Plenty and Aunt Jessie, the only grown women who show character. They are quiet and unassuming, generous in their love of Rose. But even Aunt Peace and Aunt Plenty misread what Rose needed by introducing her to Annabel.

There is Phebe the maid whose sharp mind and desire to better herself make her and Rose fast friends. And Rose is eager to pass down to Phebe everything she has learned, not from her aunts, but from her uncle.

Rose and Phebe are the only female characters to come out looking good. And it’s mainly because of the influence of Uncle Alec.

Nobody’s perfect

eight cousins the clanThe boys have their faults to be sure. The older ones smoke and the younger ones read trashy books. They are impulsive, boisterous and willful. They tease Rose and pull pranks on her. Charlie (aka the Prince) has a falling out with Archie because he wants to follow a fast crowd of boys; all Archie can do is preach at him. At one point Mac’s thoughtlessness caused Rose to wait in vain for him in the bitter cold and become quite ill as a result.

Faults? Yes. But these characters redeem themselves over and over again because of their buoyant spirits, generous love and their desire to better themselves, often due to Rose’s influence. They are alive, they move, they grow.

The real sin

"Rose and her Aunts", frontispiece illustration to the first edition, Roberts Bros, Boston, 1875 (Wikipedia)

“Rose and her Aunts”, frontispiece illustration to the first edition, Roberts Bros, Boston, 1875 (Wikipedia)

Most of the women, however, are stagnant. There is little to no growth for any of them with the exception of Rose and Phebe. Some not only don’t wish to grow but they want to deny that growth for Rose. They are small-minded, horrified that Alec would teach Rose about her body, deny her the wearing of corsets, allow her to run about outdoors, or wear comfortable clothes that would actually serve a function.

Quite a damning portrait of women. Louisa knew her foes well. Women would never achieve true autonomy on their own. A male element was necessary, whether it be physical, such as Uncle Alec, or simply in the way of thinking.  Since Louisa always thought like a man, it was natural to her that women should be free to be everything they were meant to be. She had little patience for the Aunt Janes and Myras of this world.

Meant for children …

the eight cousinsNow granted, Eight Cousins is a children’s book and the characters are drawn in broad strokes of black and white. In fact, there’s nothing much in this book that is subtle but children are not interested in subtly. Children over the years have loved the warm and fun relationships between Rose and the clan. I certainly enjoyed the special relationship Rose had with Mac, seeing him through his ordeal with his impaired eyesight. There’s tenderness and respect in the relationships between Rose and her cousins.

Knowing Louisa as I do, however, I cannot help reading between the lines and seeing what lurks beneath. Eight Cousins is a stinging indictment of 19th century women. It is also a celebration of enlightened men, many of whom Louisa had the privilege of growing up with.

… yet something for adults too

So times I regret that I never read these books as a child. I would love to read them not knowing what I know about Louisa or as a 50-something woman in the 21st century. I do, however, find comfort in these books as I’m sure many children have over the years. Louisa serves up great comfort food for the soul.

Click to Tweet & ShareFinishing up Eight Cousins: Your own worst enemy http://wp.me/p125Rp-1tP

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