I’m reading the chapter entitled “Marmee’s Journal” from Caroline Ticknor’s May Alcott A Memoir; this journal was written in the last year of Mrs. Alcott’s life. There were several little things I noticed that I wanted to share.
First, there was an excerpt from one of May’s letters about an episode in her drawing class. The school often used models and that day they had used a black man who had been in the Crimean War, “decorated for his courage and considered one of the best models in Paris.” (from May’s letter, pg. 165). What I found interesting was that May’s belief that the races were equal was so genuine that it would be vividly demonstrated in her artwork. Here’s another excerpt from that letter:
“Müller [an established artist who came to critique the drawings of the students] said: ‘With what passion and enthusiasm you draw this ensemble; it is very vigorous and shows your interest and not scorn of the race.’ I couldn’t answer him, as this was all said in French, but it amused the class as I, among them, had pretty freely expressed my admiration for him, besides fighting the battle of the blacks versus the whites, whenever the question came up between the Southerners, of whom there are three in the class, and two of us Northerners. I am proud that he proves my part of the proposition, as most true, for he is the most gentlemanly, polite and delicate model that we have had.” (pg. 164)
Indeed, pictures do paint a thousand words! Her title of the pictures, by the way, was the “Prince of Timbuctoo.”
Later in the chapter, Marmee writes about Louisa’s success. I loved how she described the way Louisa wrote for young people. You can see where the writing talent came from:
“We are glad to get her [Louisa] back amongst us this dreary weather, it creates a new atmosphere in the house, and we feel more protected when she is about us. She seems quite well and happy. Her success in writing is quite remarkable, and her reputation is made for all future time, as the best writer for young people since Miss Edgeworth and Mrs. Barbauld. She infuses her morals so skillfully and her ethical machinery is so gracefully concealed by the clinging drapery of love, or the thick foliate of events, that her characters blossom out upon you with a new grace and beauty as well as being truthful to the Life.” (pg. 173)
I found it interesting too how Mrs. Alcott mentioned that having Louisa around made them feel “safe,” exactly what Louisa wanted. It had to give Louisa great satisfaction that she succeeded so well in giving her mother the peaceful and safe life she so richly deserved, even if it was at a great cost.
How fortunate us Alcott enthusiasts are that there is so much primary source reading on these folks!