Sculptor Harriet Hosmer and Louisa May Alcott

Quick question: I saw this on the following page

Harriet Hosmer (1830–1908) was regarded as the nation’s most prominent woman sculptor and was seen as instrumental in promoting women in the field of sculpture.  After moving from Boston to Rome in 1852, she was, according to Culkin, the only American woman sculptor working in the city and quickly befriended some of the most notable expatriates of the time, including Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and fellow sculptors John Gibson and Emma Stebbins. Many female sculptors followed her lead and moved to Rome. She indeed inspired artists of varied disciplines, and Hosmer can be found represented in the works of Nathanial Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott, among others.

Does anybody have any further information on this? Where was she referenced in Louisa’s work? Is there any correlation between Harriet Hosmer and May Alcott Nieriker’s relationship with sculptor Daniel French?


Photo #3: Orchard House at Christmastime

The Orchard House is not complete without a good old Christmas photograph.

This is the first photograph my camera and I ever took of The Orchard House and I happen to adore this on as well.

The black and white silver film did it’s “magic” as love to say – snowflakes on the wooden fence, the Revolutionary Elm casting a beautiful shadow on Louisa May’s bedroom window, all captured under a stunning light .

All we are must missing Louisa May herself strolling out with her wooden shovel to cut the paths for her family.

This photograph brings me to Concord every time, I do hope you enjoy.


Jennifer R. Bernard
Photography by Jennifer
(603) 769-7685 – direct line

Photo #2: Young Louisa re-enactment

Jennifer’s comments: Here she is, Louisa May Alcott re-enactment. The furnishings are all copies of what is found in The Orchard House today. The lace on dresses collar is from the 1860’s. Hitchcock desk chair:  1830’s; Secretary:  1830″s; Desk:  1840’s; The staging room:  1740’s; The book:  “Flowers and Fables” (1854); The model, a beautiful young Louisa May  – no make up or pins in her hair – all snood :); No flash, no filter, all natural light.; Black and white silver film hand developed.

Jennifer R. Bernard
Photography by Jennifer
(603) 769-7685 – direct line

A series of photographs based on Little Women

I had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful local photographer, Jennifer Bernard, who has taken her love of Louisa May Alcott and translated it into a series of beautiful black and white photographs recreating scenes from Little Women. Over the next 4 days I will present a large representation of each photo with comments from Jennifer. Be sure and visit her website for more information. See link below.

Hope you enjoy these as much as I do.

Photograph:  May at the Orchard House c 2011 Jennifer R. Bernard, Photographer
Black and white silver based film, hand developed, images created from negative. Limited to 100

Jennifer comments, “This photograph was taken at the Orchard House on an early August morning.   A quick summer rain blew through, perhaps you can see the raindrops in the photograph online. The props were selected with care:  (1) The chair “May” has her arm on is an exact duplicate as the chair in her bedroom in the Orchard House.  (2) Geraniums by her side and a small lunch basket from the 1860’s.    (3) I loved May’s spirit and love for color, even though she is photographed in black and white, her personality shines through dressed in favorite tapestry of color, topped with a blue lace hat. This image was to present the story of May’s painting of the Orchard House which can be viewed as one tours the home.”

Book Review: American Bloomsbury

I know I said I would not finish American Bloomsbury but I really do enjoy Susan Cheever’s writing style despite the problems her books pose. This is the second non-fiction book I’ve read by Cheever and it’s frustrating that her work is so uneven. She is either utterly brilliant or totally inane. Despite several factual errors (that apparently have been corrected in a newly revised version) and a very disjointed story, I am still really glad I read this book.

First, the problems . . .

Let’s begin with the problems (for there were less problems than strengths in my opinion). The storyline jumped all over the place and Cheever spent way too much time focusing on issues that were titillating (sometimes based on assumptions rather than hard facts) but ultimately not that important. As an example, she spent so much time on Margaret Fuller’s “romances” with Hawthorne and Emerson (neither of which were consummated) that I kept asking myself, “What was Fuller’s real contribution to this literary renaissance? Was it only fantasized sex?”

. . . then the Brilliance

But then Cheever would turn to Henry David Thoreau (an obvious favorite of hers) and get brilliant. She obviously appreciates the outdoors (as I do) and I found her descriptions of nature so lovely. I love Thoreau and I loved him more after reading this book. Her writing became passionate and authentic – at one point while working out at the gym and reading the section on Thoreau, I became breathless, and it wasn’t because of the workout! 🙂

She writes the following about his efforts to get Walden published:

“Because it took so long to get Walden published, Thoreau had time to rewrite two years of his journals into one of the most magnificent books in English. Two years of notes became one year; digressions were reworked. There was something heroic and obsessive about the way Thoreau went about making his manuscript of Walden perfect. He seemed to know how important it was . . .” (page 131, American Bloomsbury)

Cheever goes on to describe what made Walden a masterpiece (and Nathanial Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter too):

“What creates a masterpiece? In the case of The Scarlet Letter and Walden, both arguably the finest works of two men whom we now regard as great writers, the impetus seems to have come from a sharp despair. Both men felt, as they began to write, that they had nothing more to lose. Hawthorne had lost his job, his mother, his hometown; Thoreau had lost his brother and the prospect of anyplace to live besides a homemade hut on borrowed land. There is a fearlessness about both these books, an honesty about the human heart, with its petty angers and dreadful fears, that neither writer found again.”  (Ibid)

I downloaded The Scarlet Letter for my Nook after reading this section; I’ll be listening to my audio book of Walden again as well. If a book such as American Bloomsbury can inspired me to read the authors that it writes about, that book has done its job.

Other Transcendentalist Authors

Her treatment of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathanial Hawthorne was helpful in my understand of what made them tick. Her exploration of Emerson was cool and analytical, showing him to more complicated than I had imagined and she helped me understand him better. I had known that Hawthorne was a very solitary character but had no idea how complex he was (he sounded like a very difficult person to deal with). I had heard that his marriage to Sophia had been a good one but it was hard to tell from Cheever’s descriptions and the constant intrusion of Margaret Fuller. Marriages like life, ebb and flow, and it sounded like the flow began in the later years of their marriage.

Cheever is at her best writing about death – the accounts of Fuller and her family drowning in a shipwreck, Emerson slowly fading away due to Alzheimer’s (or dementia), Thoreau’s passing, and Alcott’s time as a Civil War nurse were very moving.

Analysis of Little Women

I also thought she nailed it in her analysis of Little Women (at least nailed it as to why I loved that book). Describing her personal connection to the story Cheever writes:

“Jo March offered me a different kind of image, a new definition of what it meant to be a girl. Instead of a graceful young lady who always minded her manners and knew that her future lay in loving the right man, she was an outspoken, clumsy girl who turned down the right man even though he loved her.

Reading Little Women again, now, I can see how profoundly the book influenced me – as a woman, but even more than that as a writer. Without intending to, Louisa May Alcott invented a new way to write about the ordinary lives of women, and to tell stories that are usually heard in kitchens or bedrooms. She made literature out of the kind of conversations women have while doing the dishes together or taking care of their children. It was in Little Women that I learned that domestic details can be the subject of art, that small things in a woman’s life – cooking, the trimming of a dress or hat, quiet talk – can be just as important a subject as a great whale or a scarlet letter. Little Women gave my generation of women permission to write about our daily lives; in many ways, even though it’s a novel, in tone and voice it is the precursor of the modern memoir – the book that gives voice to people who have traditionally kept quiet. In fact, the foundation of the American memoir can be found in Alcott’s masterpiece and in that of her friend Henry David Thoreau. Alcott’s greatest work was so powerful because it was about ordinary things – I think that’s why it felt ordinary even as she wrote it. She transformed the lives of women into something worthy of literature. Without even meaning to, Alcott exalted the everyday in women’s lives and gave it greatness.” (Ibid, pages 191-192)


A quick understanding of Transcendentalism

I appreciated Cheever’s summary of the effects of Transcendentalism (though I didn’t totally agree with it):

“The intellectual revolution had taken longer, but, paid for by Emerson, and amused by [Bronson] Alcott, it had come as certainly as the glorious days of 1776. It was a revolution that gently toppled God off his throne and replaced him with nature, with the glory of the physical world, and with the best things in the human heart. It freed men and women from the slavery of Calvinism. It blossomed in Thoreau’s ideas and in his beautiful portrait of nature and in Hawthorne’s brilliantly etched portraits of society, and finally with a Louisa May Alcott novel that memorialized the whole fabulous time.” (Ibid, page 164)

(I didn’t agree that the intent of Transcendentalism was to “topple God from his throne and replace him with nature” but rather, to use the natural world to find and connect to  God. )

American Bloomsbury gave me what I wanted – an overview. It was messy, it jumped all over the place, but in the end, I did get what I wanted. After all, life is almost never neat and clean.

Again, I finish a book, and part with a friend.

The American Library Association Louisa May Alcott Project: A DVD and Book Start a Movement

In May of 1868, a publisher asked an author to write a book specifically targeted “for girls.” His plan was twofold: to capitalize on this up-and-coming author’s growing popularity, and to capture a corner of a brand new genre of children’s literature. The author begrudgingly obliged, and ended up producing one of the best selling, and best loved novels of all time. The novel was Little Women and its author, Louisa May Alcott. Little Women made Alcott famous, but pigeon-holed her into the juvenile market when in fact, she had so much more to offer.

Now in 2011, The American Library Association (ALA) in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is launching a bold initiative. With the goal of exposing to the public the multi-faceted and still relevant writings of Alcott, grants have been awarded to 30 libraries around the country for a five-part series of educational programs featuring the 2009 documentary and companion biography, Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women, produced and directed by Nancy Porter, and produced and written by Harriet Reisen. (see complete list of libraries in previous post)

On March 4, a national workshop was held at the Omni Parker House in Boston with these librarians and their scholars to kick off this initiative.

Speakers included Porter and Reisen, and preeminent Alcott scholar Professor Daniel Shealy from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Professor Shealy has edited several books on Alcott including her journals and selected letters (along with Joel Myerson and Madeleine Stern), correspondences from Alcott and her sister May from their grand tour of Europe, and commentary from Alcott’s own peers. (see list in My Growing Library).

Jan Turnquist, director of Orchard House (the Alcott home in Concord, MA) spoke briefly about the historic homestead.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Situated in the Louisa May Alcott room of the Parker House, the participants were introduced to events of the day by Susan Brandehoff of the ALA Public Programs Office. Along with talks by the scheduled speakers, librarians and scholars would have a chance to share program ideas and concerns in breakout sessions. David Weinsten, Senior Program Officer, Division of Public Programs, NEH, also made some opening statements.

The Women Behind Louisa May Alcott
The Woman Behind Little Women

Porter and Reisen then made their presentation, showing clips from the documentary and reading excerpts from the book. Porter gave a brief history of the origins of the documentary, explaining why she and Reisen chose Alcott, saying, “It was the project closest to our hearts.” After 5 years of fundraising and many years of research, the documentary was completed. Screening was delayed so that the book could be completed and in 2009, the film debuted on PBS stations across the country.

Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women showed many sides of Alcott which the public was not so familiar with, such as her service as a Civil War nurse, her success as a pulp fiction writer (“blood and thunder tales” as she dubbed them) under an assumed name (A.M. Barnard), her love life with a Polish lad, and the real story behind the writing of Little Women. Reisen shared stirring excerpts from her book about Alcott’s days as a nurse in the war and how journal entries eventually became Hospital Sketches, the book that would define her realistic writing style, and establish her as a successful author.

The Scope of Alcott’s Writing

Professor Daniel Shealy gave a fascinating talk on the depth and scope of Alcott’s writing. Stating that “Alcott knew her audience well,” he described how easily she adapted to different genres so that she could earn a living as a writer to support her family. Pointing out that “timing is everything,” he described the blossoming of the publishing industry in the mid 19 century, the plethora of new magazines, and the introduction and growth of children’s literature, all of which made it possible for Alcott to succeed in her profession.

Shealy gave a brief outline of several lesser known works to illustrate his point: “The Rival Prima Donnas,” “Pauline’s Passion and Punishment,” “V.V. or Plots and Counterplots,” and “Behind a Mask”.

In describing her first book, Flower Fables, a collection of fairy tales written for Ralph Waldo Emerson’s young daughter, Ellen, Shealy maintained that Alcott’s tales redefined fantasy even though the tales are still largely ignored today. Alcott’s fantasies, set in nature, contained a strong moral fiber that was missing from the more famous European fairy tales of authors such as Grimm. She continued to write fantasy right up until her death in 1888.

Shealy pointed out another side of Alcott that makes her so relevant today – her dedication to social reform and women’s rights. She did not believe in a separate “women’s sphere,” so popular in the 19th century, but believed that women needed to be financially independent. Decidedly a spinster, she wrote at length about marriage and its affect on women and men (since in the 19th century, marriage made women the property of their husbands). She was a passionate abolitionist, holding radical views about the true equality of all races.

Brainstorming at Breakout Sessions

After an hour for lunch, the librarians and scholars attended breakout sessions to discuss ideas for programs. Programs needed to fit into a five-part criterion: (see ALA website for detailed list)

  • Louisa May Alcott: Through Her Eyes – A community-wide library event focusing on the life, work, and times of Louisa May Alcott
  • Louisa May Alcott Wrote That? Reading and scholar-led discussion of Alcott’s lesser-known works
  • Louisa May Alcott: Literary Phenomenon and Social Reformer
  • Film screening – Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women
  • Reading and discussion of the biography – Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women

Some of these ideas included day-long festivals (“Alcott Extravaganza” and “LouisaFest”) featuring costumes, food and music of the period, children’s activities, tours, story-telling and dramatic presentations. There was a thematic trend to the programming including a focus on the Civil War, health and fitness (Alcott was a runner and a vegetarian), the impact of 19th century clothing (most especially corsets) on women and what Alcott revealed in her writing about that topic, women in the military, women’s rights and the vote, the abolition of slavery, and writing in the 19th century including Transcendentalist writings and pulp fiction.

Issues regarding the logistics of some of the criterion were discussed and ironed out both in the breakout sessions, and in the general group discussion at the end of the day.

Beyond the workshop . . .

By the end of the workshop, participants were fired up to begin their programs in their home libraries. A camaraderie fueled by everyone’s enthusiasm and love of Alcott was palpable. A Google list, established before the workshop, will work to keep everyone informed of the progress of the programs, and the reaction from the public. Ultimately is it hoped that a richer understanding of the scope and depth of both Louisa May Alcott’s writings and her extraordinary life will be conveyed to the public, sparking greater interest in this pioneer woman author and her lesser known works.

Finally saw the 1994 film of Little Women

I suppose if I’m going to be so long in reading Little Women , I might as well be long in seeing the film too! My lovely husband, keenly aware of my interest, set the DVR to tape Little Women on the Oprah Winfrey Network so I could watch it (awfully nice, thanks Rich!). I watched it last night with my daughter and we both enjoyed it a lot although the commercial interruptions on OWN are absolutely horrible and so frequent!

I don’t consider my 22 year old daughter to be the sentimental type at all but she really seemed to enjoy the movie. I did too even though it took great liberty with the story (Jo writing Little Women??). It did capture the spirit of the book and the scenery was beautiful. Orchard House looked splendid!

I very much liked Winona Ryder as Jo, her performance was very spirited. I always thought of Jo as much taller so I was surprised that detail was overlooked. There was great chemistry between Jo and Laurie (and none between Amy and Laurie – more on that in a moment); Christian Bale is sweet to the eyes. 🙂 Professor Bhaer was a bit too handsome but his face was very kindly as I would expect.

I didn’t care for Susan Sarandon as Marmee and I’m not sure why. It seemed like she came off as preachy. Marmee can be preachy but once I got into the into the character, I forgot about that. Sarandon never made me forget it.

Claire Danes did Beth to perfection but it was almost spooky during the final death scene with the look in her eye.

I missed the first part of the movie so I never really got to see the younger Amy, but the mature Amy really seemed to be lacking in spirit, and that’s why there was no chemistry between her and Laurie. I know Amy becomes a proper lady but I never got the impression she was lacking in spirit. I was very disappointed in this film’s depiction of my favorite character.

Meg was Meg, nothing more to say on that. 🙂 Oh, and I loved Aunt March. 🙂

I bawled like a baby through the movie and not just during Beth’s death scene. The anniversary of my mother’s passing is coming up in April and she’s been on my mind a lot lately. This story really makes me feel close to her so I missed her a lot last night while watching it. My daughter tactfully left me alone while I cried and I’m grateful to her. 🙂

Now the funny thing is that during the ALA workshop, several of the librarians and scholars said that they preferred June Allyson as Jo. I never could imagine Allyson in the part but now I’ll have to search out that movie and see it too. And of course, I must catch Hepburn’s performance!