Getting to know the Alcotts through neighbors and friends

Between my trip to the Worcester library and the new Nook, I have been buried! Tons of reading all at once (which means tons of notetaking, and tons of fun!).  As I come up for air, I wanted to share with you some new rather old books I found.

A treasure trove from the library

I want to first say again how much I appreciate librarians! The ladies at the Worcester Public Library went above and beyond the call of duty and gave me a treasure trove! I had asked for a couple of books that dated back to the early 1900s (which meant they were in the basement). When I arrived at the desk to pick them up, one woman came over apologetically, explaining that she couldn’t find one of the books I’d requested, but would I mind these? She had 2 other books in addition to the one I asked for, and these books had flown under the radar, not even being mentioned in the library’s catalog. I knew I had struck gold!

Fascinating anecdotes

These books were by neighbors and near contemporaries of the Alcotts and their anecdotal stories make for entertaining and insightful reading. I was longing to read the perspective of people who had actually lived during the period (or shortly thereafter). Contemporaries offer a unique point of view since they were a part of the period. A random sentence here and there from such a source can open up new avenues to explore.

So here’s what those wonderful ladies gave to me:

The Alcotts as I Knew Them by Clara Gowing

First there was The Alcotts as I Knew Them by Clara Gowing (available in epub and PDF format at Google Books). Miss Gowing was a neighbor of the Alcotts and around the same age as Louisa. They first met in their twenties.

Clara Gowing, friend of the Alcotts, wrote a memoir of her time with them.

Here is a short biography (more like a reference letter) of Miss Gowing.

Simple memories

This book was full of reminiscences of events large and small in the life of the Alcotts. The scene depicted on the cover shows Louisa leaping the fence of Orchard House to see an artist friend who is sketching the homestead. Obviously Louisa’s physical prowess made quite the impression!

Bronson’s reforms laid out

I have long desired a simplified version of Bronson Alcott’s educational reforms and this book provided it. It was like Bronson for dummies and I needed that! I’ll be posting on this chapter soon.

The elder sister comes out
from behind

Most every member of the family was given their own chapter (with the exception of Elizabeth). So it was a welcome surprise to read a chapter devoted to Louisa’s older sister Anna. Even though Anna followed the more traditional path of women in the 19th century, she was still gifted with many of the same talents as Louisa, but with a quiet and tranquil personality. I’ve often thought she was worthy of more study. More than one author has commented that Anna actually had a greater writing talent than Louisa but lacked the drive and ambition. I will write about my findings from this chapter also in a future post.

More tidbits about Lizzie

I wish a chapter had been dedicated to Elizabeth but I was happy to see that yet again,  that same enticing tidbit came up regarding a possible short-lived romance ended by parental disapproval. I hope to be able to find out more about that romance and perhaps why her parents disapproved. Lizzie lived and died by her parents so their approval must have been so important to her. I can only imagine the fallout considering her sensitive nature.

The best part? The book was short with large type and I whipped through it at breakneck speed. It was nice to be able to read like that for a change.

In my next post, I will describe the other book those lovely ladies at the Worcester Public Library gifted me with. I still have to finish it and should soon, if I could just stop taking notes!

Whoever thought research could be this much fun? 🙂

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12 Replies to “Getting to know the Alcotts through neighbors and friends”

  1. I have been hovering around your blog for some time now and thought it high time I commented and thanked you for each and every post I’ve read so far. I am, of course, a long standing fan of LMA and appreciate all your research, the books you bring forth about her and the Alcotts, and the great quest of knowledge you bring into your posts.

    What a treasure trove these books are that fell into your hands by the librarians. I can’t wait to hear more.

    Thank you.

  2. Was this little “romance” with the neighbor next door? I remember that I read one sentence 10 years ago in some book that stated that. I always wanted to know more too! 🙂

    1. I bet I know where you saw it, was it that book on Marmee by Sandford Salyer because that is where I first saw it. It is also mentioned in Harriet Reisen’s book and also a 1930s bio by Katharine Anthony.

    1. It can be if you have a Nook, I just figured out how to do it. Perhaps I should devote a post on how to do that. In my quest to replace all my Google Book PDFs with epubs, I discovered some new sites where you can get epubs.

      Does anybody here have a Kindle that has been able to incorporate generic epubs into their reader? Kindle uses a different format called MOBI and if I’m not mistaken, epubs can be converted to MOBI. But I haven’t gotten that far into e-reader geekdom just yet. 🙂

  3. This is one of the books waiting for me on my Kindle right now…thanks for the preview! I missed that little tidbit about Lizzie’s romance in Riesen’s book, and I haven’t read Marmee yet (it’s on my shelf waiting for me also). Interesting…

    As for getting epubs onto a Kindle: the best way to do so is to download Calibre, which is free: It’s an ebook library program, and very helpful for organizing and converting books, editing tags and keywords, etc. So download the epub version, then open in Calibre and convert to mobi or prc. (Note: Calibre will not convert books protected by DRM.)

    Hope that helps!

    1. Great tips, thanks for that!

      I was very tempted by the Kindle Fire, it looks very cool. But I already had a library of books from Barnes & Noble and had not actually bought anything for the Kindle (I have both apps on my iPhone). I know one thing for sure: these ereaders make it so much easier to take notes!

  4. I’m so excited by all of your upcoming posts! This book sounds fascinating! Also: I didn’t realize Lizzie was suspected of having a tragic love story? I missed that in Reisen’s book, for I was enamored with Louisa’s story. 🙂 Too curious!! Your blog rocks. 😀

    1. All I’m finding on this little romance are one or two lines in these various books, and one cryptic line in Louisa’s journal about “Betty’s little romance.” Brings out the detective in me!

      As I learn more and more of the back story of the Alcotts, books such as these, even though they are overly sentimental and often filled with mistakes, offer a lot of little interesting discoveries.

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