I had the pleasure of having my books signed by author Eve LaPlante at Fruitlands yesterday. The setting was lovely: typically cold for December with light snow falling.
The spirit of Fruitlands
Having just completed a series of books on Fruitlands (which I will be writing about soon), the spirit of the Fruitlanders was palpable to me. I pictured the Alcotts and Charles Lane huddled inside the drafty house and felt the cold, not only of the air, but of the oppressive tension that surely hung in the air. Food was unappetizing, whatever was left of it, and the fire in the fireplace could not throw off enough heat or cheer to help.
Setting the stage
Recalling the enormous struggles Abigail Alcott faced at Fruitlands and throughout her married life set the stage for Eve LaPlante’s presentation for her books, Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother and My Heart is Boundless: Writings of Abigail May Alcott, Louisa’s Mother.
She spoke of the problem of a public woman.
Hunger for knowledge
LaPlante recalled Abigail’s love of learning and the bitterness of being denied the formal education that her brother (and all men) was entitled to. Abigail certainly had the intellect as demonstrated by her successful year of study at a Duxbury boarding school through a certain Miss Allen. Samuel Joseph, older brother and mentor, had arranged it all, empathizing with his younger sister. He continued to provide her with the books he himself had studied.
Passing down gifts and dreams
Abigail loved to learn and she passed down that love to daughter Louisa who was also gifted intellectually.
LaPlante mentioned Abigail’s desire to use her gifts; she had dreamed of teaching and writing and resisted getting married until she met Bronson. Here was a man, she thought, with whom she could live out those dreams.
In the end, she poured herself into her daughters and helped one to become a world famous author.
LaPlante spoke passionately and eloquently of the cultural norms that severely restricted Abigail, frustrated Louisa and caused great distress for Bronson. They were all square pegs who did not wish to fit into round holes.
Basic rights for women
Abigail was an early supporter of women’s suffrage and she passed this down to Louisa. It was a risky stance to take – even Samuel Joseph’s wife Lucretia did not support it despite the fact that her husband advocated for it!
LaPlante used a scene in Concord in 1875 to illustrate one particularly odious norm of women not appearing in public, based upon a literal interpretation of a passage of scripture from St. Paul’s first letter to Timothy: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” (1 Timothy 2:12, New International Version ©1984)
President Ulysses S. Grant visited Concord for the centenary of the start of the American Revolution and Abigail and Louisa were there to hear him speak. Louisa recalled men scoffing at them for appearing in public and wrote that she was “ashamed of Concord that day.”
She would soon live out her mother’s dream of women voting by being the first to vote in Concord for a local election.
After LaPlante’ s presentation a lively discussion ensued with the audience, mostly centering on her marriage to Bronson. With the Fruitlands farmhouse off in the distance as seen through the windows of the Wayside presentation room, this seemed like an appropriate conclusion to the presentation.
LaPlante signed several books after her presentation and graciously went back up the steep hill to the museum shop to sign more.
I very much enjoyed talking with her and having my two questions addressed: the dichotomy of Abba’s relationship with Bronson (idolizing and encouraging her husband in his utopian schemes while at the same time expressing great frustration and anger at his unwillingness to take on paying work), and how Samuel Joseph, also a reformer and activist, balanced family life with his activism.
Of course I had my two books signed:
Check out LaPlante’s website to see if she will be doing a book signing in your area.
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