Are you taking part in the Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge, sponsored by this blog and In the Bookcase? It’s not too late to jump in! After reading this post, head on over to In the Bookcase and read all about it.
My choice is Rose in Bloom and here is my first post on it:
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After hearing Dr. Cathlin Davis’ presentation on talent and genius at the Summer Conversational Series (see previous post), I became interested in reading Rose in Bloom which she cited extensively. I never though to look at this story through the lens of talent and genius but right away in Chapter One, “Coming Home,” I saw it.
Several of you have mentioned how much you love this book; some of you liked it even better than Little Women. I thought the book had a strong start and I look forward to reading it.
Rose comes home
The story of the Rose Campbell and her cousins picks up two years later as Rose, Phebe and Doctor Alec return from a long trip abroad. Everyone except the youngest (Jamie) has matured into young men and women. Both Rose and Phebe have flourished during their European trip and the young men have noticed.
Of the cousins, three stood out for me:
- Mac, the studious one, is able to pick up where he left off with Rose; they are very comfortable with one another
- Charlie is still sowing his wild oats; he has his eye on Rose (and her fortune). There’s something almost sinister about him; it reminds me of how I first felt about Tempest in The Long Fatal Love-Chase. I will interested in seeing where this leads.
- Archie lost his heart to Phebe having hear her sing.
Louisa sets up several interesting scenarios in this chapter; the book so far feels less formulaic to me. Little Women (at first) and Little Men seemed more like a collection of short stories. Eight Cousins had a running thread but it too felt like a collection of vignettes. An Old-Fashioned Girl had more of an arc (although I still hated the ending); Rose in Bloom appears to be similar; hope it has a better ending!
How boys and girls are raised
Uncle Alec’s reflection on how boys and girls were raised was interesting. He felt that the aunts were in too much of a hurry to “bring out” Rose causing him to question why girls were so sheltered in comparison to boys and why they were not better prepared to meet the challenges of life. Reasoning that even privileged girls will face unexpected hardships, he had sought to prepare his Rose: “We do our duty better by the boys; but the poor little women are seldom provided with any armor worth having. Sooner or later they are sure to need it, for everyone must fight his own battle, and only the brave and strong can win.”
Undoubtedly Louisa was thinking of the hardships of her own life and whether she was, in fact, well-prepared for battle. By her very nature she was the “son” of the family and faced hardships straight on. She might have been thinking of Anna and Lizzie who were not so hardy and perhaps wondered about how well-prepared they were for hardship. Anna eventually prevailed through she struggled a great deal; Lizzie did not.
Rose has purpose
No hero or heroine coming from the pen of Louisa was going to lead a life without purpose. Rose meant to lead her life with intent and Uncle Alec meant for her to live that way. She was going to do something good with her life and her fortune:
“I have made up my mind not to be cheated out of the real things that make one good and happy; and just because I’m a rich girl, fold my hands and drift as so many do, I haven’t lived with Phebe all these years in vain, I know what courage and self-reliance can do for one; and I sometimes wish I hadn’t a penny in the world so that I could go and earn my bread with her, and be as brave and independent as she will be pretty soon.”
This was in response to Charlie who had said, “Because we know that there is only one thing for a pretty girl to do–break a dozen or so of hearts before she finds one to suit; then marry and settle.” Rose was not happy!
Louisa’s description of Phebe’s gift of song was wonderful. Once a raw talent singing over her pots and pans, Phebe has been schooled, developed and refined as a singer. Comfortable in her technique she could pour her herself into her singing; it stirred the heart of Archie for the first time such that he fell in love with her on the spot.
Louisa obviously understood and appreciated music although she had no talent for it herself. Little Women suggests that Marmee could sing and that Beth played the piano with great feeling. Louisa understood the power of music to communicate to the heart thus creating a moving scene with Phebe and Archie:
“No longer shy and silent, no longer the image of a handsome girl, but with a blooming woman, alive and full of eloquence her art gave her, as she laid her hands softly together, fixed her eye on the light, and just poured out her song as simply and joyfully as the lark does soaring towards the sun.”
Mac and Rose
Of all the cousins, Mac understood Rose best, preferring girls with purpose, girls who are hearty and thoughtful. As Phebe stirred Archie’s heart with her song, Rose stirred Mac with her manner: “ … thanks to Doctor Alec’s guardianship, she had wasted neither heart nor time in the foolish flirtations so many girls fritter away their youth upon.” He took her by surprise with a kiss as they parted which she felt was inappropriate due to their age. Sometimes tells me this will not be the last kiss!
What did you think? No spoilers please 🙂
Eight Cousins preceded Rose in Bloom – here is where you can find my posts on that book.
Remember to check out the Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge at In the Bookcase.
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