Rose in Bloom: Charlie

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 third post on it:

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I have often found Louisa May Alcott’s books to be fairly predictable. While some of her potboilers consider cruel twists (as in Rosamond’s death in A Long Fatal Love-Chase), even then, it wasn’t that much of a surprise.

However, the tragic life and death of Charlie Campbell in Rose in Bloom really through me for a loop!

Charlie was a man who seemingly had it all: talent, promise charisma and good looks. Art, music, theatre and study all come easily to him, perhaps too easily. He would not settle down and apply himself preferring to enjoy himself. He could have been the shining star of the Campbell clan. But he lacked ambition and character.

cathlin 560
Dr. Cathlin Davis

Dr. Cathlin Davis spoke extensively about talent and genius at the Summer Conversational Series in 2014. She mentioned Charlie’s talent and lack of ambition and concluded that “ambition without love will never attain genius.”

It makes me wonder what would have happened to Charlie had Rose loved him – would that love have turned him around, teaching him how to love in return? It’s interesting that Louisa opted not to take that route as it would have been the predictable one to take — women were so often portrayed as saving men from their lesser selves. In fact, Uncle Alec warned Rose of loving Charlie before he was worthy:

Will you help?” he asked, stopping suddenly with a look that made her stand up straight and strong as she answered with an eager voice: “I will.”

“Then don’t love him yet.”

That startled her, but she asked steadily, though her heart began to beat and her color to come: “Why not?”

“Firstly, because no woman should give her happiness into the keeping of a man without fixed principles; secondly, because the hope of being worthy of you will help him more than any prayers or preaching of mine. Thirdly, because it will need all our wit and patience to undo the work of nearly four and twenty years. You understand what I mean?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Can you say ‘no’ when he asks you to say ‘yes’ and wait a little for your happiness?”

“I can.”

“And will you?”

“I will.”

Thus, instead of the usual “woman saves the man,” the man must save himself first with the idea that the woman will wait for him. Louisa is putting the responsibility solely on Charlie to straighten himself out.

from www.historyextra.com
from www.historyextra.com

Through Charlie Louisa makes her feelings clear about temperance – alcohol is an evil that destroys lives. Being a drunkard is a source of terrible shame. She uses Rose as the means of stirring up that shame within Charlie. In Chapter 9, “New Year’s Calls,” Rose discerns the true extent of Charlie’s problem with alcohol and becomes fearful of him when drunk:

“Don’t be angry, dearest look at me as you did this morning, and I’ll swear never to sing another note if you say so. I’m only a little gay we drank your health handsomely, and they all congratulated me. Told ’em it wasn’t out yet. Stop, though I didn’t mean to mention that. No matter I’m always in a scrape, but you always forgive me in the sweetest way. Do it now, and don’t be angry, little darling.” And, dropping the vase, he went toward her with a sudden excitement that made her shrink behind the chair.

She was not angry, but shocked and frightened, for she knew now what the matter was and grew so pale, he saw it and asked pardon before she could utter a rebuke.

Rose makes it clear to Charlie that he must give up drinking or she will have nothing to do with him. Eventually she appeals to his better self and he vows to change, even preparing to go away halfway across the world to visit his father to get away from those who would cause his downfall.

And here’s where the story takes a terrible turn. As I read Chapter 15, I hoped against hope it would end differently. Charlie went out to bid farewell to his friends and was not strong enough to resist temptation. Upon coming home that he fell off his horse in his inebriated state and was mortally wounded. Even when Dr. Alec pronounced that there was no hope, I thought for sure Charlie would recover. That chapter ended with bitter tears on my part.

from http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/paintings/william-barraud-portrait-of-a-gentleman-standing-5584946-details.aspx
from http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/paintings/william-barraud-portrait-of-a-gentleman-standing-5584946-details.aspx

louisaIt also ended with a growing respect for Louisa as a writer who presented life as it truly was – glorious at times, and other times ugly and tragic. She truly loved and respected her younger readers. Dr. Davis is convinced that in spite of the infamous quote (which she is loath to use) of writing “moral pap for the young,” Louisa was in fact proud of her juvenile writing and poured herself into it.

I believe that too.

cathlin davis notesYou can download a PDF file of my notes from Dr. Davis’ presentation at the Summer Conversational Series 2014: dr. cathlin davis talent and genius

How did you feel when Charlie died?

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6 Replies to “Rose in Bloom: Charlie”

  1. I’m not going to say I felt “relieved” after Charlie`s passing because ouch, no, that’s not it.
    But I did feel relieved that the romantic relationship didn’t prosper as Charlie manipulated Rose a lot. He wasn’t a bad guy, at all, but he was too used to get his way, and he wasn’t above manipulation to get it. His last chapters are really sad to me, when re realises that the only way he will not bow down to peer pressure is if he removes himself out of the equation completely. He could only be stronger once he admitted that he was actually not very strong at all. Those were my favourite parts of his story.

  2. As a 12-year-old, all I noticed was that someone always died in Louisa’s stories and were always better off for it. Interesting that I lived with an alcoholic mother and couldn’t recognize one elsewhere in life or literature. Alcoholics can be adept at fooling certain people. One thing that always struck me both as a 12-year-old and ever after, was just how adult Louisa’s books really are. You have to be older than tweens to truly appreciate the lessons being taught to young adults in her stories. Charlie was never my favorite character because he didn’t apply himself. I favored Archie, Steve the Dandy for comedy, and I suppose Mac, too. Charlie was just flittering away all he had. Nowadays I feel it’s a shame he lost a chance to reform, and I feel sorry for his mother. When the ship sailed, “poor Mrs. Clara was on board…” How awful to lose a handsome child because he followed the path of a “meatball.”

    1. I agree, Louisa’s books were pretty adult. Probably because she grew up so fast as a child. It was tragic that he was not allowed to reform his life especially when he was on his way. Life however is often unfair and Louisa believed enough in portraying the truth about life to show that.

  3. I was simply glad that Rose didn’t choose Charlie, although I wasn’t exactly expecting him to die either. Whether he died because she didn’t love him or not, I can’t say.

    What I do like is the Louisa didn’t always take the conventional way of writing, and would sometimes throw in a curveball to make you think about it.

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