Fruitlands through the years in sight and sound

Recently a reader (thank you Michelle!) sent me a wonderful interview with Richard Francis, author of Fruitlands: The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia. Francis does an excellent job of clarifying a complex situation (anyone who has studied the Fruitlands experiment in depth knows what I mean!). It was presented on The Woman’s Hour on BBC, hosted by Jenni Murray.

Richard  Francis Interview

Fruitlands then and now

I thought too that you might enjoy a tour of Fruitlands through the ages. I combined photos from Clara Endicott Sears’ book, Bronson Alcott’s Fruitlands with photos I took on my last visit there:

Upper photo courtesy of Harriet Lothrop Papers, Minuteman National Park

Front of the house



Dining room

Dining room

The study

Alcott’s bedroom

Charles Lane’s bedroom

The heart of the story

And here are pictures of the attic. I think these pictures bring home the human drama of Fruitlands more than anything. When you actually see it, you just want to sit there and ponder what went on in that dark, cramped and cold room:

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A quick update

I realize it’s been nearly a month since I posted and I wanted to let you know why.

I am hip deep in reading. And it started with a field trip to Fruitlands in Harvard, MA. And it will end there too.

After visiting Fruitlands, I wanted to read more about it. I ended up reading the following:

On top of that, on November 6, two books appeared on my Nook which I had pre-ordered:

And how do these all connect? Eve LaPlante is doing a talk and book signing at Fruitlands on December 1st! You can bet I plan on being there.

Fruitlands by Richard Francis is the hardest book I have ever read. I tried it when it first came out two years ago and was completely overwhelmed by it. Francis is utterly brilliant (and quite droll too – see previous post) but I never thought I could finish that book. I took copious notes and just gave up.

Visiting Fruitlands made me pick it up again. And now I only have 70+ pages left. But you can see how many more notes I will be taking!

Here are some other posts I did on this book way back when:

I need to finish reading this book plus at least Marmee & Louisa before December 1st. Wish me luck!

And I will be sharing many things with you soon.

Click to Tweet & Share: Marmee & Lousia by Eve Laplante, and Fruitlands by Richard Francis – what’s the connection?

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Tidbits of news, and beginning a trip to Fruitlands

Just heard some awesome news from Jan Turnquist at Orchard House – the long missing papers of Madelon Bedell are now safely ensconced at Orchard House.

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, Bedell wrote a scholarly work entitled The Alcotts Biography of a Family; it was supposed to have been in 2 volumes but sadly, Bedell passed away before the second volume was written. Since the early 1980s, the papers have not been accessible. Harriet Reisen did get to see the final interview with Lulu Nieriker, May Alcott Nieriker’s daughter (adopted by Louisa when May died shortly after childbirth) – this interview was written about in Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women.

These are important papers and it’s wonderful that they have finally made their way to Orchard House. Undoubtedly it was down a long and winding road!

I may have reported this second piece of news before but it’s worth repeating: there is a book in the works on Abba Alcott and Louisa called Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother (Free Press) by Eve LaPlante (thanks to Gina for this tidbit; Harriet Reisen confirmed it too). LaPlante is apparently a distant cousin of Louisa May Alcott and is also related to Anne Hutchinson, a notable early Puritan (PBS has a wonderful series called God in America that you can watch in full – the first episode, “A New Adam,” gives information on Anne Hutchinson). The following information was released on the Reading the Past blog:

In another deal, this time for nonfiction: author of American Jezebel and cousin of Louisa May Alcott Eve LaPlante’s MARMEE & LOUISA, the true story of Louisa May Alcott and her mother, based on recently discovered Alcott family papers and Abigail May Alcott’s unpublished and unexplored letters and journals, sold to Hilary Redmon at Free Press, in a pre-empt, for publication in November 2012, by Lane Zachary and Rachel Sussman at Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Literary Agency (World). [via PM]

This is such a great time to be learning more about Louisa May Alcott!

Speaking of such, it would appear that now is the right time for me to read Richard Francis’ work, Fruitlands: The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia. I have been putting off reading this book because I was frankly intimidated by the subject and the author who has amazing credentials. As reported in a previous post, Francis gave a presentation in Concord about his book and I was very taken by his intellect, and his dry wit. I knew, however, this book would be a dense read, requiring quite a commitment. Since I take notes while I read and I read slowly, this is a long term commitment. I am happy to report that it is well worth the time! This book is fabulous. Francis is not only witty and brilliant, but he does such a great job of making connections and translating the rather obtuse language of Ralph Waldo Emerson and especially Bronson Alcott into something I can readily understand. You can see by the picture that my book is already full of sticky tags waiting for notes to be taken.:-) Finally I am beginning to get the answers I’ve been searching for about what Transcendentalism is, who founded it (the cast of characters is amazing) and how the prevailing religion of the 19th century influenced it. Some of the ideas are incredibly preposterous and yet there’s truth stuck in there too; Francis’ wit helps to extract that truth. It’s an incredibly stimulating read. It is true that the book takes a lot of time laying out the groundwork (I understand that he doesn’t even get into the actual Fruitlands experiment in Harvard, MA until halfway through the book, but he does explain why in the preface).

I never thought I could have this much fun learning! Life is good. 🙂

A must read

Our friend Jillian wrote an incredible post on her blog, A Room of One’s Own about Fruitlands and its cast of characters and she called it “Fruity Fruitlands – an Alcott Family Utopia”. I can’t add any words to this, it’s that good. Check it out.

Richard Francis unveils his new book on Fruitlands at the Concord Bookshop

Yet another new book on the Alcotts has been released, this one written by British scholar and professor Richard Francis. Entitled Fruitlands The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia, this book is destined to be the definitive work on the failed Fruitlands experiment conducted by Bronson Alcott (with wife and daughters including young Louisa), Charles Lane and several others. You can read a summary of the book here.

The research on this book is thorough and exhaustive and it was so stimulating to attend a lecture on the Alcotts that was not geared towards beginners! Francis is charming and witty, and very passionate about his subject. The main thing he did for me was answer the question that has plagued me about Fruitlands: why is so much ink spent on a community that failed miserably after only 6 months? Francis answers that question in his book, and hinted at it during his fascinating lecture.

Francis has written several other fiction and non-fiction works including Transcendental Utopias: Individual and Community at Brook Farm, Fruitlands and Walden (a study of ideas in 1840s New England). He did his PhD on the social thinking of the New England Transcendentalists at Exeter University.

Right away I knew I was in a different world and a pretty intimidating one at that (as I am no academic)! This book will not be a quick read and rather than do a quick review, I will instead do a reading diary (to coin a phrase from our friend Jillian :-)) like I did on May Alcott Nieriker’s memoir. Richard Francis’ lecture at the Concord Bookshop was full of fascinating information and I wrote 5 pages of notes as quickly as I could to capture all the great information he was giving. I felt like I was in school again and it felt great!

(p.s. I will also start a reading diary on Susan Cheever’s book rather than do a review – I’ve been taking notes on that one too.)

I only wish school had been this interesting when I was in school!

Here’s a slide show of pictures I took at the book signing. And of course, I got my book signed too. 🙂

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Book Signing today at Concord Book Store for new book on Fruitlands

My husband and I are taking a trek to Concord to see Richard Francis, author of a brand new book on Fruitlands called Fruitlands: The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia
Sounds like a good one! I’ll bring my trusty camera and let you know what he was like (oh, and of course I’ll get my signed copy too :-))