A blunt, controversial psychological study of Miss Alcott — Katharine Anthony’s 1937 biography

The 1930s was an interesting time in Alcott scholarship. The year 1932 marked the one hundredth year of Louisa’s birth. 1938 not only marked the 50th anniversary of Louisa and Bronson’s death but also the 70th anniversary of the publication of Little Women. Thus in 1937, two important biographies were released – Odell Shepherd’s Pedlar’s Progress on Bronson Alcott (see previous post) and Katharine Anthony’s Louisa May Alcott.

Reception of the biography

alcotts bedellAnthony’s book was not well received. Although deemed substantive and scholarly by reviewer Frederic L. Carpenter (writing for the New England Quarterly in December of 1938), he roundly criticized her need to psychoanalyze Alcott, calling the results “unfortunate” and “ridiculous.”

martha saxton 190That, however, was 1938. More modern biographies by Martha Saxton in 1977 and Madelon Bedell in 1980 conduct their own psychoanalysis which makes for fascinating and often, uncomfortable, reading. This was true as well with Anthony’s book.

Controversies

And yet, Anthony’s book reads like a novel. It was one of the first adult books I read on Louisa (after Martha Saxton and Madeleine Stern). Knowing so much more now after years of research, Anthony’s take on Louisa affirmed much of what I had suspected and raised new controversies. I will focus on two of those controversies for this post.

A threesome at Fruitlands

Charles-Lane

Charles Lane

The first involves the relationship between Abba, Bronson and Charles Lane. Those of us knowledgeable of Fruitlands are aware of the complexity of the relationship between these three. Madelon Bedell has suggested a possible homosexual relationship between Bronson and Charles Lane. Other biographers think perhaps Lane was attracted to Abba despite the fact that he urged Bronson to be celibate. There is no doubt that Abba had many issues with Lane during the utopian experiment. In noting Charles Lane’s curious return to the Alcott family two years after Fruitlands, Anthony describes the difficulties Louisa experienced from this odd arrangement:

“For Louisa, who wished to see everything through her mother’s eyes, this reinstatement of the dragon was devastating. Her letters and diaries of that summer show how piteously distracted was her state of mind. If her mother, having once demolished the beast, had turned the sword in his body, all would’ve been plain sailing. But she saw now that the relation between the three grown-ups was a more complicated situation than she had any idea of and it gave her the feeling of a nerve-racking dilemma.  She wrestled precociously with her mother’s contradictory character, and the struggle made her sometimes despondent and sometimes reckless. The departure of Mr. Lane brought her providential relief.” (Louisa May Alcott, pg. 54)

Carpenter in his review called this section of the book “unpleasantly ambiguous,” wondering if Anthony was suggesting some kind of secret liaison between Lane and Abba since Bronson left for New York during his stay.

Going after Abba Alcott

abbaFor me, it was the beginning of a quiet vendetta against Abba Alcott by Katharine Anthony. With regards to the family’s need to move to Boston due to financial need, Anthony writes,

“A perverse vision had come to Mrs. Alcott while still in Concord. Both of her older daughters were earning wages. Anna was teaching away from home, and Louisa had begun to teach also, having opened a school in the barn. By a reversal of the usual process between parents and children, the girls set an example for their middle-aged mother. Mrs. Alcott, having steadily refused to see the necessity for working prior to her marriage when the necessity for it had been most apparent, now at once saw it very clearly. Just when her family needed her attention most, she decided to go forth and become a wage earner. Their finances had not become any worse, because Anna and Louisa had begun to bring a little money into the home. But Mrs. Alcott’s heroism drove her just at that point to take her spectacular plunge into a life of wage earning.” (Ibid, pg. 74)

Very different take

Katharine Susan Anthony (from Wikipedia)

Katharine Susan Anthony (from Wikipedia)

Was Anthony’s criticism of Abba influenced by the time the author lived in? Women’s roles were still pretty much confined to the home in the 1930’s. Despite the fact that Anthony was a professor at Wellesley College along with being an accomplished author and scholar, she appeared to judge Abba by rather conventional standards. I am not aware of any other biographer taking the point of view that Abba did not need to go to work in Boston. Anthony insinuates on the next page that Abba’s efforts were not all that successful, citing no records of the reports she wrote on her work that were said to be excellent (such records now exist at the Houghton Library). She discounts the value of Abba’s intelligence office, writing that “The only domestic service job that Mrs. Alcott secured, as afar as we know, is the one she turned over to her daughter Louisa …” (Ibid, pg. 75)

Valuable analysis

Anthony’s various insights throughout Louisa May Alcott are interesting to say the least and they don’t just apply to Louisa. Anthony provides meaningful sketches of each member of the family (and in my opinion, she is one of the few to give Lizzie her due). Her analysis of Louisa is not oppressive or overbearing such as is the case with Martha Saxton (although I believe Saxton’s book has value) because she does not dwell on the amount of detail that Saxton reveals. The point, however, still gets across.

Health issues

louisa readingMuch has been made of Louisa’s health after her service as a nurse in the Civil War. After surviving both typhoid pneumonia and the mercury poisoning from being dosed with calomel, Alcott suffered from a wide variety of physical disorders including pains in her legs, headaches, digestive disorders, vertigo, the loss of her voice, etc. Historians and medical doctors Bert Hirschhorn and Ian Greaves suggested Lupus, an immune disorder, possibly triggered by the mercury poisoning (see Harriet Reisen’s Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women)..

Louisa kept careful track in her journals of her health problems and often blamed “nerves” and overwork for her difficulties. Considering the heavy load that she carried in being head of the family and the breadwinner, it is not surprising. In the waning years of her life, she became obsessed with her health as she could find no relief.

Possible cause

Katharine Anthony offers her suggestion for Louisa’s health problems: shell-shock. Citing the Great War and the mental and nervous disorders in the veterans, she surmises that Civil War veterans would have also suffered similar trauma. “It was some form of shock to which Louisa May Alcott succumbed as a hospital nurse in 1862,” she writes (Ibid, pg. 252). Such an injury to the nervous system could afflict the victim for the rest of her life. Anthony also believes Alcott was predisposed to such a condition given her high strung nature.

from alcott.net

Lulu Nieriker, from alcott.net

There is no doubt that Louisa lamented repeatedly in her journal regarding the onslaught of her life and writing (aka, overwork) on her nerves. Between sudden fame for a woman who did not feel worthy, the untimely deaths of John Pratt and May Alcott, the care of May’s daughter and their aging father, and the self-inflicted pressure to continue writing (and earning), it is no wonder Louisa May Alcott had health issues.

Louisa’s last days were painful, difficult and sad as despair overtook her. The final pages of Louisa May Alcott describe those days with a haunting eloquence as Anthony marvels at Alcott’s ability to continue churning out cheerful and meaningful stories for the young even to her dying day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: Fruitlands Louisa May Alcott Made Perfect by Gloria Whelan

fruitlands louisa may alcott made perfectOne of you (Julie) gifted me with a wonderful book and once I picked it up, I could not put it down. The book, geared for older children, is called Fruitlands Louisa May Alcott Made Perfect by Gloria Whelan.

A lost diary

The premise of the book is based on Louisa’s diary kept at Fruitlands. This was her first diary and sadly, only a few pages survive. They were miraculously found in the wall of the Fruitlands house years ago. Gloria Whelan maintains that Bronson destroyed much of it as he had also destroyed Anna’s kept during that time.

A tale of two diaries

Whelan through the power of storytelling restores it. But, she not only restores it, she presents two diaries, one written for public consumption as was the custom in the family, and one kept secret. In the first entry of the secret diary Louisa writes, “In the first diary there will be Louy, who will try to be just what Mother and Father would wish. In the second diary there will be Louisa, just as she is.”

Knowing that privacy was in short supply in the lives of the Alcotts, I had to work a bit to accept the premise but once I did I was swept into this book.

Real children

512 moving to fruitlands (socrates bust)Whelan is the writer I wish to be. She is a masterful storyteller, revealing so much through the details, dialog and actions of the characters. She fleshes out each child by comparing how they’d respond to a situation. From Louisa’s secret diary:  “Lizzie is good-natured and listens patiently to all the questions that Father puts to us. Anna tries hard to give the correct answers, but sometimes when the questions are difficult she pleads a headache and slips away. I say what comes into my head and know at once it is a foolish answer. I wish I could learn to keep my silence.”

Big sis Anna

Anna normally considered the “good girl,” the counterpart to Bronson, is cast in a somewhat unflattering light. She did indeed exhibit Bronson’s ways, especially his penchant for being judgmental. She did everything she could to please him at the expense of her sisters. Typical of an older sister, she never failed to lord it over Louisa and point out her faults.

Little sis Lizzie

Lizzie is Louisa’s safe haven. Whelan presents a flesh and blood little girl that we could truly love through the gentle actions, words of encouragement and total acceptance that she offered to everyone. In her public diary entry, Louisa recounts being rude to Mr. Lane (a common occurrence): Mr. Lane then talked with us upon the subject that all men are equal. I was rude and impertinent, for I asked Mr. Lane if we are all equal, why should be always be the one to tell us what to do? Even Mother was angry with my rudeness. I cried and begged Mr. Lane’s pardon.” In the private diary entry she recounts crying into her pillow and how “Lizzie crept over and put her arm around me. Anna asked, “Louy, why must you always say just what you think?”

A rich and complex child

512 louisa contemplatingThrough these diaries, Whelan paints a detailed picture of a complex child, acutely aware of her surroundings and compelled to speak her mind despite the consequence. I found myself engulfed in her soaring imagination as she organized games with the other children, pretending to be fairies, witches and characters from Shakespeare. Often Louisa would explore her darker side through the parts she chose to play making me think of the potboilers and thrillers she’d indulge in as an adult, stories ironically that would keep the family financially afloat.

A room of one’s own

from essitolling.wordpress.com

from essitolling.wordpress.com

Whelan described an exquisite place outdoors that Louisa claimed as the room of her own where she could write and think: “I found a weeping willow tree. It stands close to the river, and its overhanging branches form a curtain. When I pushed the branches aside, there was a leafy tent I could craw inside and be invisible to all … The breeze gently moves the trailing branches this way and that, so that first one part of the land is visible, and then another. It is as if pages in a book of pictures are being turned for me.”

Building tensions

fruitlandsThe best part of this book was the “slow burn:” the building desperation, not only of how the extended family would survive but Louisa’s own desperation with herself and all the criticism she took from the adults. I could feel the weight of the oppression on her as she was undermined again and again by her father and Charles Lane.  Whelan creates a keen sense of claustrophobia not only physically with the dwindling supplies and the fierce winter closing in, but psychologically as the community shrinks in membership and slowly breaks down into chaos.

Public and private

There were times when the choice of language and the conclusions drawn by Louisa seemed too mature for a girl of 10, despite her “old soul,” but in most cases, the diary entries rang with Louisa’s voice. What truly propelled the book was the ploy of first featuring Louisa’s entry for the masses followed by the entry from her heart. I couldn’t wait to read further and find out her take on the story.

The greatest complement I could pay this book? It ended far too soon. I’m reading it again. Thanks, Julie!

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The unknown players of Fruitlands – finally hearing their voices

What was it like to live at Fruitlands?

Serious Alcott biographers have devoted much ink to the family’s experience during this six-month utopian experiment. Sometimes thoughtful, often absurd and always dramatic, Fruitlands is credited with both the shaping of the famous daughter, and a change in the power structure of the Alcott marriage and family life.

Richard Francis’ exhaustive study, Fruitlands The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia reveals extensive excerpts from the writings of Charles Lane whom, with Bronson Alcott, created the community.

bronson alcott's fruitlandsBut what about other members?

In Bronson Alcott’s Fruitlands, Clara Endicott Sears reveals the lives and writings of two such members: Joseph Palmer and Isaac Thomas Hecker. It is a rare view of Fruitlands from those who simply lived it.

Isaac Hecker

Isaac Hecker was a seeker. Feeling an urgent inner call to an ascetic spiritual life, he came over from Brook Farm to join the Fruitlands community. Born in New York in 1819 to a well-to-do merchant family, his long and winding road would eventually lead to the priesthood and the founding of the Paulist Fathers. These progressive priests dedicated themselves to spreading the Catholic faith in America using the modern methods of preaching on the road and the printing press. They stressed the personal holiness of each individual, believing that the European Church placed too much emphasis on the routine side of religious observance (Wikipedia, Isaac Hecker).

Bronson Alcott's Fruitlands

Isaac Hecker went through much torturous soul searching before deciding on the celibate life of a priest. He found separating from Brook Farm to be excruciating but the call within for the spiritual life was too strong. He writes:

“I can hardly present myself from saying how much I shall miss the company of those I love and associate with here. But I must go. I am called with a stronger voice … Here are refining amusements, cultivated persons – and one whom I have not spoken of, one who is too much to me to speak of, one who would leave all for me. Alas! Him I must leave to go.” (pg. 76-77, Bronson Alcott’s Fruitlands by Clara Endicott Sears).

Hecker’s biographer, Walter Elliot in Life of Father Hecker, attempts to clarify the use of the word “Him,” indicating that Hecker appeared to have originally written “Her,” then changed it to “Him.” Whatever the nature of the relationship, it was an attachment that Hecker felt he must break in order to achieve spiritual perfection.

He hoped to find that at Fruitlands. He adjusted well to the diet and clothing requirements and at first, seemed to be finding the life he sought. He describes conversations amongst the members:

“This morning after breakfast a conversation was held on Friendship and its laws and conditions. Mr. Alcott places Innocence first; [Samuel] Larned, Thoughtfulness; I, Seriousness; Lane, Fidelity.” (Ibid, pg. 78, from July 12).

And

“… there was held a conversation on the Highest Aim. Mr. Alcott said it was Integrity; I, Harmonic being; Lane, Progressive being; Larned, Annihilation of self; [Samuel] Bower, Repulsion of the evil in us. Then there was a confession of the obstacles which prevent us from attaining the highest aim. Mine was the doubt whether the light is light; not want of will to follow, or light to see.” (Ibid, from July 13)

It did not take long for Hecker to realize that Fruitlands would not meet his spiritual needs:

“… I cannot live at this place as I would. This is not the place for my soul … My life is not theirs.” (Ibid, pg. 82, from July 23)

While he admired Charles Lane’s unselfishness, he suspected Bronson’s motives: “I suspect he wanted me because thought I would bring money to the Community. (Ibid, pg. 84). He noted the enormous work load Abba and her daughters carried while “Mr. Alcott looked benign and talked philosophy.” (Ibid)

Hecker would move back home to New York with his family and maintain the ascetic dietary life he discovered at Fruitlands. In six years he would become a Roman Catholic priest.

Joseph Palmer

Palmer was the practical support for Fruitlands. He provided animals to plow the fields when Bronson and Lane realized they could not break the earth themselves. In fact, those animals caused somewhat of a scandal when it was learned that Abba was taking milk from the cow to give to two year-old Abby May.

Although Joseph Palmer went back and forth from Fruitlands to his farm in No Town, he was fully committed to the community, providing farming skills and tools. He also provided practical and moral support to Abba when the community was collapsing and they faced starvation and the cold of winter. He was to eventually take over the property and turn it into his own community, the Leominster and Harvard Benevolent Association (Wikipedia, Joseph Palmer).

joseph palmer

What is perhaps most remembered about Palmer though was his attachment to his fine, luxurious white beard. He was mocked and openly persecuted for it in the 1830s and was even imprisoned for a time. Relishing the opportunity to fight for his right to wear it, he remained in prison longer than was necessary until he was asked to leave. A man of principle, he never wavered and kept the beard till his dying day.

After finally leaving jail, Palmer heard about Fruitlands and being a reformer at heart, was eager to join. He offered to run the farm pro bona and provided furniture for the house. Without his practical help, Fruitlands would not have survived as long as it did. He was much more a doer, while Bronson and Lane especially, preferred to just “be.”

The legacy of Fruitlands preserved, thanks to a visionary

Clara Endicott Sears did a great service by providing her book and purchasing the property to preserve for the ages.  Looking over the beautiful vista, one can imagine the community living in the house, the girls running through the fields and the meaningful and often challenging conversations that took place. There was hope in the valley.

But one can also sense the ghosts of broken promises, the oppression of poverty, the bone-chilling winter cold, the desperation of certain starvation and the tensions that tore away at a close family. These were the things that molded and fueled a certain impressionable, highly creative little girl with great talent to dream big dreams that would take care of her family for the rest of their lives, and impact generations of women after her.

For a mere six month experiment, Fruitlands was indeed important. Thank goodness Clara Endicott Sears had the vision and the means to preserve it.

Click to Tweet & ShareThe unknown players of Fruitlands – we finally hear their voices http://wp.me/p125Rp-1nt

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A visit to Fruitlands where Louisa took up the family cross

at the bottom of a steep hill

at the bottom of a steep hill

Back in October I took a trip to Fruitlands in Harvard, MA, only about 40 minutes from my home. That visit sparked a long period of binge reading on the subject which is why, in the dead of winter, I’m only getting around to writing about that visit now.

A paradox

Having immersed myself in Louisa’s life over the past two and one half years, Fruitlands is pregnant with meaning. It’s a paradox – beautiful and open yet oppressive as I reflect on past events. In the summer of 1843, a new kind of family representing the hope of Utopia moved into the then red, ramshackle farmhouse nestled in a valley, at the end of a primitive and steep drive, deliberately isolated from the outside world.

The players

Accompanying Bronson Alcott and wife Abba were their daughters: Anna, Louisa, Elizabeth and May. Charles Lane came with his young son William. Other members of this “consociate” family were Joseph Palmer, Isaac Hecker, Samuel Larned, Abraham Everett (aka Abraham Woods or Wood Abraham) and Samuel Bower. The only other woman to join, Ann Page, came later.

23-joseph-and-nancy-palmer.jpg

22-charles lane and isaac hecker

The books

Clara Endicott Sears is the foundress of the now Fruitlands Musuem, having bought up the land in the early 1900s and written a book about the experiment, Bronson Alcott’s Fruitlands. Her book is one of the few (if not the only one) that includes the journal writings of different members of the group beyond Alcott and Lane.

bronson-alcotts-fruitlands-cover-and-inside-with-copyright

It also includes Louisa’s take on the experiment, the satirical Transcendental Wild Oats, plus diary entries from Anna and Louisa during their time there.

atkins-francisThese books led to a young adult novel, Becoming Little Women: Louisa May at Fruitlands by Jeannine Atkins (see previous post) and finally Richard Francis’ tour de force, Fruitlands: The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia. This last book is densely packed with information and as a result, riddled with sticky notes which I still have to sort through.  Eventually I will share what I learned from this marvelous book (see previous posts).

Revealing writings

Louisa’s diary entries reveal a ten year-old girl who was already reform-minded, introspective and conscious of her faults. There are numerous references to her quick temper and deep regret as in this passage from September 1, 1843:

“I felt sad because I have been cross to-day and did not mind Mother. I cried, and then I felt better …” (pg. 107, Bronson Alcott’s Fruitlands by Clara Endicott Sears).

And yet in the same passage, she shows her astuteness:

“Father asked us what was God’s noblest work. Anna said men, but I said babies. Men are often bad; babies never are.” (Ibid, pg. 106)

Louisa was not afraid to speak her mind and possibly earn the disfavor of her father; Anna however always wanted to please him.

The same passage also demonstrates how reform-minded she was becoming in her reaction to a story read to her by Bronson which demonstrated why the rich need to be kind to the poor. Louisa wrote, “I liked it very much, and I shall be kind to poor people.” (Ibid)

She finds a moment at bedtime up in her cramped attic room to appreciate the natural world: “As I went to bed the moon came up very brightly and looked at me.” (Ibid, pgs. 106-7)

Playtime

The girls would often pretend they were fairies or go berry picking.

The girls would often pretend they were fairies or go berry picking.

Other journal entries describe hours of play spent running up and down hills, gathering nuts and berries and pretending:

“I ran in the wind and pretended to be a horse, and had a lovely time in the woods with Anna and Lizzie. We were fairies, and made gowns and paper wings. I “flied” the highest of all.” (Ibid, pg. 107)

Change of weather

views of Mounts Monadnock and Wachusett

views of Mounts Monadnock and Wachusett

When the climate was agreeable, Fruitlands was a paradise (except perhaps for Abba who had to do the lion’s share of the work). Beautiful mountain vistas, rich forests, sparkling streams and long walks in the fields complemented the sense of warmth and community that Bronson and Charles Lane wanted to cultivate. Despite the rigors of living at Fruitlands (among other things a totally Vegan diet without the benefit of coffee, tea, sugar and butter; scratchy, lightweight linen for clothing so as not to rob the sheep of their wool or use cotton created by slave labor; sparse usage of animals for farming; strict rules and an over-abundance of “high-minded talk” along with an under-abundance of hand to the plow) and the difficult personalities involved, the community appeared to be thriving.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, after visiting during the summer wrote, “They look well in July; we will see them in December.” (Ibid, pg. 69) He had provided financial help though later commented that “Their whole doctrine is spiritual but they always end with saying, Give us much land and money.” (Wikipedia, Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Emerson was prophetic in his assessment of Fruitlands; when the temperature cooled and the snows came, life grew unbearably austere due to a lack of food, heat and warm clothing (although there was still an abundance of “high-minded talk”). One by one, the residents of Fruitlands abandoned the community leaving behind the destitute Alcotts, Charles Lane and his son. Eventually the property would be sold, Bronson and Charles Lane would part company, and the surviving family unit of Alcotts would be sorely tested.

Impressionable child

There is no doubt among Alcott biographers that Fruitlands was a very formative time in Louisa’s life. Nothing escaped the sensibilities of this ten year-old, most especially the burden of Fruitlands on her mother and the mounting tension between her parents which threatened separation.

She saw the amount of work Abba took of, caring for all the residents plus any visitors who dropped in, often unannounced. Bronson and Charles Lane frequently left the farm on trips to promote their utopian community (which provided no monetary income). One time they left when the grain was ready to be harvested. Louisa writes in Transcendental Wild Oats:

512 fruitlands - gathering the grain

Illustration by Flora Smith for The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard

“About the time the grain was ready to house, some call of the Oversoul wafted all the men away. An easterly storm was coming up and the yellow stacks were sure to be ruined. Then Sister Hope [Abba] gathered her forces. Three little girls, one boy (Timon’s son) [William, Charles Lane’s son], and herself, harnessed to clothes-baskets and Russia-linen sheets, were the only teams she could command; but with these poor appliances the indomitable woman got in the grain and saved food for her young, with the instinct and energy of a mother-bird with a brood of hungry nestlings to feed.” (Ibid, pgs. 166-167).

Soul mates

Louisa and her mother understood each other and leaned on each other. The daughter internalized the anxiety and frustration of the mother and watched as her father failed to provide, leading the family to the brink of starvation. Louisa witnessed the strength of her mother who eventually led the family away from Fruitlands to safety while the father collapsed emotionally (although Richard Francis in Fruitlands The Alcott Family and their Search for Utopia disputes this, claiming that Louisa invented or exaggerated her father’s response to the failure of the experiment to enhance the storyline of Transcendental Wild Oats  – see page 259).

Assuming the family cross

An exchange between Louisa (in 1843, then eleven) and Abba in Louisa’s journal signals the unspoken promise Louisa made to take care of her mother for the rest of her life:

Dear Louy,
I enclose a picture for you which I always liked very much, for I have imagined that you might be just such an industrious daughter & I such a feeble but loving mother, looking to your labor for my daily bread. Keep it for my sake, & your own, for you and I always like to be grouped together.
Mother

Louisa responds with a poem:

To Mother

I hope that soon dear mother, you & I may be
In the quiet room my fancy has so often made for thee,
The pleasant sunny chamber, the cushioned easy chair,
The books laid for your reading, the vase of flowers fair.
The desk beside the window where the sun shines warm and bright,
And there in ease and quiet, the promised book you write,
While I sit close beside you, content at least to see,
That you can rest dear mother, & I can cherish thee.

(pgs. 107-108, Little Women Letters from the House of Alcott, edited by Jessie Bonstelle and Marian DeForest)

It was a promise that would set Louisa on a course that not only achieved its goal but surpassed it beyond her wildest dreams.

Come and visit Fruitlands with me:

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In the next post, I will share the impressions of some of the Fruitlands residents as detailed by Clara Endicott Sears.

Click to Tweet & ShareA visit to Fruitlands where Louisa took up the family cross http://wp.me/p125Rp-1i1

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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? http://wp.me/p125Rp-1iF

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Louisa’s ode to her cat could be an ode to mine

I was flipping through Harriet Reisen’s fine book, Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women and found this poem by Louisa (on page 112)  that she published in her family’s weekly newspaper, The Olive Leaf (the real-life version of The Pickwick Papers in Little Women). It so totally described how I feel about my favorite cat that I just had to share. Louisa once commented to her nemesis Charles Lane (from Fruitlands)  in her daily list of sins that she had an “inordinate love of cats.” Me too!

Jenny Jen, this is for you!

To Pat Paws

Oh my kitty Oh my darling
Purring softly on my knee
While your sleepy little eyes dear
Look so fondly up at me

Dearest of all earthly pussies
I will shrine you in my heart
Where no dogs can ever reach you
Oh my precious little guwart [?]

May the biggest fattest mouses
Be your never failing portion
Softest crumbs in heaps around you
And of drops a boundless ocean.

Do you have an “inordinate love of cats” too? 🙂


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Take a tour of the final resting place of the Alcotts

There’s a terrific article on the Concord Patch written by a licensed Concord tour guide, Harry Beyer. He takes you on a tour of the Alcott family plot at Sleepy Hollow cemetery. Here’s a teaser from the article:

Louisa May was an active abolitionist, helping to shelter runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. She was also an early feminist. Protesting the exclusion of women from Concord’s 1875 Centennial parade and ceremony at Old North Bridge (the celebration at which Daniel Chester French’s Minute Man statue was unveiled), she wrote “It was impossible to help thinking, that there should have been a place for the great granddaughters of Prescott, William Emerson, John Hancock, and Dr. Ripley, as well as for … the scissors that cut the immortal cartridges” for the shot heard round the world. “It seemed to me that … the men of Concord had missed a grand opportunity of imitating those whose memory they had met to honor.”

Here’s the link to the article where you can read more and see the grave markers for each family member.

I thought it was very curious (and very cool) that of all the biographies written about the Alcotts, Beyer recommends Madelon Bedell’s book, The Alcotts Biography of a Family. I’d love to know why . . . I left a comment on the post inquiring, hopefully he’ll answer.