Louisa May Alcott is My Passion: The Podcast! Episode One: “Beauty in the humblest things”

Welcome to the premier episode of

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Topics and show notes:

louisa coverA reading

Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message
by Susan Bailey, pgs. 88-89,
from Work: A Story of Experience

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News

The Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge
at “In the Bookcase”

louisa-may-alcott-2016-reading-challenge-banner

louisa in walpole“Walpole’s Louisa May Alcott,”
sponsored by
the Walpole, NH Historical Society

nest5-21-2015The Summer Conversational Series
at Orchard House

 

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Interview

lis adams with french louisa bio for webwith Lis Adams, Education Director of Orchard House on the Summer Conversational Series.

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jan as louisa1And some words from
the old girl herself!

as portrayed by Jan Turnquist.

 

 

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Music

All bumper music copyright 2000, 2002 and 2015 by Susan Bailey

NOTE: “Louisa May Alcott: The Podcast!” is no longer available on iTunes but you can listen here on the blog. For all the episodes, visit the Podcast Page.

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A dream book launch–Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message makes its debut at The Barrow Bookstore in Concord

1-outside the barrow-640For an author obsessed with all things Alcott,
does it get any better than this?

Launching a book about the most famous Alcott, Louisa, in The Barrow, a bookstore housed in a building owned by descendants of Anna Alcott Pratt in the heart of Concord, Massachusetts … it’s a dream come true.

A book store that is a treasure trove of books past and present, especially of the beloved authors of Concord.

An intimate setting at dusk with hosts who outdid themselves with their hospitality and with an audience of eager Alcott enthusiasts – what more could you want?

I want to publicly thank Aladdine, Jamie and Nancy for hosting me at their store. Although my presentation lasted just a half hour, the conversation afterward lasted well over an hour. Strangers brought together by their passion, all becoming friends. Even my husband had a good time!😉

both sizes-640I read from Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message, sharing passages from Work A Story of Experience, Hospital Sketches and Little Women and their matching bible passages.

I shared how Louisa May Alcott is My Passion came into being and the role my late mother played in the creation of that blog.

It became a wonderful conversation on how the Alcott family has impacted our lives in quite personal ways.

It was my favorite kind of book event–organic.

large_audio-e1280245494342-316x300Here is my presentation:

Thank you to my extended Alcott family!

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Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message comes in two different sizes – click here to order the smaller volume that fits in your purse; click here to order the large type edition.

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Find Susan’s books here on AmazonPurchase Susan’s CD.

 

Recent discovery of Thoreau’s notes sheds light on tragic drowning of Margaret Fuller

The Houghton Library at Harvard University has acquired the complete set of notes made by Henry David Thoreau as he visited the site of Margaret Fuller’s drowning along with her husband and little son aboard the steamship Elizabeth.

thoreau-fuller

Here is a teaser from the article, published in the Harvard Gazette:

A recent Houghton Library acquisition is shedding new light on the tragic drowning of Margaret Fuller and on what Henry David Thoreau found as he investigated the death on behalf of Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Here’s Thoreau, he is being sent by Emerson, also a very important figure to our collections, to investigate the death of Margaret Fuller. And the Fuller papers are here,” said Leslie Morris (photo 2), the curator of modern books and manuscripts, who helped acquire the manuscript. “It really plays to three of our major figures here at the library. It brings them together … and it’s something that’s been completely unknown to scholarship.”

Here is the transcription of Thoreau’s notes.

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Places that are redemptive, and damning: Monday presentation by Stephen Burby at the Summer Conversational Series

Note: Mr. Burby kindly gave me his presentation (handwritten notes and all) in lieu of the fact that I was unable to attend the Monday session of the Summer Conversational Series. I thank him for doing so.

This is a longer post than usual as I found his presentation to be quite thought-provoking.

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Before attending this series, I was woefully ignorant of the concept of “place. ” Intuitively I understand about the need to create sacred spaces, whether it be places for prayer and contemplation, or rooms where I can create writing and music. I go to great lengths to create these spaces, considering every last physical detail such that entering these spaces immediately puts me into the “zone” where I can accomplish what I wish to do. Inhabiting such spaces brings me a great sense of happiness, peace and accomplishment.

A wider concept

I never understood however, the wider concept of place and sacred spaces; the speakers at last week’s Conversational Series have opened up a new world for me, a fresh lens from which to contemplate what I read in books and see around me.

3schoolpath

 

Louisa and place

560 steve burby1Mr. Burby’s presentation, “Out into the World:” Louisa May Alcott’s Sense of the World Beyond Concord.” continues to prime that pump. He begins by citing two classics by which he frames his discussion: Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space and Mircea Eliade’s The Sacred and the Profane. He maintains that Louisa’s writing,

“frequently deals with the transfer of the sacredness from good individuals, most often in the form of the sacred feminine, to the spaces they come to inhabit.”

The place of home

Bachelard states that

“All really inhabited space bears the essence of the notion of home …”

Little Women Dramatic Reading on Librivox

Little Women Dramatic Reading on Librivox

We see this time and again in Louisa’s works, particularly in Little Women, where the home is central to the development of the characters. Bachelard points out the positives (“We shall see the imagination build ‘walls’ of impalpable shadows, comfort itself with the illusion of protection…) as well as the negatives (“tremble behind thick walls, mistrust the stanchest ramparts.”). He also writes, “the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.” This is played out to perfection in Little Women.

Burby illustrates both sides of Bachelard’s notion of home, first through Hospital Sketches and My Contraband, and then through A Long Fatal Love-Chase.

Redemptive spaces

In Hospital Sketches and My Contraband, Burby shows how Louisa uses the Eternal Feminine (in the forms of nurses Tribulation Periwinkle and Faith Dane), to transform space from profane to sacred by injecting goodness, mercy, empathy, kindness and understanding.

hospital sketchesA woman’s influence

Burby cites Louisa’s description of the hospital in Hospital Sketches where she describes the “vilest odors” and chaotic atmosphere. Nurse Periwinkle seeks to transform that space:

“After bathing and dressing wounds for a number of them [the wounded soldiers], the scene is partially transformed.”

When she takes over the night shift, Nurse Periwinkle is given greater control over her environment, thus completing the transformation:

“By eleven, the last labor of love was done; the last ‘good night’ spoken; and, if any needed a reward for that day’s work, they surely received it, in the silent eloquence of those long lines of faces, showing pale and peaceful glances that lighted us to bed, where Rest, the sweetest, made our pillows soft, while Night and Nature took our places, filling that great house of pain with a healing miracles of Sleep, and his diviner brother, Death.”

Dual vocations

hospital sketches illustrationIf I might digress for a moment: in reading Burby’s citations and his analysis of Louisa’s transformation of space, it made me wonder about about Louisa. We know she had a vocation as a writer, but she also sensed a vocation for nursing. She was aware of her talent in both areas. She had had the opportunity to live each out, by nursing her sister Elizabeth which led to her ability to serve as a Civil War nurse, and by writing about such experiences and more. Both vocations served others well, one by healing and the other by providing.

As a nurse …

In each case Louisa could play out the role of Savior, a role both satisfying and burdensome to her. Yet which vocation was the most satisfying and which the more burdensome? Nursing brought her face to face with life at its core: brutally authentic, vulnerable and poignant. She could see the immediate consequence of her ministrations, whether it was to bring healing, comfort, consolation or just her presence as Death loomed. It was Lizzie who told Louisa how much that presence brought her strength as she faced her own painful end.

… and as a writer

Louisa_May_AlcottSuch life experiences were then expressed through Louisa’s writing, especially in Hospital Sketches and Little Women. Those of us who are writers know how cathartic, even exhilarating it can be to process feelings and get them down on paper, sometimes in poetic prose if we’re lucky. Writing brought its benefits to Louisa, relieving the chronic poverty and bringing material comfort and security at last to the “Pathetic Family.”

The costs

Both vocations exacted their costs. Nursing brought on the typhoid pneumonia which robbed Louisa of her good health for a life time. It sobered her greatly with memories that could never be forgotten.

Writing stole away Louisa’s cherished privacy and free creative expression, while too exacting a cost on her health.

So which vocation most satisfied Louisa? Which one was more worth the cost? Likely both were equally important and worked in tandem with each other. But these were questions that came to my mind as I read Mr. Burby’s presentation. There is no doubt that some of Louisa’s finest writing comes from her nursing experience.

Transformation of space brings redemption

civil war mulattoIn My Contraband, Burby shows how that same chaotic and dark space, the hospital, is transformed by presence of Nurse Faith Dane. Yet in this case, it is more about the transformation of persons within that space: Bob, the recently freed and wronged slave and his vicious white half brother who had killed Bob’s lover. While the half brother is not redeemed, Bob turns away from doing his brother harm thanks to the efforts of Nurse Dane. Burby writes,

“And it is here that the protagonist is able to assert her influence in the most positive way possible, turning the man–her contraband [to whom she was deeply attracted], the former slave, Bob–away from tragic revenge.”

The transformation is complete when Bob consummates their relationship in a symbolic and spiritual way, taking on her last name as his own; he would now be known as Robert Dane.

A place of damnation

long fatal love chase2Burby then turns to A Long Fatal Love-Chase to demonstrate how a beautiful space does not always denote goodness. He notes in particular a long description of the setting of Valrosa, Tempest’s villa in Nice. Burby believes that since Louisa had visited Nice during her first trip to Europe, it was likely she was describing a real place. He goes on to write,

“The description of Valrosa … suggests that is the finest setting for Rosamond, the protagonist … She is unconsciously the fairest and most striking ‘object’ in the setting.”

He points out that the beauty of the setting was illusory as Rosamond’s lover Tempest turns out to be her Mephistopheles.

Evil dominating

In this case, despite the presence of a female protagonist, Valrosa changed from a sacred to a profane place because of the domineering power of Tempest and the false premise upon which the space was based. Rosamond could not turn him.

Triumph of the Eternal Feminine

Thus Burby demonstrates Louisa’s realism yet again: life does not always turn out right. Goodness does not always prevail. In Louisa’s thrillers, goodness rarely prevails.

Yet the writing of hers that survives through the ages in the imaginations of many are the ones where the Eternal Feminine does in fact, triumph.

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Summer Conversational Series for Wednesday, July 15

Wednesday’s presentations proved to be lively, poignant and brain-busting!

gabrielle-jeannine-kristi

L to R, Gabrielle Donnelly, Jeannine Atkins and Kristi Martin

Gabrielle Donnelly, author of The Little Women Letters, spoke on Louisa’s trips to Europe in her presentation titled, “Our Foreign Correspondent Louisa May Alcott’s Travels Through Europe.” She read extensively from Shawl Straps (Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag) and had the room in stitches. Gabrielle has a unique quality for tapping into Louisa’s humor; she read descriptions of various people Louisa met on the train and the writing literally leaped off of the pages! She also offered wonderful insight regarding themes in Little Women and the complex relationship between Louisa and youngest sibling May.

little woman in blueJeannine Atkins continued on the theme of May with her presentation, “May Alcott Painting a Way Home.” Jeannine has written a splendid historical fiction novel about May which will be coming out this September; it is titled Little Woman in Blue. Her talk featured many of May’s sketches from Concord Sketches, a book that can only be viewed in the Special Collections at the Concord Public Library. She continued on the theme of sibling rivalry, focusing on the dynamic between older and younger sister. In a poignant ending to her talk, Jeannine read Louisa’s poem, “Our Madonna;” Jeannine was not the only one with a lump in her throat after that reading.

Kristi Martin presented a scholarly paper on “The Wilderness of Books Literary Concord,” drawing a history of how Concord came to be the home of so many distinguished authors, and how the homes of these writers became museums, attracting people from around the world. Kristi brings a unique experience to her work having been a tour guide at just about all the house museums in Concord. Her knowledge is vast and the presentation dense with wonderful information. Unfortunately my slow brain could not take notes fast enough so I only offer a general summary of this fine talk.

Here are my notes from Wednesday: notes for wednesday 7-15-15

Steven Burby was kind enough to send along his presentation that he gave on Monday; I will read it over on Friday and comment on it.

Unfortunately I cannot attend the Thursday presentation by John Matteson; if anyone has notes they wish to share please send them to me at louisamayalcottismypassion@gmail.com.

I do have a little surprise however which I will post tomorrow.

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Summer Conversational Series for Tuesday, July 14

Yesterday’s session for the 2015  Summer Conversational Series featured these three distinguished presenters:

L to R: Cathlin Davis, PhD, Cecilia Macheski and Lianne Kulik

L to R: Cathlin Davis, PhD, Cecilia Macheski and Lianne Kulik

Cathlin Davis, PhD

Dr. Davis spoke at length on “The Healing Power of Nature: Friendly Sunshine and Fresh Air,” drawing upon her extensive knowledge of Louisa’s canon. There is probably no one more knowledgeable about Louisa’s writing than Dr. Davis who has made it a mission to find every single short story ever written by Louisa (a tall order as many have never been republished.

Cecilia Macheski

Cecilia Macheski told the story of Clara Endicott Sears, the founder of the Fruitlands museum. Her presentation was titled “Towards a New Eden: Clara Endicott Sears’s Spiritual Landscapes.” Miss Sears purchased the Fruitlands house in 1910 at the age of 50 when her life took on a dramatic new direction. Ms. Macheski had wonderful photos of Sears and her home which sadly was bulldozed soon after her death. We all felt a deep sadness that her home was lost but the museum continues to thrive and grow, featuring not only the Fruitlands house, but a Shaker house with many artifacts, a Native American collection and the Hudson River paintings. Sears was a visionary which is demonstrated first in her acquiring the Fruitlands house which was in poor condition, and buying up the Hudson River paintings which in her time were considered worthless; the collection now is worth millions.

Lianne Kulik

Finally, a new presenter took the stage–Lianne Kulik spoke about Bronson Alcott’s educational reforms, linking them to the classroom today. Her talk was titled “‘A Place Which Speaks the Thoughts of Genius:’ The Role of Environment in Alcott’s Classroom.” Kulik admitted to an unabashed love of Bronson as she clearly mapped out his many reforms which often are not credited to him. Her passion for teaching was infectious; we all agreed her students are lucky to have her.

I ended with the with a lovely swim at Walden Pond with Wednesday’s presenter, Jeannine Atkins. We’ve known each for years online and met for the first time and it was delightful. Later, I kayaked on the Concord River (pictures coming soon) and mused on the presentations. I can truly attest to the healing qualities of Nature as I cruised up and down the bucolic river.

Concord River

Concord River

The day ended with a lovely dinner on the porch of the Colonial Inn with Jeannine and another favorite presenter, Gabrielle Donnelly.

jeannine, gabrielle and susan

L to R: Jeannine Atkins, Gabrielle Donnelly, Susan Bailey

Here are my notes from the day so that you too can enjoy the presentations: notes for tuesday 7-14-15

Can’t wait for today’s presentations! More tomorrow.

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Summer Conversational Series taking place this week

The Summer Conversational Series is taking place all this week at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House. The theme is “Heaven in the Mind:” The Spirit of Place in Transcendental Concord. I will be going to the Tuesday and Wednesday sessions.

3schoolpath

I believe registration is still open–here is information on topics and who is presenting (scroll down a bit to see).

Last year I was remiss in not sharing all that I learned at the series because frankly, I was awash in notes! It occurred to me that all I really need to do is summarize and make my notes available to you for download. That is what I will be doing this year so that you will not miss out.

A call out to those of you attending:

If you are taking notes, could you please share them with me so I can, in turn, share them with all of you? I would love to have all the days covered. Write to me at louisamayalcottismypassion@gmail.com.

Notes from 2014

Rose_Peckham_-_Abigail_May_Alcott_Nieriker_(d._1879)I include here all of last year’s notes for your perusal–Notes from Summer Conversational Series 2014. These include notes from other participants who graciously sent their notes to me. One of my favorite presentations which I wish I had written about was Anne-Laure Francois’ excellent talk on May Alcott–now you can see for yourself.

This is my fourth year attending the series; it is the highlight of my summer. Getting together with Alcott friends is the best!

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