Coming soon to an iTunes near you–Louisa May Alcott is Our Passion Podcast!

  • Interesting in hearing readings from Louisa May Alcott’s works?
  • Fascinated by the family letters?
  • Want to hear about fascinating books regarding the Alcotts, both old and new?
  • Do you want to learn more from leading Alcott scholars, authors and experts?
  • How about a discussion among fans?
  • How about Louisa herself?

header with textThis and more will be featured in a new monthly podcast named after this blog, “Louisa May Alcott is My Passion.” Each episode will be around 30 minutes in length and will be available through on this site as well as iTunes, Tunein and Stitcher.

Our first episode will focus on the upcoming Summer Conversational Series at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House; I will be interviewing Orchard House’s Education Director, Lis Adams.

summer conversational series logo

Visits from Louisa

I can also promise you a visit from “Louisa” herself in the guise of Executive Director Jan Turnquist. Jan performed in my old home town of Westborough, MA recently and she graciously allowed me to record her entire one hour performance (which was wonderful, by the way, really engrossing). This way we can have sage words from our favorite author for several podcasts to come. I wanted to give a big “shout-out” to Westborough Cable TV for their assistance. They were originally going to videotape the performance but could not due to illness yet they still loaned me (a resident of next-door Grafton) the equipment necessary to get a clean recording. That was downright generous of them and I am thankful to Karen Henderson and the crew for their help.

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Chats with experts

I can promise too lots of interesting interviews with experts and scholars as many will attend the Conversational Series and I can grab them for a quick chat.

You can participate too!

The podcast will also be open for you to participate. I will be accepting audio feedback that will be played on the next podcast. I am also hoping that in the future I can feature group discussions with two or three people together (have to figure out the technology for that). Scholars, teachers and fans alike will be most welcome.

I am hoping to have the first episode ready for mid June if all goes well. I’ll keep you in the loop. There will also be information on how to subscribe to the podcast so you never miss an episode.

We’re stoking the Alcott flame! (as John Matteson is fond of saying :-))

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Those unconventional Alcotts left behind quite the mark

The Alcotts were an atypical Victorian family to be sure. Along with rather unconventional philosophic and religious ideas as to how to live, the family did not subscribe to typical Victorian role models.

alcott family horiz

Role reversal

Bronson at the School of Philosophy at Orchard House

Bronson at the School of Philosophy at Orchard House

To begin with, Bronson’s refusal or inability to work to support his family necessitated that his wife Abba take on the breadwinner role. When her health began to suffer, Louisa took over, spending the rest of her life keeping that “Alcott Sinking Fund” (as she dubbed it) afloat, sacrificing artistic growth, independence and her own health.

Career minded

from "Recollections of Louisa May Alcott" by Maria S. Porter

from “Recollections of Louisa May Alcott” by Maria S. Porter

The Alcott daughters were educated and well read. They were encouraged to think, to create, to pursue their dreams. Abba wanted to be sure her girls could support themselves. Both parents encouraged the girls in their career interests with the results being Louisa becoming a best selling author and youngest sister May realizing some success as accomplished painter before she died prematurely.

Run, jump, play!

drawing by Flora Smith, from The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard

drawing by Flora Smith, from The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard

Physical activity was very much the norm. The girls were allowed to play like boys, running and jumping, talking long hikes into the woods, playing into the mud and coming home dirty. Louisa writes about her many hair-raising escapades in “Poppy’s Pranks” from Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag Volume IV. Louisa and May, being the most physically robust of the sisters, continued with physical activity into their adulthood: Louisa took daily runs while May went rowing and horseback riding.

Romance and marriage

Unlike most Victorian parents, Bronson and Abba did not pressure their daughters to marry. Louisa, of course, never took the plunge nor did she consider it even though she had a romance with a man several years her junior in Europe known as Ladislas Wisniewski (although the nature of that romance is in question–see previous post). Despite herself, she did receive at least one marriage proposal.

alcotts as I knew them coverThere are few references even to romance when the sisters were of traditional marrying age. Anna appears to have had some sort of relationship while teaching in Syracuse but she was ultimately rejected. Louisa wrote a single cryptic line in her journal in 1853 about her seventeen-year-old sister Lizzie having a romance with “C.” Clara Gowing, in her book The Alcotts as I Knew Them described it as “A little affair of the heart about that time, which did not meet the approval of her parents …”  May, a flirtatious sort, was the one sister who had many flings, most notably with next door neighbor Julian Hawthorne.

Marriage as rebellion

Pratt-2528Only two of the daughters married and both rather late. Anna married John Pratt when she twenty-nine. In a sense, she rebelled against her family’s unconventional lifestyle, preferring to start a family of her own. She was happily married to John for ten years before he tragically died; they had two sons.

May the cougar?

courtesy of louisamay.livejournal.com

courtesy of louisamay.livejournal.com

May too, rebelled in a sense, opting to remain permanently in Europe rather than being near her family. Career was first and she had rightly determined that she could not become a great artist without living in Europe. She then married a man considerably younger than herself (and successfully lied about her age – the wrong age is on her death certificate since husband Ernest Nieriker provided the information.).

Motherhood

from alcott.net

from alcott.net

May died a few weeks after giving birth and bequeathed her daughter to older spinster sister Louisa. Thus Louisa became a single mother, raising Lulu as her own.

The right to vote

And one more tidbit from this most unusual family: Louisa was the first woman in Concord to register to vote. It had been a dream she had shared with her mother but sadly Abba did not live to vote herself or see her daughter cast it. She proudly cast it on March 29, 1880, adding “No bolt fell on our audacious heads, no earthquake shook the town.”

The Alcotts thus made their mark, through the vote, through literature, through art, and most especially, through their fascinating family history.

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Inside the heart of Bronson Alcott

sonnetscanzo00alcorichIn the last post covering John Matteson’s talk at the Colonial Inn I mentioned Bronson Alcott’s Sonnets and Canzonets, published in 1882 and how they reveal the heart of the man. Each sonnet or canzonet is dedicated to his wife, daughters and many luminary friends such as Ralph Waldo  Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Margaret Fuller.

Presenting an entertaining dilemma

The sonnets and canzonets are not labeled by name so the identity of the person must be discerned from details provided in the piece. It makes for a fun detective game trying to figure out about whom Bronson was writing. The book is available on archive.org so I challenge you to read it and see if you can identity all to persons.

bronsonalcott1Did Bronson love?

Many do not associate Bronson with devotion and tenderness. After all, how could a man love his family and yet not provide for them? How could a man so seemingly narcissistic, so lost in the clouds of philosophy, understand what it means to love others?

Revealing the heart in earthly experience

But as we know, life is never that black and white. Bronson was, in fact, devoted to his family and his friends. It took many years for him to recognize that love is not merely pure, perfect and theoretical; it is in fact very imperfect. Earthy and physical. Messy, wrenching, and glorious. No life event drove that home to him more than death, whether it be losing two daughters to it, or nearly being deprived of another through her service to the dying.

And so I share with you sonnets to his four daughters: Anna, Louisa, Lizzie and May. Judge for yourself the heart of this complex and all-too-human philosopher.

Here are sonnets for Anna, Louisa and Elizabeth:

Anna Alcott

Anna Alcott

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott

Elizabeth Alcott

Elizabeth Alcott

And finally, May Alcott.

Judging from the length of this sonnet, May’s unexpected death shook Bronson to the core:

Do you believe Bronson loved his family well over his entire life? Why or why not?
What do you feel was his greatest contribution to his girls?

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Call for papers: Summer Conversational Series 2016 at Orchard House

From Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House:

We are currently accepting proposals for our July 2016 Summer Conversational Series and Teacher Institute, Finding Beauty in the Humblest Things: Louisa May Alcott’s Literary Vision.  Deadline for submission is February 15.  Please include, with your one-page proposal, your title and a brief bio, and submit to ladams@louisamayalcott.org and jturnquist@louisamayalcott.org.

Call for proposals is featured below, and may also be found on our website, www.louisamayalcott.org.  Please feel free to forward this information to your friends and colleagues who may be interested in presenting or attending.

scs2016-cfp_final

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Louisa’s first letter in honor of her baby sister – original handwritten letter from the Houghton Library

alcott sisters

I visited the Houghton Library in mid July and was greeted with the most wonderful surprise: Houghton is now granting permission to post the actual handwritten letters from the Alcott family!

I can’t tell you how excited I am to be able to share these letters with you! I have photographed probably over a hundred pages of letters (mostly of other family members; I plan on going through Louisa’s at a later date).

It seems most appropriate to begin by posting (possibly) Louisa’s very first letter, along with Anna and Lizzie, in honor of the birth of their new baby sister Abbie May. Here is the letter: Continue reading

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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Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House needs your help!

Just yesterday I received this letter from Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House regarding their annual appeal. I present this letter to you. Please consider giving what you can to help preserve Orchard House from damage this winter:

Dear Friend:

Perhaps you’ve heard our recent great news: The “Kickstarter” campaign to fund the first-ever documentary about the amazing history and significance of Orchard House was a success! To all those who spread the word and pledged support, I send sincere thanks on behalf of everyone affiliated with Orchard House.

Unfortunately, the very next day we received bad news: Orchard House has major roof problems with costly structural implications, issues which must be addressed quickly because of leakage. With winter about to set in, we simply can’t afford to wait. As this letter goes to press, we are in the midst of acquiring bids — and working to finance these repairs.

orchard house in winter

So goes life! Something wonderful; something challenging! Every day at Orchard House, we strive to …

do something splendid … something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten

(to quote Jo March in Little Women). But we are continually aware that we do so only because of the devoted support of people like you. As you give us strength to persevere through our trials, you also champion our achievements in education, preservation, research, and tourism, and for that we are again very grateful.

In order to continue our (hopefully) “splendid, heroic, wonderful” work, however, our Annual Appeal must raise at least one-third of our operating budget — in this case, $240,000. Otherwise, we risk losing our ability to not only preserve the House in its time of need, but also maintain the high-caliber staffing needed to conduct our award-winning guided tours and educational programming.

There are so many worthy causes to support, especially at this time of year; so many pulls on your purse strings. Please don’t let Orchard House be forgotten in your charitable giving. In the past, extremely generous supporters like you have helped us meet or exceed our Annual Appeal goals. I ask you now to please consider giving as much as you can.

Author John MattesonProf. John Matteson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father, recently wrote:

Orchard House is more than boards and nails; it has a soul that evokes love and family. It redeems us. It welcomes, inspires, and reminds callers from the next town over and pilgrims from across the globe of the goodness and grace of our past, and points us toward a kinder future. Orchard House is precisely what we need.

What we need is your help to ensure that a place so embraced by splendor, heroism, and wonder continues to exist for many years and many generations to come!

If you have donated to us in the past, please continue to do so at or above the level of your last gift. If you donated to our Kickstarter campaign, please know that those funds are only available specifically for the documentary project; we cannot use them for vital operating expenses or preservation, so your Annual Appeal gift is vital. And if you have never donated to us before, know that by doing so, you become an important partner with a site that symbolizes the American family — and you become part of our family, too.

With deep gratitude and bright hope,

jan turnquist signature

 

 

Jan Turnquist, Executive Director
Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House

annual appealAll donations received by January 31, 2015 will still count toward the 2014 Appeal.

You can give by downloading the annual appeal card, and mail it with your donation to:

The Annual Appeal for Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House
P.O. Box 343
Concord, MA 0142-0343

Or, you can donate online at http://louisamayalcott.org/contribute.html

Let’s help Orchard House make its goal of $240,000 by January 31, 2015!

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