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Book Review numero uno

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Eden’s Outcast
What North American born and raised girl did not grow up with Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women?  I just finished the Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Louisa May (sounds like a Dukes of Hazard character) and her father Bronson Alcott (can’t get much more early 19th century Boston than that name) written by John Matteson.  Unlike this review, this book was beautifully written. Mr. Matteson begins the book by acknowledging his daughter who ostensibly has taught him a lot about father-daughter relationships.  He then spends the next 200 pages, railing against what an egomaniacal dreamer Bronson was.  Either this mans loves and sympathizes with Ms. Alcott or he has serious insecurities about his own role as a father.
Seriously though, if you loved Little Women and you identified with and wanted to grow up to be Jo, you would love this book.  You get to see just how autobiographical the novel really was.  Louisa May was an independent girl who liked to…wait for it…go for runs in the Concord countryside.  In a petticoat and leather soled shoes, no less.  Her father, who had a penchant for communal living (even with a nudist at one point) and a great love of the Shaker way of life, was great friends with Emerson and Thoreau. Louisa May grew up hanging around these literary greats while her dad and Thoreau went for dips in Walden Pond.  Unbelievable, although, after having tried to read Walden on many occasions without success, one can imagine hanging out with the literary greats could have been a bit boring.  After all, the transcendentalists were not known for their wanton ways and wild sides.
The great Marmee who, lets face it, was too much of a goodie-goodie to be anything other than annoying to live with, was actually based on her Louisa May’s mother.  Abba (not the band but the cute nickname Bronson had for his wife Abigail) lived in destitution while her husband “the reformer” failed at almost every endeavor until his 60’s.  Not only did he not make any money, but he believed in charity and veganism. I know, it if one is a vegan, what does one have to give?   So, they had to share their few apples and wheat bread, and she was continually darning their linen clothing.  On his commune, he didn’t believe in abusing animals to work the fields.  A noble gesture, however, he couldn’t seem to keep people there who wanted to work (no great shock there), and as he was naturally a writer, his hands didn’t do so well with the manual labor.  Thanks Abba, great job tilling the fields now can you whip me up some hot potato water?
It really comes as no surprise that Louisa May is desperate to help out once the Civil War breaks out.  She may have been surrounded by dying men in an army hospital, but at least she’d eat real butter.  Unfortunately, the illness she contracts and the treatment she receives leaves her ill for the long remainder of her years.  The author engrosses you in this family and their trials.  You learn to appreciate that without Bronson and his requirement that all members in the family keep diaries that everyone in the family gets to read-how fun for a teenage girl-and his persistence in keeping his family in debt, the industrious (and likely hungry) Louisa May would not have become the prolific writer she was.  Amazingly, she supported her aging parents on her income and managed to take of her mother’s physical and fiscal needs in her later years.
I won’t spoil the entire book for those who want to read 500 pages about a 19th century author and her vegan-commune living-financial failure father.  I will just say that Little Women was very autobiographical. After reading this book, I find myself wishing I were less like Jo and more like Louisa May.


Written by composthaste

March 6, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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