Tag Archives: Louisa May Alcott

Sunday Salon

Reading today:

Eden’s Outcasts: the Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson. I’m making heavy weather of this book, mainly because I’m finding Bronson Alcott such a difficult person. I’m only reading a few pages each morning, which is about all I can put up with Bronson’s self-centred approach to life.

It will take me a while to finish this book as it’s over 400 pages long. So far, I’m up to page 118, and Bronson has tried and failed at almost everything he has undertaken in his search for perfection. His efforts at running a school have failed and he is about to embark on a new project – a self-sufficient commune, a ‘beacon of morality in a fallen world.’  This was to be ‘an earthly heaven‘, anything that came from the work of slaves was excluded, they would do away with money, shun the use of animal products and rely as little as possible on animals for work.

He asked Emerson to join him in his venture and also to back him financially. Emerson refused and wrote in his diary:

For a founder of a family or institution, I would as soon exert myself to collect money for a madman. (page 114)

I have to agree with Emerson.

There has been little yet in this book about Louisa but I’m hoping that will soon change as she is now 11 and beginning to rebel against her father, who baffles him with her stubbornness.

I’ve also started to read Perfume: the Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind. I’m not sure yet what I think of this novel. It begins well, grabbing my attention with a description of the birth of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in Paris just before the French Revolution began. The description of the smells of Paris at that time is breath-taking in its awfulness:

The streets stank of manure, the courtyards of urine, the stairwells of mouldering wood and rat droppings, the kitchens of spoiled cabbage and mutton fat; the unaired parlours stank of stale dust, the bedrooms of greasy sheets, damp featherbeds, and the pungently sweet aroma of chamber-pots. The stench of sulphur rose from the chimneys, the stench of caustic lyes from the tanneries, and from the slaughterhouses came the stench of congealed blood. People stank of sweat and unwashed clothes; from their mouths came the stench of rotting teeth, from their bellies that of onions, and from their bodies, if they were no longer very young, came the stench of rancid cheese, and sour milk and tumorous disease.  (page 3)

Grenouille born in this stink, is not an attractive character either. Having no odour of his own but a highly developed sense of smell, he is a strange character to say the least. On the trail of an elusive but exquisite smell he tracks it down to a young girl and kills her to possess  her scent for himself.

Peter Ackroyd is quoted on the back cover:

A meditation on the nature of death, desire and decay.

I’m reserving judgement for the time being.

Sunday Salon – Current Books

This week I’ve finished reading two crime fiction books:

and posts on these books will be on my blog this coming week.

I’m still reading Eden’s Outcast: the story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson. So far I’ve been reading about Bronson Alcott and his unorthdox ideas about educating and bringing up children.  It was quite a coincidence I thought, when I was reading the Daily Express in the coffee shop recently and came across a review of Fruitlands: The Alcott Family and their Search for Utopia by Richard Francis. The reviewer describes this book as a

… richly textured history of the life and times of a back‑to‑nature community in 19th-century America. It was called Fruitlands, though Fruitcakes would have been more apt.
(Read more from this review.)

I haven’t got up to this venture so far in Eden’s Outcasts. There are many entries in the index under ‘Fruitlands’ so I expect to find out much more about it. His career as a teacher was not a success and it seems that his venture into communal farming wasn’t either.

I spent other reading time this week downloading more books onto my Kindle and have read the opening paragraphs of most of them. It really is so easy to get carried away and add more books to my to-be-read lists! But I only bought one book this week, so that’s not too bad.

It’s Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose and it’s been on my wish list for a long time. I read fairly quickly and know that I often read too quickly to take in all the detail. Prose writes that reading quickly can be ‘a hindrance‘ and that it is ‘essential to slow down and read every word‘. She also contradicts the advice to novice writers ‘to show, not tell‘, when ‘the responsibility of showing should be assumed by the energetic and specific use of language‘. Using Alice Munro’s short story Dulse as an example, she says:

There are many occasions in literature in which telling is far more effective than showing. A lot of time would have been wasted had Alice Munro believed that she could not begin her story until she had shown us Lydia working as an editor, writing poetry, breaking up with her lover, dealing with her children, getting divorced, growing older, and taking all the steps that led up to the moment at which the story rightly begins.

Most interesting, I thought.

I still haven’t got used to Kindle’s use of locations as opposed to page numbers – the extract above is from Location 409 – 12. Nor have I mastered the technique of transferring my highlighted passages and notes from the Kindle to the computer!

I’m also reading The Matchmaker of Kenmare by Frank Delaney. This is an Advance Uncorrected Proof; the book is scheduled to be on sale on 8 February. It’s the first book I’ve read by Delaney, described by the publisher as a

… lush and surprising historical novel, rich as a myth, tense as a thriller …

From what I’ve read of it so far I’d go along with that description, except for the tenseness – but it’s early days yet. It’s set in 1943 in Ireland, a neutral country in the Second World War. It’s a long book and takes its time in setting the scene and introducing the characters. It promises well.

Louisa May Alcott: Little Women

I had forgotten that Little Women is such a moral tale. In fact, I doubt that when I first read it years ago I ever thought of it as a moral tale at all, but the emphasis on the characters of the four sisters  with their individual flaws and efforts to overcome them was the dominant theme that struck me whilst I was reading the book this time.

I loved Little Women when I first read it and re-read it several times. It remains in my memory as one of my favourite childhood books. But reading again now it seems dated (although I did like reading what the girls wore – gloves were essential wear for a party!) and rather pious. I’m also reading Eden’s Outcasts: the story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father, so I flipped forward in that book to see what John Matteson had to say about Little Women and Louisa May’s thoughts on writing her book. She wrote Little Women after Thomas Niles, a partner in the publishing firm of Roberts Brothers had asked her to write a book for girls. She wasn’t too keen but agreed to do so even though she said that:

I don’t enjoy this sort of thing. Never liked girls or knew many, except my sisters. (Quoted in Eden’s Outcasts page 332.)

She consulted her mother and sisters and with their consent wrote the book based around the Alcott girls’ lives.

Little Women is about the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, and their mother – ‘Marmee’. Their father is absent for most of the book, working as a chaplain in the army,during the American Civil War.  The first part of the book is a series of scenes of the March family life illustrating each sister’s burden of character flaws, and their attempts to overcome them. Meg is vain and materialistic, Jo has a temper and flies into great rages, Beth is painfully timid and shy and Amy is selfish. This section of the book is loosely based on Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, as some of the chapter headings indicate – for example, Playing Pilgrims, Amy’s Valley of Humiliation, Jo Meets Apollyon and Meg Goes to Vanity Fair.

The second part of the book centres on Jo (based on Louisa herself), her writing and her reluctance to grow up. Again this hadn’t struck me when I read as a child (I can’t remember how old I was); I’d thought of her as a tomboy character. She says to Meg, who at 17 is a year older and falling in love:

Don’t try to make me grow up before my time, Meg: it’s hard enough to have you change all of a sudden; let me be a little girl as long as I can. (page 162 of my copy of Little Women)

Laurie, who lives next door with his grandfather becomes a friend to all the girls, but especially to Jo. The family go through a number of dramas, both small and large, culminating in Beth catching scarlet fever after visiting the poor Hummel family, whilst Marmee is in Washington staying with Mr March who was very ill in hospital. Mr March is mostly absent from the book, and even when he does come home there is very little mention of him; he is a man of few words. He discovers that his ‘little women’ have changed for the better whilst he has been away, despite it being a rough road for his little pilgrims to travel:

“But you have got on very bravely; and I think the burdens are in a fair way to tumble off very soon,” said Mr March, looking with fatherly satisfaction at the four young faces gathered him. (page 232)

Little Women ends with Meg’s engagement to John Brooks, Laurie’s tutor. The story continues in Good Wives,which I have as a separate book, but it was originally published as volume 2 of Little Women. These two books were followed by Little Men, the story of Jo and her husband Professor Bhaer at Plumfield school, and Jo’s Boys, continuing the lives of the family and the boys ten years later.

Even though it is a sentimental tale, which it wasn’t in my memory, I did enjoy the experience of re-reading Little Women – some of the magic was still there. And I think I’ll re-read the other books soon as well.

Sunday Salon

tssbadge1Earlier this morning I was reading Danielle’s blog A Work in Progress. She wrote about books she’s recently borrowed from the library. One of them is a biography of Louisa May Alcott by Harriet Reisen which looks very interesting. You can see more information on this website. Little Women, Good Wives, Jo’s Boys and Little Men were among my favourite books when I was younger but I didn’t know she wrote books for adults as well.

It reminded me that I have Eden’s Outcasts: the Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson. As I’ve just finished reading one book and thought that I’d read this and went to find it.

I bought it some time ago and thought it was on the bookcase with the to-be-read books, but it wasn’t there. We’re sorting out what to pack to move house, but haven’t touched the books yet. My bookshelves are in rough a-z order but in different sequences in different rooms and I looked through all them several times with no success. I was about to give up when I remembered that we had bought some clear plastic boxes and had filled one with books to see if it would be suitable. This box was at the bottom of a pile of boxes and there at the bottom of it was Eden’s Outcasts. I’ve rescued it and started to read it.

I can see that moving house is going to mean lots of books are going to be inaccessible for some time, especially if we have to put our stuff in storage for a while. Although there’s not going to be much time for reading I really need to sort out some books to keep out to see me through until we’re settled in the new house. It’s difficult to be patient, whilst we wait to see if the solicitors can sort out the contracts in time for us leaving this house on 27 November! I hope we’ll have some definite news in the next few days, otherwise we’ll be looking for somewhere to rent. After these next two weeks I probably won’t be able to blog – either reading others’ or writing my own. I’m going to miss it!