I’m happy to say that I finished Eight Cousins for the 2018 Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge (hosted by Tarissa from In The Bookcase), although I do wish I had time to read the sequel, Rose in Bloom – but I’ll talk about that a little later.
First though, I’m going to talk about Eight Cousins. This is a story about Rose Campbell, a 13-year-old girl who has lost both parents and goes to live with her six great aunts – wealthy Bostonians who live in close proximity to each other. Rose’s guardian, Uncle Alec, returns from his time abroad to take over Rose’s upbringing for [at least] a year – a deal he made with the great aunts, most of whom doubt his child-rearing abilities. Rose is quite sickly and not in great spirits, and Uncle Alec, a doctor, has a
good correct idea that her state results from the worry and over-medicating practices of hypochondriac Aunt Myra. He stops Rose from drinking coffee throughout the day and puts an end to the medications and tonics, and she almost instantly feels and looks healthier.
The other main characters – besides the couple of uncles who show up every now and then and Phebe Moore, a housemaid and Rose’s dear friend – are seven male cousins. They range in age and Rose is quite timid around them, at first. In Louisa May Alcott fashion, the interactions between these eight cousins are what provide the channel through which the author speaks on morality, gratefulness, education, civility, and other similar human constructs.
Fresh from reading Little Women, I was quite ready to dive into more writing by Louisa May Alcott. The love and companionship in Eight Cousins is quite similar to that in Little Women, but Louisa May Alcott effectively manages to create an all new cast of characters and life lessons to indulge in and admire. My sensitive heart and the naive part of my soul fell in love with the inquisitive, innocent, and [often] silly natures of children sharing family ties and life experiences.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the “modern” problems with the story, however. There are a couple of Chinese tradespeople in Eight Cousins who are treated with condescension by this white, aristocratic Boston family, and while most of the jabs are committed by the children, none of the adults correct the behavior. This story was published in 1875, and it seems like Louisa May Alcott tried to paint these tradespeople in a positive light – the Campbells get along with them and even invite them to parties – but it was quite disappointing to not have any lessons of acceptance and kindness taught by the adult characters in this vein of the story, especially since one of the Chinese children gives Rose a few gifts when they meet.
Also, and more so towards the end of Eight Cousins, Rose takes it upon herself to become a mother-like figure to her seven male cousins. She is not directly pressured by Uncle Alec or her great aunts, but the conversations the adults have about her expected duties are cringe-worthy in the eyes of this 21st century female reader. Being the only female heir in the Campbell family, I understand her position in 1875, and her honest desire to fit into that position does make me hold back a little on my cringing. The fact that Uncle Alec has been teaching her physiology and supporting her academic endeavors alleviates my discomfort, too. Rose isn’t exactly what I would call strong-willed, but she is clever and it was nice to see [most of] the adults around her indulging her curiosity and individuality.
I only wish I had time to start and complete Rose in Bloom – the sequel to Eight Cousins – in time for this Reading Challenge. However, I’ve decided to extend the Challenge for myself and read at least Rose in Bloom in July. I’m excited to see the continuation of Rose’s character arc and see what happens to the rest of the cousins, as well as to Phebe.
Thank you again, Tarissa, for hosting and inviting me to join this Reading Challenge. And if you’d like to read more posts from bloggers who participated, scroll to the bottom of this post for a list of links. I’d also be happy to hear whether or not you’ve read Louisa May Alcott – whether it be Little Women, Eight Cousins, or any of her other works. Leave a comment below!