The 2019 Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge has come to an end (officially tomorrow, June 30th), so I’m here with my final reading update. I finished Rose in Bloom, and although I said in my Halfway Update that I was going to start Work, I instead proceeded to the Stories & Other Writings portion of The Library of America edition I checked out of the library. My thoughts are as follows.
There are slight spoilers in my discussions of Rose in Bloom and some of the Stories & Other Writings. So if you plan on reading and don’t want to know any major details of the story, please do not continue on. Additionally, the book/edition I reference throughout the post is pictured here, and I highly recommend reading from it if you can find a copy (The Library of America).
Rose in Bloom
If you read my Halfway Update, you know I was reading Rose in Bloom, the sequel to Eight Cousins (which I read for the 2018 Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge). In that update, I expressed my disappointment in the story so far: it wasn’t capturing my attention the way Eight Cousins did, or the way Little Women did for that matter. Unfortunately this trend continued in the second half of the story, although it did contain a bit more trial and tribulation on the behalf of Rose and the entire Campbell family. I did not really expect death and illness to be turning points of the story, but they were effective in that sense. In the sense of inflicting shock and awe in my mind, it was a little too late. I feel coldhearted saying that, but I can’t stop thinking about how much shorter this story could have been. Some editing would have strengthened it, I think.
Anyway, Rose ends up with who I thought she would end up with, and if he wasn’t her cousin I might have said “who I hoped she would end up with.” I just cannot stop my nose from turning up at the idea of being devotedly in love with a cousin, no matter how highly I think of them. A lot of that thoughtful reflection and consideration present in other works by Louisa May Alcott that I enjoy (critics might call it “preaching”) was present, and I did find more quotes and lines to be fond of, but the cousins marrying element was too distracting.
Stories & Other Writings
If I had read this portion of this Louisa May Alcott collection first, I would not feel like I was in a reading slump. The Stories & Other Writings are as follows.
Address of the Republican Women of Massachusetts
(September 25th, 1872)
The little I know of American history has to do with the very general descriptions of the wars the U.S. has fought. Every year in a history class – from about middle school (5th-8th grade) to the four years of high school – I remember “learning” the same things about America’s Revolutionary War, the American Civil War, and the USA’s involvement in World War II, and if there was time, smatterings of facts about the other wars were taught. Politics was a subset of history that I was introduced to in elementary school (i.e. “these are the branches of government”) and never really encountered again. So I was quite surprised, knowing what I know of the present day Republican party, to find out that Louisa May Alcott was a Republican. No, I have never been curious enough to seek out and learn the history of my own country’s political parties. All of this is to say that I was shocked at the title of this Address, and even more so to find out that I share many of the same values as many of the Republicans of President Grant’s term (1869 to early 1877). Basically, I am a little less ignorant about a few things because I read this Address.
And I have even more respect for women who were fighting battles for themselves and others during a time when America still did not fully support freedom and equality among all of its citizens. In my public education, we went from the Civil War to World War II, with the assumption that slavery was ended, period. And the Civil Rights Movement was a blip in time that was resolved. All within the perspective of white male gatekeepers.
My thoughts on this Address may be scattered, for which I apologize. And I’m just realizing I haven’t even described it to you. In Louisa May Alcott’s own words:
To the Women of America
The time has come, in the progress of Civilization, when the women of America may make themselves felt in politics as a recognized and beneficent power. This manifestation will naturally precede the establishment of the Equal Rights of Woman, as cause precedes effect.
What follows is an explanation and commentary on the changes being made for women’s rights, as well as passionate compliments to the Republican party for being drivers of the movement towards a better civilization. Ultimately, I recommend reading it if you can, and whether you are familiar with them or not – read about, research, and talk about the women whose names appear at the end.
Lydia Maria Child | Harriet Beecher Stowe | Elizabeth Stuart Phelps | Louisa M. Alcott | Grace Greenwood | Julia Ward Howe | Mary A. Livermore | Helen E. Garrison | Abby W. May | Caroline M. Severance | Harriet H. Robinson | Margaret W. Campbell | Mary F. Eastman | Ada C. Bowles | Elizabeth P. Peabody | Harriet W. Sewall | Lucy Stone
(Originally published in 1872)
Taking a U-Turn here, this fictional story is as sweet as can be. Kate is an orphaned girl with a fortune, who must decide which Aunt and Uncle to live with. They are all pleasant (the uncles are her mother’s brothers), but when she hears of her maternal grandmother she insists on visiting before making her choice. Her grandmother lives all alone (widowed some years before) in a farmhouse in the country, and is visited no more than once a year by her remaining children, let alone grandchildren. Kate falls in love with the simple life her now 80 year old grandmother lives, and could not imagine why anyone would not visit her as often as possible. The story ends with a Christmas surprise, happiness, and Kate deciding to remain living with her grandmother. Honestly, put down A Christmas Carol this year and read this instead. Your heart will soar.
How I Went Out to Service
(The Independent | June 4th, 1874)
This is an autobiographical account of Louisa May Alcott’s brief time (7 weeks) spent working as a servant. She was misled by the man of the house in which she worked, and performed tasks of all kinds – from simple housework to hauling and splitting wood – until she was fed up with the entitlement and delusional attitude of said man. She was paid a meager four dollars, which was remedied by her parents rising up in outrage against the man (good for them!) and his ill-will. What she closes the story with is this:
“My experiment seemed a dire failure and I mourned it as such for years; but more than once in my life I have been grateful for that serio-comico experience, since it has taught me many lessons. One of the most useful of these has been the power of successfully making a companion, not a servant, of those whose aid I need, and helping to gild their honest wages with the sympathy and justice which can sweeten the humblest and lighten the hardest task.”
Woman’s Part in the Concord Celebration
(Woman’s Journal and Suffrage News | May 1st, 1875)
The Concord Celebration named in the title of this account refers to the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of America’s Revolutionary War (the Battles of Lexington and Concord being the first battles of that war). There was a procession and some speakers, and Louisa May Alcott talks about the treatment of women during this celebration.
“We had no place in the procession, but such women as wished to hear the oration were directed to meet in the town hall at half past nine, and there wait till certain persons, detailed for the service, should come to lead them to the tent, where a limited number of seats had been provided for the weaker vessels.” Guess who came to lead them? Nobody. Guess how many seats were provided? None, unless you count “the rim of the [speaker] platform” as seats. To continue…
But as I looked about me, it was impossible to help thinking that there should have been a place for the great granddaughters of Prescott, William Emerson, John Hancock and Dr. Ripley, as well as for Isaac Davis’s old sword, the scissors that cut the immortal cartridges, and the ancient flag some woman’s fingers made. It seemed to me that their presence on that platform would have had a deeper significance than the gold lace which adorned one side, or the senatorial ponderosity under which it broke down on the other; and that the men of Concord had missed a grand opportunity of imitating those whose memory they had met to honor.
The papers have told the tale of that day’s exploits and experiences, but the papers did not get all the little items, and some of them were rather funny. Just before the services began, a distracted usher struggled in to inform Judge Hoar that the wives of several potentates had been left out in the cold, and must be accommodated. Great was the commotion then, for these ladies being bobs to political kites, could not be neglected; so a part of the seats reserved for women were with much difficulty cleared, and the “elect precious” set thereon.
And if you read “potentates” with no knowledge of the meaning like I did, you can likely guess at what it means. The word describes an autocratic ruler or monarch.
Letter to the Woman’s Journal, June 29, 1876
(Woman’s Journal and Suffrage News)
In this short letter, Louisa May Alcott expressed some hope regarding societal acceptance of Suffrage, and with how women she encountered were being treated by men and by other women. She wrote:
Having great faith in young America, it gave me infinite satisfaction to find such eager interest in all good things, and to see how irresistibly the spirit of our new revolution, stirring in the hearts of sisters and daughters, was converting the fathers and brothers who loved them. One shrewd, business man said, when talking of Woman Suffrage, “How can I help believing in it, when I’ve got a wife and six girls who are bound to have it?”
And many a grateful brother declared he could not be mean enough to shut any door in the face of the sister who had made him what he was.
So I close this hasty note by proposing three cheers for the girls of 1876 – and the hope that they will prove themselves worthy descendants of the mothers of this Revolution, remembering that
“Earth’s fanatics make
Too often Heaven’s Saints.”
I cannot speak for you, but I don’t consider myself as a worthy descendant of the mothers of the Revolution. But I’m working towards becoming one.
(Originally published in The Independent | December 18th, 1873)
This is a sweet story about Anna, an independent young woman whose desire to be treated as an equal human being makes her a little less desirable by men she considers undesirable. One day her childhood friend, Frank, comes back to town and they ease back into the comfortable, loyal friendship they had as children. Yes, they realize they are in love with each other, and yes, it is pure and sweet and delightful. People loving each other for who they are and supporting each other equally in the relationship, plus romance and soft whispers – it gets me every time.
(Published in Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag. My Girls, Etc. | 1878)
Finishing off this section of the book is a response to apparent requests by certain ladies for Louisa May Alcott to write about agreeable girls she had met, after she had written an “account of some of the agreeable boys” she had known (I’m assuming this account was Little Men). She writes about six girls who she calls A, B, C, D, E, and F who she has encountered and/or learned about. They are all from different backgrounds – well-off, poor, in the public eye, behind the scenes, educated, secluded – but Louisa May Alcott highlights their similar steadfastness, confidence, desire to make something of themselves, and their potential to inspire future generations.
While there is so much more I want to say about the Stories & Other Writings, this post has taken me nearly four hours to write (and edit, and revise) – which I had not anticipated. I’ll certainly forget most of Rose in Bloom (too harsh?), but the last letters and stories I read will stay with me for awhile.
Please share your thoughts with me on any of these stories, and if you participated in this Reading Challenge feel free to tell me what you read and/or link any blog posts you’ve written for it in a comment below. And I can’t conclude without a thanks to Tarissa at In The Bookcase for hosting this Challenge – it’s been a pleasure participating!