Monday, July 25, 2011

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees

My mom loaned me her copy of this book.  I liked the story, and I think it's cool that someone would attempt to fill in some of the unknowns about a beloved author.  The idea of researching all they can, finding holes, then using facts and imagination to fill them in appeals to me.  I think that's why I liked this book.

The story is exactly what the title says.  It takes place during the summer of 1955 when the Bronson Alcott familymoves to Walpole, New Hampshire.  Louisa comes alive as a young woman who desperately wants to be a writer and struggles with society's rules and expectations for her. "Why would God give a woman talent if He meant her to be confined to the kitchen and washtub?"  Her character is of course similiar to Jo, and the story for awhile seemed too much like a Little Women copy cat.  But then as I got more into the romance, and the inner struggle that Louisa wrestles with, I felt like it did have merit of its own.

I loved studying the transcendentalists in high school and college, but I don't remember a whole lot about Bronson Alcott.  It was interesting to read the author's ideas, which are probably fact-based, about the effects that having a highly philosophical father might have had on his daughters.  Bronson refused to work for money, and so the family was always poor, however their mother Abagail thought constantly of those less fortunate, and gave away anything they might store up.  I hadn't really thought about how living those transcending ideals would work in a family.  Thoreau could go live at Walden without depriving anyone but himself, but the Alcott daughters didn't have a lot of options themselves.  This theme is mentioned a few times throughout.  Emerson is portrayed well here, and it made me wonder how many of his friends he helped keep afloat!

Joseph Singer is introduced as a young man who might be a intellectually stimulating match for Louisa.  They  connect over Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, so of course now I've got to read it.  Louisa describes it,
"Her father would say that the chaos of life, its unpredictability, existed to challenge one's commitment to improvement, that one must extract himself piece by piece out of the wildness and assemble a spirit that transcends the sum of mere body parts.  Mr. Whitman seemed to say, rather, that the wildness itself was the thing to cultivate.  For him, the spirit and the flesh were one, the physical experience of the world was divinity."
Then she says that men will go on arguing these matters forever, "The women, meanwhile, would continue to peel the vegetables and soak the linens in boiling tubs and mend the torn seams and bring new lives into the world."

Another thing this book reminded me of was how much work there was to be done in 1855.  These young women spent so many hours of each day doing menial tasks.  I feel that way a lot, but reading this made me so grateful for my leisure time.  For not having to mend clothing each day, or wash dishes by hand, and glad to have vacuum cleaners.

As a reader, I wanted Louisa to fall in love, to believe Joseph when he says, "There are some men out there who are charmed by an independent woman, who feel that marriage can be an equal partnership of head and heart.  Who would love you just as you are..."  But I do like her choice at the end better than her choice in the middle.  I don't want to spoil much, but if you read this, lets talk!

I also thought this comment was insightful, because haven't you heard people try that excuse before?
"I think this real love you talk about is only an excuse for selfishness.  It is the love of an inpatient boy, not a grown man.  A grown man knows that in life we may not always simply have whatever we want."

I liked this book and I think it was a fun idea for a story.  I think this qualifies as a fun, light summer read.

3 comments: said...

sounds like a good one. Did you ever read "March"? I hated, hated, hated it, but this one sounds a little better

Kammy T said...

I haven't. My mom is reading it now, but I told her I'm not interested in reading a war book. This was fun, but like I said, at times it felt a little unoriginal.

Sharlene, Mom, Grammy said...

Thanks for the great review, Kammy. This sounds like the perfect book for me to read next. My recent reads have been too heavy. :)