Amos Bronson Alcott, Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and her Father, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge, Marmee and Louisa, Ralph Waldo Emerson, transcendentalism
This challenge has been SO much fun! It has introduced me to new Alcott resources, as well as encouraged me to go back and read books already in my collection. So here’s my last report for the June challenge…
Eden’s Outcasts: The story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father, by John Matteson, was on my original challenge list. I left it until last, as I was sidetracked by Marmee and Louisa, which I added in place of re-reading Louisa May Alcott: the woman behind Little Women.
Eden’s Outcasts is not an easy read, and I must admit I’m still in the midst of it. It is a much more positive view of Bronson Alcott than was reflected in Marmee and Louisa. There is more focus on his idealism and quest for reform (though often unsuccessful), and less attention paid to the truly dire straights in which that idealism often left the other members of his family.
I find it fascinating that Bronson saw little of himself in Louisa, feeling that she took too much after her mother, Abigail. He found her behavior rowdy and unladylike, and seemed to blame those behaviors on the qualities she shared with her mother. Ironically, she was born on her father’s birthday, and died only two days after he did.
The author shares insights into the opinions of the other transcendentalists of the day who were Bronson’s contemporaries and Louisa’s teachers and friends. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, as well as a host of abolitionists and feminists, were neighbors and fellow travelers, and I can only imagine how interacting with them must have fed Louisa’s mind and heart.
Bronson was an adept orator, thinker, and verbal storyteller, but his writings were often stilted and pompous, and he ultimately failed as a writer. In contrast, Louisa was much more comfortable writing her stories than speaking to people — even though I hear her voice talking to me when I read them.
Since Eden’s Outcasts is still a “work in progress” for me, I won’t try for a full summary here, but I encourage you to find it and give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.