A Year in Books/Day 86: American Bloomsbury

Frontispiece for Woman in the Nineteenth Centu...

Frontispiece for Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1855), by Sarah Margaret Fuller. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Title: American Bloomsbury
  • Author: Susan Cheever
  • Year Published: 2006 (Simon & Schuster Paperbacks)
  • Year Purchased: 2008
  • Source: Daedalus Books & Music
  • About: ‘American Bloomsbury’ weaves together the lives and friendships of five New England authors, loosely following them and their wider circles between the years 1840-1868. Alongside the expected Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne are two women: Louisa May Alcott and Margaret Fuller. Susan Cheever devotes just enough space to the latter to whet the appetite for a deeper analysis of their lives and work. Within the constraints of this book, she manages to rescue Alcott from her reputation as the sappy creator of saccharine kiddie lit (a tired trope unfair to both her and ‘Little Women’), setting her firmly into the harsher but more rewarding world of reality; her gutsy complexity is given space to breathe. The mostly forgotten Fuller (one of my favourite women) suffers from no such reputation; in fact, she largely has no reputation from which to suffer or gain. Cheever does her best to correct that.* If you don’t know who she is, start with this book and your awakened curiosity will take care of the rest.
  • Motivation: Like so many teens before me (and since, or so my optimistic heart likes to think), I was pulled under the spell of Thoreau and, from there, to Emerson. Although in all my years I have never been able to warm to Hawthorne, the period when these New Englanders flourished is, for me, the best of 19th century American literature. With Alcott and Fuller added to this mix, I was sold.
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Page 35: “Without this obscure lawsuit in 1836, it’s hard to know what would have happened in Concord, Massachusetts, if anything. It was Ellen Tucker’s share of the Tuckers’ fortune that bought the Emerson House on the Cambridge Turnpike and was sustaining the Alcotts as well as the Hawthornes and Henry David Thoreau. Emerson not only paid the rent; Louisa noticed that after a visit from Mr. Emerson there was often a small pile of bills under a candlestick on the dining room table, or left on top of a pile of books he had brought from his library.”
  • Happiness Scale: 9 1/2

* I just came across the more recent ‘Louisa May Alcott’ by Susan Cheever. Happy dance!

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