I’ve been cruising through archive.org on my lunch breaks lately. Talk to people and interact? Nah. It’s easier to put my nose back into a book (or screen in this case) then try to suppress my sarcasm/dark humor for another hour.
I came across this book, Sketches from Concord and Appledore, and my initial reaction was pure joy; it’s difficult to find older books that included Lousia May Alcott among her contemporaries. Then I started reading it…Frank Stearns created these vignettes to shed a personal understanding to the writers that stemmed from Concord. He’s honest in his preface that his main focus was two male authors and filled the remaining chapters with writers that he and the public were familiar with. I should have read the preface/introduction before jumping straight to his chapter on Louisa though so my red hot rage would have tempered. Instead I read through about 6 pages describing Bronson Alcott before Stearns’ ever got to Louisa. Who after about three lines was tossed over again but this time for her sister May. Then back to Mr. Alcott, her mother and finally circling back to Louisa.
So after a cooling off period post preface reading what does this tell me about Louisa’s literary reputation around 1895? She would have written Moods, Little Women and Jo’s Boys by this time and have been immensely popular in pop culture. And these would have been the writings that her public knew about, her branded image late in life. Not the dark and serialized stories she supported her family on earlier. “Alcott grew up in an extraordinary political atmosphere, thanks to her father, Amos Bronson Alcott, who was a forward-thinking educator. He was friends with some of the most influential thinkers of his time — and yet he never managed to earn a living or take care of his family” Harriet Reisen reflected in her NPR Morning Edition interview. Stearns honored a man in those first 6 pages that had connections and influence but his disinterest in earning a living starved his family for years. Was it Bronson’s connections to great writers such as Emerson and Hawthorne that intrigued Stearns more in Bronson then Louisa’s actual career success? In Stearns’ mind were the Alcotts a package deal within the Concord community and he couldn’t separate her from her family and community?
Setting her specific chapter aside the book succeeds in providing a glimpse into Concord, Massachusetts during this time period. “The Emerson farm lies between two interesting roads, one going straight over the hills of Boston, and the other to Walden Lake and Thoreau’s hermitage”. It would be a fantastic source for descriptions of the community if you were researching any of these writers. And perhaps that’s Stearns contribution. While individual biographies paint narrow pictures of their authors Stearns’ chapters show a period of connectivity. In the end he succeeds in sketching Concord just not perhaps his subjects.
Stearns, Frank Preston. Sketches from Concord and Appledore. Concord Thirty Years Ago; Nathaniel Hawthorne; Louisa M. Alcott; Ralph Waldo Emerson; Matthew Arnold; David A. Wasson; Wendell Phillips; Appledore and Its Visitors; John Greenleaf Whittier. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895. Print.