On Giants' Shoulders

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Outcasts of Eden

I've been reading a most remarkable biography these last couple of weeks: Outcasts of Eden by John Matteson. It is the story of the Alcott family, especially Louisa and Bronson. This book has covered more ground than any other I've read on the subject. It has left me with a far better understanding of L.M. Alcott and the forces that went into making her the author she was. It has also helped me better understand the New England Transcendentalists and the impact that people like Alcott may have had on later education. For one tiny tidbit: did you know that Louisa May Alcott suffered from Calomel poisoning after her short stint as a Civil War nurse? It was a slow death by poison for her, but it was with her during nearly her entire writing career.

The book paints interesting pictures of Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, and John Brown among others. Louisa Alcott was influenced by a number of notable 19th century figures and drew on her experiences with them in writing her fiction.

Most people are most familiar with her children's stories (especially Little Women and Little Men), but this book also discusses her adult fiction. It's a marvelous piece of background for any teacher who wants to teach Alcott and it would probably also be helpful to any teacher of general 19th century American literature or history.

This is both a sympathetic and a very honest portrait of both Bronson and Louisa Alcott. I recommend it.


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