Book Review: Eight Cousins

Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott was published in 1875.

Rose Campbell is 13 and newly-orphaned. Her mother had died when Rose was young, but her father just recently passed. She’s sent to live with several aunts (their house is known as the “Aunt Hill”) until her appointed guardian, her father’s single brother, comes home from sea.

Rose had never met her father’s family. The aunts embody the truism of too many cooks spoiling the stew, with their different and sometimes opposite views on how she should be raised. One, something of a hypochondriac herself, has Rose almost convinced she has “no constitution.”

When Dr. Alec finally arrives, he puts his foot down with the aunts that Rose is to be raised his way for a year without their interference. Then they can evaluate how she’s doing and whether they need to make a change. The aunts can’t help but share their opinions occasionally, but they abide by Alec’s wish.

Alec starts slow with Rose, changing her diet and activities to healthier ones, not by decree but by persuasion. Rose regards her newfound uncle kindly because he is so like her father and seems to care greatly for her, so she acquiesces for the most part. She struggles to give up her little vanities, like wearing her belt so tight she can’t take a full breath so her waist looks smaller.

Much of the book involves Rose’s interactions with her seven boy cousins. She didn’t think she would like boys: she had never been around any. But she soon grows to love them. They all inadvertently teach each other lessons.

Alcott gets in a lot of opinions about what’s good and bad for young people. Some of the fashion sense Alec prescribes, we would consider common sense today (like doing away with corsets and having clothes loose enough to move comfortably in). Some of the vices her characters try to steer each other away from might sound funny to modern ears (like slang. Or maybe it’s that slang in that day is acceptable now.)

Wikipedia says Rose’s instruction and training for the wealth she will one day come into was “revolutionary” for the times, because women didn’t have much control over their own “money, property, or destinies” then.

Alcott uses the adjectives “good, old-fashioned” often, and this is a good, old-fashioned tale. Through “frolics” and “scrapes,” gentle admonition and learning by experience, the young people grow and develop good character.

A  couple of quotes I especially liked:

When Uncle Alec tells Rose he wants her to take up something special, housekeeping, she says, “Is that an accomplishment?” He replies: “Yes; it is one of the most beautiful as well as useful of all the arts a woman can learn. Not so romantic, perhaps, as singing, painting, writing, or teaching, even; but one that makes many happy and comfortable, and home the sweetest place in the world. Yes, you may open your big eyes; but it is a fact that I had rather see you a good housekeeper than the greatest belle in the city. It need not interfere with any talent you may possess, but it is a necessary part of your training, and I hope that you will set about it at once, now that you are well and strong.”

When one of the cousins takes Rose on her first pony ride, he chooses a gentle one named Barkis. Then the book says Barkis was “willin’,” an allusion to David Copperfield in which a man named Barkis lets Peggotty, David’s nurse,  know that he’s interested in marrying her by sending the message, “Barkis is willin.'” Hearing that phrase made me smile.

I listened to the audiobook at Libravox, a site for free audiobooks. The last time I used them, there was some disruption in the loading of individual chapters. That process went smoothly this time, but they’ve added some annoying ads every few chapters. The narrators at Libravox just read the books: they don’t put inflection in them like those at Audible. But sometimes a book is short enough that I don’t want to use a full Audible credit on it, and I am thankful for the option of Libravox. They also have some books that Audible doesn’t have.

Rose in Bloom is the sequel to this book, and that’s next on my reading list for Tarissa’s Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge this month. I had read both books years ago and enjoyed revisiting them.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

12 thoughts on “Book Review: Eight Cousins

  1. Gotta love a book referring to ‘constitution’ in that way — how quaint, these days 🙂 I bet I read this decades ago. I read a lot of Alcott’s books then. It sounds good and I enjoyed your review!

  2. I love the passage you quoted in your review! I have recently begun collecting quotes about homemaking wherever I come across them. They are always a good reminder that what we do matters. I have not read Eight Cousins. Rose in Bloom is on my shelf, but I have not read that yet because I need to read Eight Cousins first : ).

    Thanks for the review.

  3. I remember reading this when I was about 12 years old. My mother bought us this one, another one about Rose and also Little Women. I still have LIttle Women!! as do both of my daughters.

  4. Thanks for that review! Been a while since I’ve read one of Alcott’s shorter novels. That’s nice that you could use Libravox and not an Audible credit! I actually stopped my subscription because I was so far behind in my listening. With a much shorter commute (and now none during the pandemic), my “free” time for listening was vastly reduced.

  5. Ohhh! It’s been a few years now since I read Eight Cousins, but you’ve reminded me of how good of a story it is. One of my favorites!

    You also made me laugh out loud by telling about Barkis the horse. I absolutely adore that line from David Copperfield that says “Barkis is willin.” I’m trying to remember if I read Eight Cousins or David Copperfield first, to know if I would have understood the reference that Alcott made. Regardless, that’s kind of comical that she put that into her book.

    Thanks for sharing!

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