The Orchard House

If you’re familiar with Louisa May Alcott’s life, you may know that one home where her family lived was called the Orchard House (though Louisa called it Apple Slump). Orchard House is beloved by Louisa’s fans not just because she lived there, but she wrote her most famous novel, Little Women, and several other books there. Orchard House is open to the public for tours and special events.

Heidi Chiavaroli wrote a time slip novel, The Orchard House, using Louisa’s time and town as the setting for one plot line.

Johanna Suhre had written to Louisa for more information about her brother, John, whom Louisa tended while a nurse during the Civil War. John had died, and Louisa featured him in her Hospital Sketches. Johanna and her mother and brother longed for any details Louisa could give them.

That’s as much as we know about the facts, but Heidi imagined Louisa’s and Johanna’s correspondence and friendship growing.

When Louisa needs someone to stay with her parents while she travels, she asks Johanna. Johanna is eager not only for something new and different, but delighted to meet her friend in person and visit the town so steeped in literary talent. Johanna had written some poems that she hoped to work up the courage to show Louisa.

While in Concord, Johanna meets the Alcott’s neighbor, Nathan Bancroft. Louisa cautions Johanna against Nathan, but she doesn’t have any specific details to warn against. After Nathan and Johanna marry, however, Johanna discovers another side to him.

The modern timeline also takes place in Concord. Taylor’s mother had abandoned her. The family of her best friend, Victoria, took Taylor in. Though Taylor appreciates the Bennetts’ kindness, she doesn’t quite fit in. Though she and Victoria rejoiced at becoming real sisters, the situation feels awkward.

Both girls enjoy writing and attending a young writer’s camp at The Orchard House. One of Taylor’s most treasured possessions, one of the few things she has left from her childhood, is a beat-up copy of Little Women.

Though Taylor never quite feels like family, she and Victoria work out their differences. At least, they had until Victoria unexpectedly betrays Taylor.

Taylor packs up her things and drives to the other side of the country. She becomes a famous author, writing under a pen name. She keeps her distance until eighteen years later, when she learns that her adoptive mother has cancer. She goes back to Concord, intending to stay for a short while. She and Victoria take tentative steps to at least be civil. Victoria would like to explain and make amends, but Taylor’s not sure she wants to hear it.

Victoria, who now works at the Orchard House, invites Taylor to speak at the young writer’s camp. Then she shares with Taylor some poems by a woman named Johanna Bancroft that were unearthed in the schoolroom. As the sisters try to unravel the mystery of who Johanna was and how Louisa knew her, they learn some things about themselves and each other as well.

I took a chance on this book when I saw it on a Kindle sale back in April. I had never heard of this author, but the story sounded intriguing. Plus the Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge was coming up, and this would be a good choice for that.

I’m so delighted I took the chance. I enjoyed both timelines and felt for both Johanna and Taylor in their trials.

I also liked the quotes from Louisa at the beginning of every chapter. One favorite was, “All the philosophy in our house is not in the study; a good deal is in the kitchen, where a fine old lady thinks high thoughts and does good deeds while she cooks and scrubs.”

Though I wouldn’t call this book full-out Christian fiction, there were references to forgiveness, faith, and yielding to God.

I’m happy to recommend this book, and I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

Since this is the only book I am reading for Tarissa‘s LMA challenge, I’ll let this serve as my wrap-up post as well.

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

Tarissa at In the Bookcase hosts the Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge in June. You can read all the particulars here.

This year I’m reading The Orchard House by Heidi Chiavaroli. It’s a time slip novel with one story set in modern times and another in Louisa’s time, both connected to her. And isn’t that cover gorgeous!

I doubt I’ll read anything else connected with LMA this year–I have too many other things on my reading plate. But we’ll see. If this one goes quickly, I might try to work in another.

Rose in Bloom Review and LMA Challenge Wrap-Up

Rose in Bloom in Louisa May Alcott’s sequel to Eight Cousins. In the first book, Rose was orphaned as a young girl and sent to live with her uncle Alec. She was also surrounded by several other great aunts, aunts, uncles, and seven boy cousins.

In this book, Rose and a few of her cousins are in their early twenties and about to embark on adulthood. They wrestle with possibly occupations, projects, and potential love interests. Evidently it was considered acceptable to marry first cousins in that era, because there’s a lot of speculation about whether Rose will marry one of hers.

Rose is set to come into a large inheritance, and her uncle has tried to train her well to be responsible and philanthropic rather that frivolous, self-important, and wasteful. She faces some temptations in these areas and wants to try the lifestyle of her friends for a while. This seems to involve a lot of parties and dancing at friends’ houses until the wee hours of the morning. She learns that some people are only interested in her because of her wealth. She has to decide between the “fast” life and a sedate but more useful one.

One of her cousins, Charlie, also known as Prince, has been indulged all his life and is in danger of going the wrong direction, especially in regard to one particular bad habit. Rose tries to help him overcome his wayward tendencies.

Louisa says in her preface that “there is no moral to this story. Rose is not designed for a model girl, and the Sequel was simply written in fulfillment of a promise, hoping to afford some amusement, and perhaps here and there a helpful hint, to other roses getting ready to bloom.”

When I was growing up, I warmed to stories like this that encouraged being good, or becoming better. Modern readers might feel it goes a little overboard. But I still find it a sweet story, and I think others would if they gave it a chance.

I was surprised that young people this age were still considered boys and girls at the time of this writing, and not read to marry or launch out on their own yet.

Much is said about Rose being a strong-minded girl. Evidently this was pushing the envelope even in Alcott’s day. A few sentences from the last paragraph of this exchange were included in the newest Little Women movie:

Rose’s voice was heard saying very earnestly, “Now, you have all told your plans for the future, why don’t you ask us ours?”

“Because we know that there is only one thing for a pretty girl to do: break a dozen or so hearts before she finds one to suit, then marry and settle,” answered Charlie, as if no other reply was possible.

“That may be the case with many, but not with us, for Phebe and I believe that it is as much a right and a duty for women to do something with their lives as for men, and we are not going to be satisfied with such frivolous parts as you give us,” cried Rose with kindling eyes. “I mean what I say, and you cannot laugh me down. Would you be contented to be told to enjoy yourself for a little while, then marry and do nothing more till you die?” she added, turning to Archie.

“Of course not; that is only a part of a man’s life,” he answered decidedly.

“A very precious and lovely part, but not all,” continued Rose. “Neither should it be for a woman, for we’ve got minds and souls as well as hearts; ambition and talents as well as beauty and accomplishments; and we want to live and learn as well as love and be loved. I’m sick of being told that is all a woman is fit for! I won’t have anything to do with love till I prove that I am something besides a housekeeper and baby-tender!”

That’s not quite as anti-domestic as it sounds, because Rose values both housekeeping and baby-tending. But she wants to accomplish something else before that stage of her life.

I enjoyed this exchange about novels with Rose and her friend, Kitty:

“I’m sure I’ve read a great deal more than some girls do. I suppose novels don’t count, though, and are of no use, for, goodness knows, the people and things they describe aren’t a bit like the real ones.”

“Some novels are very useful and do as much good as sermons, I’ve heard Uncle say, because they not only describe truly, but teach so pleasantly that people like to learn in that way,” said Rose, who knew the sort of books Kitty had read and did not wonder that she felt rather astray when she tried to guide herself by their teaching.

In Eight Cousins there was also much discussion of books one aunt felt were harmful to the younger cousins. I wondered how these compared to the “blood and thunder” books Louisa enjoyed writing.

I also smiled at a section where Rose and cousin Mac discuss the benefits of reading Thoreau and Emerson, knowing that both men were friends of Louisa’s family.

Although the Alcotts were ahead of their time in many ways, Louisa still seemed to hold to the idea that different classes ought not to marry: either that, or she was illustrating problems with that idea by her characters. Phebe started out as a maid from the orphan house in the last book, but was so sweet and industrious and bright that Rose and her uncle sought to give her a good education. Now grown up, everyone loves Phebe—until one of the cousins falls in love with her. Since she’s an orphan of unknown origin, her family tree could contain anybody, and what would it do to the good Campbell name if it should be joined with someone that could be unsavory? That seemed to be the thinking of the aunts, but Rose and Alec and a couple of others had no problem with Phebe becoming part of the family. But Louisa had Phebe prove herself worthy in other ways.

Overall, this was a sweet story of the choices and trials of growing into maturity.

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

I’m going to wrap up my reading for Tarissa’s Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge here instead of in a separate post. I read:

I also watched the newest movie version of Little Women that was in theaters last year.

I always love spending time with Louisa and appreciate Tarissa’s challenge every June.

(Sharing with Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

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)

Book Review: The Mother-Daughter Book Club

In The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick, sixth-graders Emma and Jess are best friends in Concord Massachusetts.

Emma loves reading and writing. Her parents are big Jane Austen fans who named their kids after her characters. Her father is a writer, her mother, a librarian.

Jess lives on a farm with her father and brothers. Jess’s mom is an actress currently working in NYC.

Emma and Jess are definitely not among the popular girls, who tease Emma about wearing hand-me-downs and call Jess “Goat Girl.”

One of the “mean girls,” Megan, was Emma’s friend years ago. But now their paths have diverged. Megan loves style and design, but her mother has dreams of math and science camp and MIT and Harvard for her.

Cassidy is a new student who loves sports, especially hockey. She’s tomboyish and doesn’t care at all about her appearance. Her mother was a super–model.

The moms cook up an idea that they’ll form a mother-daughter book club, and their first book will be Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

None of the daughters wants to participate. Some of them clash with each other, some clash with their moms. But perhaps they can learn a thing or two from Louisa.

I don’t read many books for this age range, but a friend recommended this to me. I loved the tie-in with Louisa and Litttle Women. The girls even visit Orchard House in Concord, where Louisa lived and wrote Little Women. I also enjoyed how the girls learned and grew over the course of the book. Even the moms learned that they can’t make their daughters fit into their own “castles in the air” dreams.

The chapters all begin with a quote from Little Women and vary between the different girls’ points of view. At the end is a discussion guide, recipes, charts for planning goals, and information about starting a book club.

The only thing I didn’t like was the treatment of Mrs. Chadwick, the head “mean girl’s” mom and villain of the piece. Mrs. Chadwick seems fair game for names and derogatory comments about her anatomy from the parents as well as the girls. In one scene near the end, the girls and their moms turn the tables on Mrs. Chadwick and her daughter with some mean girls’ (and women’s) tricks of their own. I suppose, in a literary sense, this was their comeuppance. But I wish the moms had been better examples in this.

But other than that, this was an enjoyable book in many ways. It’s the first in a series of seven, each one built around a classic book. I like the idea and the characters, so I may try some of the other stories.

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

The Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

Louisa May Alcott Reading ChallengeTarissa at In the Bookcase hosts the Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge in June. You can read all the particulars here. She’s also offering a nice little prize here.

Louisa is one of my favorite authors, so I am happy to be joining in again. I plan to read:

  • The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick, a modern story about four girls who read through Little Women with their moms.
  • Eight Cousins by Louisa
  • Rose in Bloom, the sequel to Eight Cousins, if there’s time.

I’ve read Little Women multiple times, Little Men and Jo’s Boy’s just a few, but some of Louisa’s other books only once. So I wanted to reread a couple of those this time.

If you’ve wanted to read, or reread, something by or about Louisa, now is the perfect time!

Book Review: The Inheritance

In 1996, two professors going through Louisa May Alcott’s letters and journals discovered a previously unknown and unpublished manuscript. The Inheritance was Louisa’s first novel, written when she was 17. Neither the professors nor anyone else could find any other information about the novel. There was no record of it having been submitted for publication and rejected. Maybe Louisa just wrote it for fun or for her family. After the novel’s discovery, it was published in 1997.

The heroine of the story is Edith Adelon. She was discovered as a poor orphan in Italy by Lord Hamilton, who took pity on her and brought her home. There she became a companion to Hamilton’s daughter, Amy.

As the story  opens, Edith is a young woman and Amy is a teenager. Edith teaches Amy “music, painting, and Italian, and better lessons still in patience, purity, and truth,” but she’s not exactly a governess. However, she is regarded by Lady Hamilton as “poor and lowborn,” and as such, she is not allowed to mingle with “noble” guests as an equal (p. 17). Lord Hamilton died years before. Amy’s older brother, Arthur, her mother, Lady Hamilton, and her mother’s niece, Lady Ida complete the household. A friend, Lord Percy, comes for an extended visit and the young siblings learn his background: he and his brother had loved the same woman, and once Percy found out, he stepped back for his brother’s happiness. “Careless of the wealth and honor that might be his, he prized far more the purity and worth of noble human hearts, little noting whether they beat in high or low.” He visited the “poor and suffering” and still kept a hope that he “might win a beautiful and noble wife to cheer life’s pilgrimage and bless him with her love” (p. 13).

Ida hopes to attract Percy’s attention for herself, but when she sees him favoring Edith, Ida’s latent jealousy comes to the surface. Between Ida’s verbal jousts, another visitor’s ignoble intentions, and a betrayal of her kindness, Edith has her hands full.

Yet there is a secret to Edith’s background that none of them knows. But will it be revealed or suppressed and forgotten?

The story is only 150 pages and has elements of both a Gothic novel and what were called sentimental novels. It’s a very sweet story, but a little overdone in places. Edith is too good to be true. Descriptions such as this one abound: “With an angel’s calm and almost holy beauty, Edith bore within as holy and pure a heart–gentle, true, and tender” (pp. 12-13). Likewise, Percy’s “calm, pale face and serious eyes are far more beautiful than mere comeliness and grace of form, for the pure, true heart withing shines clearly out and gives a quiet beauty to his face, such as few possess” (p. 5).

But even though Louisa’s writing is understandably not as mature as her later works, and the characters are a little two-dimensional, I thought it was very sweet and a good effort on Louisa’s part for her age then.

Several years ago I saw a film version of The Inheritance which I enjoyed immensely. It must have come out not long after the book was published. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but it kept to the main points of the book. A few exceptions: it has Lord Hamilton as still living for most of the film; shows Lady Hamilton as warm and friendly whereas she is described as cold and haughty in the book; and it has Edith loving and racing horses, which was not at all in the book. I’m looking forward to seeing the film again some time now that I’ve read the story.

Thankfully Tarissa, who hosts the Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge, told me about the Internet Archive, which loans copies of books that have been photocopied page by page. It’s not quite the same as an e-book, but once I figured out how to make the page fit my iPad mini, I read it quite easily. I’m glad to know this service exists! The edition I read included a lengthy introduction by the two professors who discovered this manuscript, Joel Myerson and Daniel Shealy.

I’m counting this book as my Classic Novella (250 or fewer pages) for the Back to the Classics Challenge.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved and Booknificent)

The Little Women Treasury

The Little Women Treasury by Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson is aptly named: it’s a treasure trove for Little Women fans.

The authors give an abbreviated history of author Louisa May Alcott’s life and share pictures of her and her family. Another chapter gives a brief description of each of the four March sisters, an illustrated family tree, and a brief overview of their lives as traced through the books about them: Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys.

Other chapters include details about Orchard House, the Alcott family home (they only lived there for nineteen years, but that’s where Louisa wrote Little Women); details of the March family life; a time line of world history dovetailed with incidents in the Little Women books and sequels; recipes, some from the book and some common to the era (I was glad to learn what blancmange was); activities from the books that readers can try (how to make a “work basket,” “mark” handkerchiefs like Beth, make a mailbox, etc.); fashions of the era; and gardening and floral crafts from the era, with a mention of each of the March girls’ garden plots.

The illustrations and embellishments are lovely and in keeping with the era. I thoroughly enjoyed this treasury.

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Tarissa at In the Bookcase hosts the Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge every June to encourage reading or listening to books by or about Louisa or about her family. I’m thankful she let me know about this book!

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved and Booknificent)

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

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Tarissa at In the Bookcase hosts a Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge every June. The idea is to encourage reading or listening to books by or about Louisa or about her family during June.

I’m planning to read The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper, a fictionalized account of Louisa’s youngest sister, May, on whom Amy was based in the Little Women books.

I just ordered The Little Women Treasury used from Amazon. I am not sure yet if I’ll read it through or just peruse parts of it: I’ll decide when I see it.

I would love to listen to The Inheritance by Louisa – I enjoyed the film version a few years ago. But so far I have not found it available on either audio or Kindle, and I am not sure the library has it (found the title online but the page showed a different book.) If I can’t find this one, I might reread Eight Cousins or Rose in Bloom, as it’s been years since I read either.

Hop on over to Tarissa‘s if you’d like to join in the challenge!

 

Louisa May Alcott Challenge Wrap-up

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The Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge hosted by Tarissa at In the Bookcase hosts this month has ended. I read two books for the challenge:

I watched the recent Masterpiece Theatre remake of Little Women and enjoyed it quite a bit – I think it aired last month. But I enjoyed watching several of the behind-the-scenes videos of the show. I didn’t know the Alcott home, Orchard House, was still preserved today with many of its originals furnishings, Louisa’s desk, and even May’s (Amy’s counterpart) sketchings on the walls. I learned, also, that one of May’s art students sculpted the sitting Lincoln Memorial.

I also listened to several of the podcasts Tarissa linked to for us.

It was fun to spend so much time reading and thinking about Alcott this month. I already have at least one book planned for next year’s challenge.

Thank you for hosting, Tarissa! It was fun!