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.
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)