The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
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September 11, 2011

American Bloomsbury

 First of all, I wanted to say 'thank you very much!' to Nan of Letters from a Hill Farm for telling me about this book when I mentioned that I was thinking of reading The House of the Seven Gables.In part, because it was exactly the kind of book I was in the mood for reading, and even more because isn't this (or shouldn't it be) the reason why we're all blogging?  (On the same note, there was also Frances, who immediately offered to read& THotSG with me, and now we have ten or twelve other readers joining us for a group read.  We'll be posting our thoughts on the book on October 14th and then taking the weekend that follows to talk and comment amongst ourselves.  Please join us?}

American Bloomsbury is a group portrait of five writers -- Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau -- who came together and apart in Concord, Massachusetts in the in the 1840s through the 1860s.  {There's a little bit of Herman Melville in there, too.} Except for Margaret Fuller, whose name is familiar to me, but not her life or her work, these are all writers that I felt I 'knew.' 

But probably not. From reading biographies of his daughter, I knew that Bronson Alcott was eccentric, but all of these people are a little odd!  Hawthorne {this was fascinating), who always seemed like such a romantic figure, is especially un-endearing:
Whenever Hawthorne left home, he got into trouble. His heroes and heroines are all outcasts, people who with all the best intentions have found themselves spurned bu their own communities. Community and its intolerance was one of his great themes. It was also one of the themes in his own life and the life of his family.
As a young man, he and his helpless bride Sophia were expelled from Concord. Back in Salem, his political clumsiness made him and his family pariahs. In Lenox, the fight over apples precipitated yet another hurried, angry leave-taking.
Concord, the Hawthornes came to believe, was their true place on earth. The place they could stay. In returning to Concord and buying the Wayside, next to the Alcotts and across the road from Emerson, they imagined they were joining a community that would accommodate their twitches and quirks, their difficult opinions and dark writing. They were coming home. But the merriment of the Emersons' welcoming strawberry party soon wore off, and the thing that always happened began to happen again.
I thought Susan Cheever did a wonderful job of bringing out their personalities, their 'twitches and quirks,' their difficult relationships with each other, and {best of all} their love triangles. Even though this is not a full-fledged, detailed biography or literary history, {and even though the author's personal anecdotes seem to be a little jarring) I thought this was a readable, engaging, perfect introduction, or re-introduction, to these writers. And it did what I always hope a book like this will do -- make me want to read all the books listed in the bibliography.  And she also made me glad that I live so close to Concord, so that soon (maybe even next weekend?) I can take an afternoon, make a small but longed-for detour for coffee and the best scones I've ever tasted, and see all the places she describes again.

1 comment:

Nan said...

Not sure if you come back and see comments on old posts, but I clicked the 'boston' label on your newest one, and was led back here. I'm sorry I didn't see this when you first wrote it. Reading your terrific review makes me want to read it all over again - for the third time! Great passage about Hawthorne. They really were a prickly bunch in many different ways. And SO interesting. I suspect that's the reality of any intelligent group, even the English Bloomsbury. :<)

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