Somehow the stars aligned this weekend and I got to do some fun reading instead of just school reading. I actually picked up Herodotus and read the whole of book three (or was it four? No matter, I’ll be sharing some interesting stuff from that throughout the week) and Clarissa got some attention too. On page 900 and something and I only have about 500 more pages to go until the end.
I only picked up those two books, however, after finishing American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever. I really loved this book. I was occasionally annoyed that she never went into much detail and depth–of course I was most annoyed when I wanted the detail and depth–but she clearly says in the book that she intends this to be only an introduction and hopes the reader will be inspired to get to know Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau better. Well it has worked. I want more! So my Emerson project will eventually morph into the Concord Project. The book has a fantastic bibliography that alone could keep me reading for a couple of years.
Some interesting things I learned about the various characters, for characters they all are. Hawthorne was so much in love with Margaret Fuller that when she died in a shipwreck Hawthorne’s wife, Sophia, wrote her mother-in-law, “I’m really glad she died.” It is also thought that many of Hawthorne’s strong women in his novels were modeled after Fuller.
Thoreau spent two years living at Walden Pond, leaving the woods in 1847. He spent seven years writing and re-writing Walden, condensing two years of journals into one year of time for the book. He wrote seven complete drafts before sending it to the printer.
Louisa May Alcott spent six months as a nurse in Washington DC during the Civil War. She was only there six months because she became ill with typhoid. The doctor at the hospital where she worked treated her with large doses of laxatives–cassia, castor oil, and magnesium–and even larger doses of calomel. Calomel is a mercury compound and Louisa almost died from mercury poisoning. As it was she never fully recovered, losing all her hair and suffering nerve damage.
When Emerson’s house burned in 1872 he was 70 and already beginning to suffer from aphasia (probably Alzheimer’s). He was devastated. His neighbors sent him along with his daughter on a trip to Europe. They took up a fund and while he was away rebuilt his house. He had no idea they were doing this. When he arrived home, the town turned out to meet him at the train station where a band played “Home Sweet Home” and everyone paraded him to his house. He was confused by what was going on and asked “is this a public holiday?” The house looked exactly like it did before the fire. He was astounded and grateful but in his slow decline, he would never be the same man he was.
I think of Emerson, stately and sober, and while he was that, he was also passionate and a rebel thinker. He was part of a group of people whose stories could have been played out on Days of Our Lives. I had no idea he was part of such a soap opera. Cheever does a magnificent job at bringing all the characters to life. This group brought about the birth of American literature and still have much to say to us all these years later. Cheever’s book is a good place to start if you want to learn more.