Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father
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Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father

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by John Matteson
     
 

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Louisa May Alcott's name is known universally. Yet, during her youth, the famous Alcott was her father, Bronson-an eminent teacher and lecturer and an admired friend of Emerson and Thoreau. He desired perfection, both for the world and from his family. Willful and exuberant, Louisa was anything but the model daughter. While her three sisters more readily won Bronson's

Overview

Louisa May Alcott's name is known universally. Yet, during her youth, the famous Alcott was her father, Bronson-an eminent teacher and lecturer and an admired friend of Emerson and Thoreau. He desired perfection, both for the world and from his family. Willful and exuberant, Louisa was anything but the model daughter. While her three sisters more readily won Bronson's favor, Louisa puzzled and appalled him with her mercurial moods and restless yearnings for money and fame. The other prize she deeply coveted-her father's understanding-seemed the hardest of all to win.

At the same time that the clashing personalities of father and daughter threatened to drive them apart, their struggles to find beauty and justice in an imperfect world continually reunited them. Plagued by disappointments, Bronson fought to recover from the collapse of his career and an ensuing mental breakdown. Encouraged by her mother and sisters and fortified by the guidance of Bronson's literary friends, Louisa traveled an improbable path from her father's Utopian community through the hospitals of the Civil War to the cultured drawing rooms of Europe. Seeking always to ease her family's poverty, she made a living writing stories for magazines until Little Women changed her life forever, earning her not only wealth but also an enduring place among America's most admired writers. This story of Bronson and Louisa's tense yet loving relationship adds dimensions to Louisa's life, her work, and the relationships of fathers and daughters.

About the Author:
John Matteson is an associate professor of English at John Jay College in New York City

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

They were both born on November 29 (he in 1799 and she in 1832), but willful, passionate Louisa May Alcott couldn't have been more different from her serene, unworldly father, Bronson, whom fellow transcendentalists such as Emerson and Thoreau revered for his wide-ranging philosophical pursuits and occasionally ridiculed for his lack of common sense. Bronson's failed educational and utopian ventures placed a great burden on his wife, Abba, while elder daughters Louisa and Anna worked as teachers and paid companions to support the family. Yet Louisa honored her father's steadfast principles, avers Matteson, a professor of English at John Jay College, who views both father and daughter with a sympathy that doesn't quite conceal the book's slightly specious premise. Bronson was far closer to Anna and younger sister Lizzie; Louisa's fiery nature sometimes dismayed him. She only gained his full approval when mistreatment with a mercury-based medicine during the Civil War made her a near-invalid for the rest of her life. This is really a biography of the whole Alcott family, though it narrows to a dual portrait after the wild success of Little Women in 1868 gave Louisa the independence she longed for and Bronson enjoyed more modest acclaim for his book Tablets and lecture tours out West. 26 illus. (Aug.)

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Library Journal

Matteson (English, John Jay Coll., CUNY) relates that "in the marvelous year of 1868, there were suddenly two best-selling authors residing under the roof of Orchard House . . . father and daughter achieved their most significant literary breakthroughs in the same month." In his account of Louisa May Alcott and her father, Bronson Alcott, he relies heavily on the journals, letters, and works of both authors to portray their unique lives, also quoting extensively from the writings of famous friends and neighbors like Ralph Waldo Emerson. In doing so, he allows readers to glimpse both the minds of these two literary figures and the times in which they lived. Matteson succinctly covers major events in his subjects' lives, e.g., the publication of Louisa May's novel Little Womenand Bronson's attempts to establish "a saintly community of scholars in which money would be unknown." Adding another dimension to his portrayal is his concise and perceptive analysis of both Alcotts' literary works. Matteson's graceful style and careful scholarship confirm his premise that the two were indeed "Eden's outcasts . . . for both, life was a persistent but failed quest for perfection." Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ4/1/07.]
—Kathryn R. Bartelt

Kirkus Reviews
Neatly interlaced biography profiles a father of New England Transcendentalism and his bestselling daughter. Bronson and Louisa May Alcott shared a birthday (November 29, 1799 and 1832 respectively) and died within 40 hours of each other in 1888. As Matteson (English/John Jay College) ably shows in his debut, their lives were inextricably intertwined, even during the occasional brief periods when they lived apart. After offering a snapshot of a low point in Bronson's life, the 1837 auction of furniture, supplies and books from his beloved, failing Temple School, the narrative moves back to his birth on a Connecticut farm and proceeds chronologically thereafter. Young Bronson mystified his parents with his passion for reading. With little formal education, he traveled as a peddler before devoting the rest of his life to educating others-sometimes in schools, sometimes in lectures and "conversations," sometimes in his writings. Matteson shows all facets of Bronson's character: his fierce work ethic, his feckless financial ways (the Alcotts were perennially saved from ruin by the kindnesses of friends), his loyalty to his family. An early and ferocious opponent of slavery, he could be a remarkably clear thinker, but he was also clueless about his own foolishness and irresponsibility. Louisa, a tomboy with a temper, seemed at times the living refutation of her father's genial theories about human development. In her childhood, she sat at the knees of Emerson, Thoreau and other Concord notables. While serving as a nurse during the Civil War, she became severely ill and was treated with a toxic, mercury-based medication that caused her much suffering and shortened her life. Matteson capablydescribes Louisa's feverish devotion to her family and to her writing, the failures in love, the struggles to succeed that came to fruition with the publication of Little Women, her subsequent celebrity, travels and literary triumphs. Carefully researched and sensitively written. Essential. Agent: Peter Steinberg/Regal Literary

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393059649
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
08/17/2007
Pages:
512
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

John Matteson was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Biography for Eden’s Outcasts and is also the author of The Lives of Margaret Fuller, which received the Ann M. Sperber Prize for Best Biography of a Journalist. He has been a Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society and of the Leon Levy Center for Biography. He received the Distinguished Faculty Award of the John Jay College Alumni Association and the Dean’s Award for Distinguished Achievement from the Columbia University School of Arts and Sciences. Distinguished Professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, he lives in the Bronx.

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Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
griffin721 More than 1 year ago
Very detailed and very interesting subject. It's almost like being a fly on the wall. Loved every minute of reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Of the several new books recently written about the writer and her world tthis one sshows outstanding research and depth if understanding without inserting a personal agenda
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WayneDilts More than 1 year ago
Amazing amount of research went into this book, and it is no wonder that it won the Pulitzer Prize for Biograpghy. Matteson writes so well, it is as if you were standing next to each of the characters as he unfolds the story tht many already know, but adding the details that most of us don't. Captivating, making each of the Alcotts so much more than historical characters. Moving in its simplicity. I was sorry to reach the end.
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