Let’s talk about Bronson Alcott.
Maybe it’s a little weird that I’m interested in Mr. Alcott considering that his daughter, Louisa May, is the family celebrity. Lousia’s having a(nother) heyday right now, what with Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women. I just heard an interesting discussion on NPR about the new movie, in which the scholars discussed the meta-ness of the film: how the publisher in the movie wouldn’t publish Jo’s book unless the heroine married at the end, which that’s likely what happened to Louisa May, who had to marry off her heroine in order to get her real book published.
Apparently, much of the “marriage is an economic proposition” talk in the film comes from Louisa May’s personal letters and wasn’t in the book itself. Meta meta meta. I love that stuff.
It’s not so unusual anymore, for us to be interested in the non-celebrity family members of famous people. This, in my opinion, is often thanks to feminism. It’s similar to the history of wet nursing scholarship (about which I know some stuff): what 19th-century stuffed shirt gentleman scholar wanted to write about wet nursing? None, that’s who. Same with Alice James, the troubled and brilliant sister of William and Henry. Until some woman came along, who wrote about her? Nobody, that’s who. (That woman being Anna Robeson Brown Burr who edited Alice’s diaries, albeit poorly according to various reviewers.)
And what about Dorothy Wordsworth? Ernest Selincourt wrote her biography in 1933. (He also taught Virginia Woolf nee Stephen when he was a professor in the Ladies Department of King’s College.) But after 1933? Here are the first names of the people who had something to say about Dorothy: Frances, Kathleen, Susan, Catherine, and Jo (which there’s another coincidence right there seeing as what we’re supposed to be talking about is Louisa May’s father). I digress, duh. I would also like to tell you that the Wordsworth brother and sister rambled around Scotland quite a bit.
(Once, on one of my own few rambles, I stayed in a small hotel where they’d stayed. There, framed, on the wall of the lounge, was Dorothy’s memory of the very inn in question. In the essay, she describes how she’d rather have hung out in the kitchen with the drovers and the carters than in the formal lounge, which was, as I can attest, slightly dreary.
When I arrived at the Inveroran Hotel, I was drenched due to how I’d just walked over a mountain in a tempest. I’m not sure when I’ve been more exhilarated. My whole body felt like a wide (wet) eye. I was wearing a cheap poncho which descended almost to my boots, and in the wind and torrent, it whipped around my ankles like Emily Bronte’s skirts must’ve done. It was extremely energizing and damp enough a walk that when I reached the inn, I poured the water out of my boots like they were twin pitchers.)
So right here, I am turning the tables, albeit slightly, and instead of writing about an anonymous lady, I want to talk about a (now) (semi) anonymous man. Meet Amos Bronson Alcott.
***Bronson wasn’t always anonymous, which means I have taken this comparison and stretched it way out of shape but whatever. He was, in fact, pretty damn famous for a lot of his life. He had a lot to say and people listened and he had friends in high places (Ralph Waldo Emerson).
***Bronson founded Fruitlands, a utopian community which lasted about 7 minutes, well, okay, 7 months. Still, its name lives on with those of us who are interested in utopian communities which I am enough that I wrote a whole novel about a made-up one (I called it Longmeadow) (I took the name from a dairy farm that supplied our school with those little cardboard school-lunch milk cartons of the past)
(now, they’re likely plastic but maybe I’m a cynic). So I got all interested in utopian communities and did some research. And that’s how I found out about Fruitlands. I am glad to say that unlike some of them which shall remain nameless (Oneida, oh my god) there wasn’t too much bizarre sex at Fruitlands but who knows really.
****Fruitlands enjoyed (probably not all that much) such a short tenure because Bronson was extremely highly principled (read: a dictator) and made a bunch of rules no one could actually follow. Like: no animal labor was allowed and no artificial lights (which meant no candles in pre-electricity times) and everyone had to be vegan, though the word vegan hadn’t yet been invented. The community failed, in large part, because the women (there were two of them, Mrs. Alcott and a lady named Ann) had to do all the women’s work and the men, who were supposed to tend the fields, spent most of their time philosophizing. Then, Ann ate a piece of fish and got kicked out of the commune.
***Bronson was an abolitionist and supported women’s rights except, apparently, when it came to what men did on a farm and what women did on a farm, which every woman knows that a man may work from dusk to dawn but a woman’s work is never done. No wonder Ann felt like she needed some protein, is what I have to say.
I’m not saying that I don’t like Bronson. I like him fine. I figure that between him and his wife Abby, they turned out a right nice young daughter.