Monday, July 30, 2012

The Inside Story On Fruitlands

First off, quite some time ago I "Liked" the Louisa May Alcott is My Passion Facebook page, hoping that when I saw posts that interested me, I would follow links, do some reading, and so on and so forth. Saw lots of posts that interested me, but none of the other stuff happened until today, when Louisa May Alcott is My Passion linked to Fruitlands: Bronson Alcott, Charles Lane and Their Unsuccessful Search for Utopia at Failure Magazine. (Really, how wonderful a concept is that for a magazine? Or for anything?) Surely, you all remember that back in July, 2004 I visited Fruitlands. So I was very motivated to read the Failure article.

The article is actually an interview with Richard Francis author of Fruitlands: The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia.  I'm particularly fond of two portions:

1. Francis's explanation of Transcendentalism. I don't know that it is correct. All I know is that I can understand it. Usually Transcendentalism is quite beyond me, which is too bad, since I find the whole eighteenth century Concord, Massachusetts crowd so fascinating, and Concord was lousy with Transcendentalists back in the day. Francis says, "The most important aspect of it was a belief in the perfectability of humankind. Transcendentalists believed that Jesus wasn’t the son of God, but was simply a perfect human being, setting an example for other human beings to become perfect likewise." This makes Transcendentalism sound like my understanding of secular humanism. Which is fine.

2. Francis's material about Marmie--I mean Mrs. Alcott's--beliefs. "...the Alcott’s, particularly Mrs. Alcott, thought of family as the heart of society. She was interested in creating a well-functioning nuclear family that would be an example to other families." (Hmm. Could that be what Louisa May was doing with her writing?) He also says she very cleverly manipulated the situation so she could put an end to the Fruitlands experiment.

The interview doesn't make Bronson Alcott look good. However, I have never read anything that made him look good. It looks as if he made a fortunate choice of wife who got his fat out of the fire, at least as far as Fruitlands was concerned, and raised one sharp daughter. Beyond that, he seems most impressive for his failings.

I wonder...what if he wasn't really that bad? What if history has been unkind? It would make a great, sad story.


Jeannine Atkins said...

Far be it from me to take the side of Bronson, but I just wanted to point out the man has his cheerleaders. Remember that 2004 visit to Fruitlands? I bet if you talked to docents there, you'd find one.

I enjoy reading Susan's blog LMA is my Passion, and she's stirred me to read John Matteson's book about LMA and her father, which suggests a somewhat balanced view of Bronson. But I'm going to dig in my heels about forgiving a man who saw his little girl as some kind of temper-tainted demon.

Susan Bailey said...

First of all, thanks so much for mentioning my blog! I was surprised how much interest there was in yesterday's link about Fruitlands and Richard Francis. You just never know! :-)

I met Richard Francis at a book signing in Concord and found him to be delightful! That droll sense of humor you see in his book is very evident in the man. He was perfectly charming.

Francis is utterly brilliant and his book is SO dense. I started taking notes while reading and I just couldn't keep up! Someday I will get back to it and just read it for pleasure. He ends each paragraph with such a pithy remark, it's a good read.

Every time I get mad at Bronson (and that's frequently), I remind myself of a small kindness he showed his daughters during the Fruitlands debacle. Knowing how bland the diet was, he took the graham-based food and shaped it into animals to make it more palpable for his daughters. There was a great deal of kindness and tenderness in him that just got overshadowed by the craziness!

gail said...

Certainly my limited knowledge of Louisa suggests she was a Bronson fan.