Saturday, July 21, 2012

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott 

Louisa May Alcott has long since been one of my favorite authors and my personal hero. I admire her convictions and her courage to stand up for what she believed in and to do what she had to do to to survive. Last year, the American Library Association and National Endowment for the Humanities provided grant funding for a series of Louisa May Alcott programs at the public library. This two-month long series of events exploring Louisa's life and works through discussions, viewings, reenactments and events. To cap it all off, Louisa herself came to visit. (Or rather we traveled to the 1880s to visit with her). I was only able to attend a few events but I will do my best to recap them for you.

Living Literature Performance: Hospital Sketches

Living Literature presents a work of literature with two people reading and acting out scenes from, in this case, Hospital Sketches. The readers read from Louisa's own words written in Reminiscences of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Recollections of My Childhood, and Hospital Sketches and acted some of the scenes. It was very interesting to hear about Louisa's life in her own words. She had a lot of energy and determination and desired more out of life than to be a "little woman." Most of the scenes were from Hospital Sketches which nicely coincides with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. It brought home the gruesome realities of war and shared some of the shocking things that Louisa must have seen as a nurse.

Walking Tour of [a city where Louisa did not live but was a major intellectual hub] in the time of Louisa May Alcott

Abba May Alcott had frequent pregnancies and miscarried in between having the four girls. During one confinement, Louisa was deemed a bit too boisterous for her mother's health and thus Louisa was sent away to friends on a farm not far from Concord and quite possibly near this major metropolitan city. Regardless of whether or not Louisa lived here, some of her intellectual contemporaries did live and work here as well as other women who refused to give in to the ideal of a meek and quiet woman. Margaret Fuller taught school here and quite probably took advantage of intellectual opportunities. We also learned of fellow transcendentalist and poet who was courted by Edgar Allen Poe at a subscription library and viewed some of Louisa's works on display. We saw the first house to be designed by a woman, the wife of a Civil War general and discovered how women fought for the right to have an education. Along the tour, the guide read from Louisa's writings to show how the experiences of local women were similar to Louisa's own fight for independence. Though I've been on walking tours of the city before, this one was extra fun because it incorporated Louisa May Alcott. There were many women here whom Louisa would have felt kinship with and perhaps even corresponded with or met. 

“Louisa May Alcott and New England Reform: Racial Equality, Liberal Education & Women’s Work."

I attended a lecture/discussion by a retired professor of women's history on “Louisa May Alcott and New England Reform: Racial Equality, Liberal Education & Women’s Work." She used Louisa's autobiographical novel Work to analyze what Louisa was thinking about the social issues of the day and how the book served as her way of sharing her opinions though she did not have the right to vote. The lecture brought up a lot of questions about Louisa's life and her feelings as a self-described "tomboy" and what they may have meant for her at the time and what it means now. I had to leave before the discussion ended but I enjoyed listening to other people who love Louisa as I do.

Louisa May Alcott Visits the Library

To cap it all off, Louisa, as portrayed by actress Marianne Donnelly, came to speak about her life. She talked about how she was a lively child and her mother tried to give her chores to work off her energy and young Louisa tried to rebel. Her mother was forever telling her not to shout, not to run, ladies don't do those things, etc. etc. She talked about her parents, her Transcendental upbringing, what is Transcendentalism (read her father's books is her answer), her unusual life at Fruitlands (a sort of hippie commune where they attempted a sort of vegan, animal-free lifestyle and nearly froze and starved to death), her time spent as a Civil War nurse, her books, her fortune (she supported her family with "blood-and-thunder" tales), her trips to Europe, abolitionism and crushes on Emerson, Thoreau and a handsome young Polish man in Europe. She was very funny and energetic, even bringing me on stage at one point eek! I had to participate in a little skit. I sat in a chair on stage and to be a Union soldier who had a leg removed. Louisa played Sairy Gamp, a character from a Dickens novel who is a bit of a tippler and a little crazy. She asked if I wanted her to make me a leg from her umbrella or cut the other one off so I'd be even. I chose umbrella so she had to screw the umbrella into my stump and I had to hobble off stage. Even though I am horribly shy, I had a good time and it was about as close as I will ever get to meeting my idol so it was fun. 

Then following the performance, we all had tea in honor of Louisa's birthday. We all sang Happy Birthday to Louisa and enjoyed   Apple Slump, apple tarts, apple bread, tea and scones. An Irish band played period music and Louisa circulated visiting with her guests.

These programs were wonderful and I wish I had had the time to participate in more of them. Did anyone else go to their library's Louisa May Alcott events? I'd love to hear about it!

1 comment:

  1. How lucky you were to have all those wonderful events at your library! I was able to attend the kickoff workshop for the initiative in Boston and heard from some of the participating libraries about their activities. What a wonderful way to honor Louisa May Alcott!


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