Fruitlands: Louisa May Alcott Made Perfect

Fruitlands: Louisa May Alcott Made Perfect
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October 22, 2002
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Louisa May Alcott, when she was a girl
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Before I picked this book up, I had some preconceived notions about Louisa May Alcott's childhood. I knew, for instance, that she had lived in a commune called Fruitlands that her father, Bronson Alcott, had started. I knew that her childhood teachers included Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. But, I had no idea what living on that commune really meant or what her father was really like.

I had always thought of him as kind of like the absent father represented in Little Women. I imagined him as a loving, doting father patting little Louisa on the head or chuckling over her stories.

Gloria Whelans look at Louisa May Alcotts early life has completely changed my thinking. The book is based in part on Louisas journals (the ones that werent destroyed possibly by her father) and is a fictionalized, but historically truthful account. It is told in two voices. Think of one as the good Louisa voice, as she writes in the journal that her parents read. The other voice is the naughty Louisa, who writes about what she is really feeling, as opposed to what her parents want her to feel.

Bronson Alcott, from the pages of this book, was a controlling and driven man with a vision that dominated his life. He wanted to build a perfect little corner of the world where everyone lives in peace of off natures bounty. What that literally means to his family is that they go to live on a farm where they arent allowed to even use manure to fertilize the fields because it is unclean. The girls have to give up their pretty dresses, meat, and even eggs.

The family meets up with many unusual characters and we get to see them through Louisas eyes. The spirit you see in Jo from Little Women is shown in Louisa as she secretly complains about the stiff manners of Mr. Lane or the oddity of Mr. Bower, who doesnt believe in wearing clothing.

I highly recommend this book as a historical teaching aid. It is also a pretty easy read for general reading, but the school application is so obvious and so useful, that I have to commend it for that purpose.
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