The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, Kelly O’Conner McNees

Synopsis: The Alcotts moved to Walpole, New Hampshire in order to improve on their financial state (their cousin offered them use of ahouse). Louisa struggles with being a “good daughter” and trying to live up to Bronson Alcott’s standards. (*You need to read up on Bronson’s philosophies, if you’re not familiar with them. He’s a Transcendentalist, but he’s also a little more extreme– Emerson may have had similar issues, but he was smart enough to make a living off of it.) Marme/Abba finds herself stressed and depressed because of her husband’s inability to provide for the family. Bronson also refuses to let Abba fix any of their problems by getting any work, etc.

This leaves the girls, especially Anna and Louisa, in a tough situation. Anna (the oldest) tries to be good by working hard, and she decides she wants to get married. Louisa isn’t interested in marriage– she sees what Abba is going through and wants her independence. She can earn $5/ story in Boston, so her goal is to save enough to live in Boston and work. Anna and Louisa run a lot of the errands in the household. Lizzy can’t make it out of bed most days because of she’s weak (and Abba & Bronson won’t let her do anything, including reading her journal out loud). The youngest, May, is spoiled in that she’s never had to work hard, live in one of Bronson’s crazy philosophies other than write in journals, and normally goes for the easy chore. (May tends to ignore the financial woes of the family.)

They meet the handsome Joseph Singer (a shop owner’s son) on their first day. Louisa is embarrassed that she has to basically introduce herself, say, “Hey, I’ll owe ya,” and know that she may never be able to pay him back. He takes it in stride, and invites them to a swimming party. At the party, Joseph and Louisa discuss Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Anna meets a cutie named Nicholas. The group at the lake decide to put on a play, and Louisa is in charge. The next time they meet, they arrange parts, and Louisa does some match-making for Anna and their buddy Margaret. Lou is painfully unaware of Joe’s affections for her and hers for him, until they chaperon May and Joseph’s sister Catherine on a circus trip. Then Joe gets engaged to a prissy local, Nora (Nicholas’s sister). Joseph tries to explain, but Louisa isn’t listening.

The show goes on, and Louisa pulls through a fabulous performance. Some gossip indicates Joe’s only marrying Nora to pay off his father’s debts. Lou and Joe reconcile. Nicholas is about to ask for Anna’s hand from Bronson when he ends up having a fatal accident. It’s really sad, and Anna has to leave town to get over her grief. Louisa soon ends up in Boston after her mother insists. She meets with little success writing there, until the day Joseph shows up to convince her to run away with him. She is packed and ready to go when she gets word that a magazine wants five of her stories. What a dilemma… her independence and a writing career, or the love of her life? (I think we know what she picks.)

In later years, Louisa visits Joe to talk about their lives. She asks to burn the letters that they’ve written to each other, because she knows when she dies her entire life will be public fodder. (It was enough in her lifetime with Little Women being based on her life.) They’ve lived full lives apart, and they’re happy to be the only ones to know of what was as they watch the letters burn.

Bookworm’s Commentary:
Like many girls, I grew up with Little Women being a staple in my reading library. We did a very charged play called Transcending Little Women in high school, where we tried to reconcile what happened in real life and what happened in the books. It was a mind-blowing experience, and I learned a lot from being involved in the play, which my theatre teacher wrote and it was a work in progress. It’s nice to be a part of something like that, ya know? I played Lizzy, and although Lizzy died at 22, Louisa’s writings made her live forever.

This book had a lot of research going into it. LMA is a fascinating woman who lived in a fascinating time. She is spirited, anti-establishment (even to the point of annoying Bronson, the king of anti-establishment). She grew up around Emerson and Thoreau, for crying out loud. She was so passionate, but Lost Summer seems to indicate that she may be depressed (as she relates to how Abba is feeling, angry and helpless at their poverty). I enjoyed this take on her life.

Class Stuff:
Grades: High school/college & up; this was for fun.
I don’t know whether a high schooler would appreciate it unless they were obsessed with LMA. There is one implied sex scene, but you have to read between the lines.
Grade: A-. I read it in a few sittings, as I did have to contend with class. I enjoyed it and I loved that they tried to include details of her real life. However, it reminded me quite a bit of Becoming Jane. Maybe all 18th/19th century spinsters who become authors are the same? I appreciate the research that went into this novel, and I have actually recommended it to a few of the people that were in Transcending Little Women since they enjoyed learning the back story of Louisa’s life. The only reason for the A- is the Jane Austen “true love story” similarity and my inability to read it in 2 sittings. (Even with class, I should have been able to do that…)

I suppose this is fitting,  however: Happy Independence Day, to America and anyone who wants independence;  GO SPINSTERS! (I mean that in the nicest way possible– Louisa didn’t look negatively at the spinster status.)  😀

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Filed under Just for fun, Realistic, Romance

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