Lousia May Alcott, Bronson Alcott And The Tie That Binds
Lousia May Alcott life was not exactly out of the pages of her most famous book, "Little Woman."
I will write my parlour book
Louisa May Alcott is best known as the author of Little Women. What is not so well know is that she lived a life quite apart from her main protagonist (and some say alter ego) Jo March.
"The Wax Cradle" is a drama that reveals the complex relationship between Louisa and her father, Bronson. On the one hand, Louisa feels a deep love for the kindly scholar; on the other hand she feels resentment for his failure to adequately provide for his family.
Louisa's life is fraught with poverty, hunger and cold. Louisa hates poverty more than anything and as a young girl she swears that some day she will provide for her sisters and mother. Louisa goes from a rebellious girl, to a seasoned (and somewhat cynical) spinster as she lives a life that is never completely free from want or pain.
In 1862 she goes to Washington to serve as a Civil War nurse. While there she contracts typhoid fever. She is given calomel, a drug laden with mercury to cure her fever. She recovers from the typhoid but for the rest of her life suffers from the debilitating effects of mercury poisoning.
Louisa regards her father as a failure as a provider and determines that she will do whatever she has to do to feed and clothe her family. She writes penny dreadfuls for money and eventually pens a book that becomes a "Best Seller."
Although happy for the income, she takes no pride in her novel that is inspired by her growing up in a family of girls. She regards her writing as "moral pap" for the young.
As the years go by she becomes bitter and disenchanted. When her father suffers a stroke, she is by his side constantly. When Bronson dies, Louisa loses her will to live.
She dies two days later at the age of fifty-six.
In this scene events flow in and out in no set time. The scene ends with Louisa's publication of Jo's Boys. An event that ushers in Bronson's paralytic stroke.
"Life is a train of moods like a string of beads,
and as we pass through them they prove to be
many-colored lenses which paint the world their
own hue and each shows only what lives in its focus." 1
January l4, 1863.
(She looks up from journal)
You came to me Father when you learned of
my illness. Rode the train all night,
all day. Brought me home.
Dr. Bartless pronounced the fever typhoid,
Out of man sprang the sun and moon; from
man the sun; from woman the moon.
February, 18, 19, 20. Wait on Louisa
through the day and watch part of the night.
It was you, father. Your countenance I saw on
the other side of the fever curtain.
"A man is a god in ruins." 2
*1 "Experience," Ralph Waldo Emerson
*2 "Nature", Ralph Waldo Emerson
You brought me back to the daylight world, and I
regained some of my strength. I took up me pen
"In this refulgent summer, it has been a luxury to
draw the breath of life."
Take tea and spent the evening with Emerson.
"Summer wishes to spend a day or two in Concord
presently...been reading Thoreau with curiosity...
would like to visit some of his old haunts
in wood and field."
(Louisa turns to face Bronson)
Marmee is not well. She works too hard.
Dined with Henry James.
Her eyes are troublesome. She humors the
weakness by not using them much evenings.
The village bells announce Emerson's coming
by the noon train.
She's toil worn and depressed.
She's dying, father.
(Bronson does not meet her eyes. He's preoccupied with his journal)
"Eat strawberries and cream at Emerson's with
Hawthorne, Thoreau, Sanborn Hunt the artist,
Keyes and Cheney...come home with Hawthorn
at half past l0." 1
Mr. Niles encourages me to write a book about
my sisters. Why would anyone want to read a simple
story about a family of girls?
Our children are our best works. The platform
and pulpit are efficent organs for persuasion,
but the parlor and pen are still more so and graceful
I will write my parlour book.
Letter from Walt Whitman...this man is a power
in thought and likely to make his mark on times
Little Women part 11 has been favorably received.
Money for creditiors.
Snow and freezes.
Closer to my dream I might "pay all the debts,
fix the houses, send May to Italy, and keep
the old folks cosey."
*1The Journals of Bronson Alcott, Odell Shepard p. 328
Read Pickwick Papers with delight!
Little Men has already sold 50,000 copies.
To Boston and see Niles concerning
Louisa's books. They are selling well.
Little Women is in the 48th edition.
The truth in my private heart will sell no books; will fill no lecture halls.
Dickens has a genius in portraying low life
English characters. Louisa admires him...
if she has any trait in common, it is in
her dealings with American life as he
did with English; bringing men back to
nature and reality.
(Louisa addresses Bronson)
Father, it's time for your Conversation
at Miss Thatchers.
Bronson closes journal. He moves stage center.
As he speaks he is at Miss Thatchers.
Miss Thatcher's Drawing Rooms are filled with
a curious company, and I speak at length of
New England Authors, Emerson, Thoreau,
Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, Ellery Channing,
Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes, Whittier, and
by request...the author of Little Women.
(Louisa cannot keep the bitterness from her voice)
By request. You'll speak of me becane
you can ill afford not to.
It seems I've
created a small meteor shower in the
New England firmament and people demand
more of my children tales.
"I am tempted I find to dilate so largely
on Emerson that the others get less justice
done to their gifts and attainments...
as to Louisa...." 3
Look around you Father! At least half of
Miss Thatcher's guests have come to listen
to the father of Little Women.
Mr. Emerson in his "self-reliance" essay
tells us to believe in our thought "to
believe that what is true for you in
your private heart is true for all men---
that is genius."4
The truth in my private heart will sell no
books; will fill no lecture halls.
*2 The Journals of Bronson Alcott, Odell Shepard p. 328
*3 The Journals of Bronson Alcott, Odell Shepard p. 403
*4 "Self-Reliance", Ralph Waldo Emerson
"In every work of genius we recognize our own
rejected thoughts: They come back to us with a
certain alienated majesty." 1
I've alienated the majestic. I've courted the mundane.
They request an excerpt from one of your books.
(He looks around him as if seeking her out in the room)
"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents"
grumbled Jo, lying on the rug...."2
A man must consider what a blind man's bluff is this
game of conformity." 3
Rose sat all alone in the big best parlor with
her little handkerchief laid ready to catch the
first tear, for she was thinking of her troubles
and a shower was expected." 4
Bronson recites Emerson as if he can insulate himself
from Louisa's mundane prose.
"Insist on yourself: never imitate." 5
*1 The Journal of Bronson Alcott
*2 Little Women, Louisa Alcott L.
*3 Self-Reliance," Emerson
*4 Eight Cousins, Louisa M. Alcott C. l948
*5 "Self-Reliance," R. Emerson
Louisa continues to recite the beginnings of her novels.
It's as if she is saying 'do not speak to me of truth! It pays no bills.'
"Please Sir, is this Plumfield?" asked a ragged
boy of the man who opened the great gate at which
the omnibus left him." 1
(Bronson faces Louisa)
Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph
of principles." 2
(Louisa looks hard at her father)
"Christmas won't be Christmas without any
presents" grumbled Jo lying on the rug..."
"...but the triumph of principles.
*1 Little Men, Louisa M. Alcott, c.1901
*2 "Self-reliance", Emerson