November 29, 2010

Two Alcotts: fit for the scuffle of things

Amos Bronson Alcott reported the birth of his second daughter as "a very fine, fat, little creature... with a firm constitution for building up a fine character." Born on November 29, 1832 in Germantown, Pennsylvania, she was named Louisa May Alcott. She and her father would have a bond for the rest of their lives, in part because she was born on his 33rd birthday. In a letter to his mother, Bronson underlined the words, "on my own birth-day," and considered the coincidence "a most interesting event." For one of their joint birthdays while living in Concord, Massachusetts, Bronson wrote a poem for his daughter:

Two Passions strong divide our Life
Meek gentle Love, or boisterous with strife.

Bronson believed that children were fresh from heaven and, as a result, came into the world completely untainted, before the influence of the world took away their inherent angelic nature. Determined to test his theory, he meticulously recorded the development of his own children, starting with his oldest, Anna. His record of baby Louisa, who he called "fit for the scuffle of things," reached nearly 300 pages in her first year.

Bronson also applied his theories as a teacher. As his experimental methods proved controversial, the Alcott family was forced to move frequently. Eventually, Bronson withdrew from the world to start his own society at Fruitlands, along with young Louisa and the rest of the Alcotts. The experimental Utopia failed within seven months and Bronson was heavily in debt (again).

In fact, the Alcott family was never financially secure until Louisa started writing. Despite this, Louisa grew to admire her father's idealism and considered turning Bronson's life into a novel (never realized), focusing on his "trials and triumphs." Bronson, in turn, was one of Louisa's greatest supporters from her earliest writings on. Despite being 33 years younger, Louisa died within days of her father's death in 1888. She was 55.
*The information from this post is mainly from the Pulitzer Prize-winning dual biography Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father (2008) by John Matteson. I also recommend Harriet Reisen's Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women (2009).

1 comment:

  1. I love Louisa May Alcott. Often, I'll wander through Boston's Public Garden, realizing that she must have strolled through it often. Thank you for remembering her and Bronson today.