I can appreciate his abolitionist beliefs, his dedication to educational reform and his ability to surround himself with generous friends (seriously Emerson. You are too kind).
However, he was a crap dad.
|Watch yourself, Bronson.|
The prototype of bad Victorian daddies has to be Reverend Patrick Brontë. There are many delightfully apocryphal and deliciously untrue stories about much-maligned Patrick, including one where he threw the children's new shoes into the fire because they were too fancy.
|Good thing he died before RuPaul's Drag Race|
Boy, that was a frustrating read. For many reasons.
It was an exercise in rage to watch Bronson Alcott almost deliberately throwing away the happiness and health of his family to pursue some ridiculous agricultural fancy. But it was doubly so to have his story, his frustrations and triumphs, eclipse the story of one inspiring woman.
For this reason, it is baffling as a reader that Cheever answers none of these questions. The focus of over half of the book is Bronson's transition from toasted educational reformer and patriarch to the bumbling dependent of his work-horse daughter. I came away from the book with an understanding of his life and the lives of the great men he surrounded himself with.
But I didn't have any sense of the woman. Cheever is informative and runs through the fact of her life with clarity but it lacks any psychological insight. There are some inborn difficulties with writing an Alcott biography as she was a woman who wrote and rewrote and edited her life. Not only fictionally but she was also fond of annual letter and journal burnings. Cheever rightly insists that this close-knit family created and clung to their own family mythology.
|Two Characters In Search of Some Psychological Insight|
What was mystifying and deeply disappointing was that Cheever never turners her investigative eye on the family's relationships with each other. At the heart of Little Women and what keeps readers coming back year after year, is the warmth and love between the sisters and their mother. In A Personal Biography, there was no sense of the character or lives of the sisters or of the deep relationship the parents had with their children. Anna, Elizabeth and May are merely side characters and more mouths for Louisa to feed.
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography does a fine job of relating the facts of her life but it does not illuminate her life. However, it was worth the read for this startling insight:
As a daughter, she never spoke a word against her father, against his irresponsibility or his bullying or his prejudice against her. As a writer, she expressed her feelings in a far more effective and literary way. She left him out of her masterpiece.