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Alcott, Louisa M.

Rose in Bloom.


Alcott To Her First Biographer:
One Of The Rarest Inscriptions Of The 19th Century
Alcott, Louisa M. Rose in Bloom. A sequel to "Eight Cousins." With illustrations. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1876.
8vo.; green cloth, stamped in blind and gilt. In a specially made quarter-morocco slipcase.
First edition of this sequel to Eight Cousins; 10,000 copies. A presentation copy, inscribed on the first blank: "Mrs. Cheney/ from her friend/ L.M.A./ 1876." Alcott had known Ednah Dow Littlehale Cheney (1824-1904) since the 1840s, as a student of Margaret Fuller and a regular at the conversations hosted on West Street in Boston by her father, Bronson Alcott. What she might not have known is that her father-then still married, and in his early fifties-fell in love with this young woman not a decade older than herself, sometime during the years leading up to her marriage in 1853. Bronson confided his feelings only to his diary; Ednah, it seems, never put intimate thoughts of him to paper.
Widowed after just three years of marriage to Seth Wells Cheney, Ednah devoted herself to several liberal causes, such as abolition, prison reform, religious unification, woman's suffrage, and women in medicine. She co-founded with Julia Ward Howe the New England Women's Club and co-founded with May Alcott the Massachusetts School Suffrage Association. And she published many books, including a hand book for freed slaves in 1866, and lectures on Goethe and on art she had delivered at the Concord School of philosophy in 1878. Still, today she is best known as Louisa May Alcott's first biographer, and as the editor of her journals and letters. "Thus," as Madelon Bedell writes in her Alcott family biography, "in one of history's rueful ironies, her name has come to be associated exclusively with the daughter, whom she knew only peripherally, not with the father, whose passion and delight she had once been, in his yearning autumnal years" (308).
Alcott's misgivings about writing this sequel to Eight Cousins were dispelled by its instant popularity: it sold out its first printing of 10,000 copies in its first month. Prathima Anandan writes that, like Eight Cousins, this is a feminist tract masquerading as juvenile fiction: "While Eight Cousins advocates a rectification of female education, Rose in Bloom espouses an assertion of female self-determination" (The Louisa May Alcott Encyclopedia). The heroine of this novel refuses to conform to societal expectations, evaluating and discarding her first serious suitor in favor of working to ameliorate the circumstances of poor children and working women. Meanwhile, a substantial portion of the other characters are neatly married off, like Noah's animals. Anandan cautions that while this "sudden concession to conventionality (as the word applied to novelistic aesthetics and social etiquette) in arranging marriages for her characters both major and minor may seem disappointing, … the insistence on a woman's rights to work outside of the home even if she belonged to the middle or upper classes predominates most of the book." She adds that "one of the chief objectives of the sentimental novel, according to recent feminist critics, is not merely to get married or to make a good marriage but to choose the right man, and this Rose does in preferring Mac [the bookish doctor] over Charlie [the ill-fated alcoholic]."

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