I just finished reading Susan Cheever’s American Bloomsbury, a book on the life, love and work of Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau. I loved it.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve read about this group of authors and philosophers. As an American Literature major who wrote her senior thesis on Alcott, I had read several biographies and histories of the individual authors and their era over the years. While Cheever’s book re-states the well-known facts of the authors’ lives and works, she does it with a liveliness that almost made me forget that I was on well-known territory.
Reading the book is almost like gossiping with Cheever about some of my favorite writers. Who knew how much passion and intrigue lurked beneath the surface of beautiful, quiet Concord? Who knew how much despair there was? And who knew that their lives could be as mundane as yours or mine?
The book also reminded me that these authors’ lives were much more than the well-known facts. When you spend years reading Little Women or Emerson’s essays, you see the black and white photograph of Alcott or Emerson on the back of the book. That’s your image of them: static, black and white and somber (no one smiled for pictures back then). You forget that they actually lived. And you forget that they did all of this together.
It’s too bad reality TV wasn’t around then. Could you imagine Survivor: Concord? I’d watch it more religiously than Glee.