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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Eden's Outcasts

Matteson, John. Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father.

6 words: An excellent and thorough Alcott biography.

Informative, fair, well-documented, well-written! Matteson has written a highly readable biography that is both scholarly and conversational. I had no idea this much material was available, but all of the Alcotts kept journals and these personal writings alone would certainly have been an overwhelming task--yet Matteson obviously managed it. The personal writings, especially of Louisa and Bronson, give much of the interest and vitality to this biography.

Bronson was, indeed, a piece of work - a dreamer, philosopher, and thoroughly impractical man. My feelings about Bronson went back and forth, but Matteson's research reveals the man in depth, with compassion, and over the length of his long life.

What a family they were! Poor, almost nomadic as they were forced to move over and over, failing again and again, full of high ideals fostered both by Bronson and Abba, confined to a vegetarian diet and few amenities, the Alcotts persevered, and eventually, succeeded. Certainly Louisa did, providing much of the families support.

A biographical MUST READ if you are interested in the time period, the Alcotts, or Concord and its prominent inhabitants. (I loved Emerson all the more for his many kindnesses.)

Nonfiction. Biography. 2007. 428 pages + extensive notes and an excellent bibliography.


  1. Must's going to be painful, waiting for this to come out in paperback.

  2. she did some fabulous writing that's for sure.

  3. Well...if you say it's a must read, then so be it!! Added to the TBR list!

  4. Bybee - It really is worth the wait, and surely it will be out in paperback soon!

    DesLily - Her novels are some of the most memorable of my childhood and realizing how difficult it was for Louisa to write them (her poor health) makes me more appreciative.

    I had not realized how popular she was in her own lifetime. She really was a celebrity--with fans who showed up at Orchard House in droves.

    Stephanie - If you are an Alcott fan, you will be fascinated with the information about their daily lives. The Fruit Lands experiment, Bronson's detailed records concerning the early childhoods of Anna & Louisa, the two individuals who served as models for Laurie...

  5. I want this just for the cover! Sooo gorgeous. :)

  6. eva - It is a lovely cover and suitable is so many ways!

  7. Thank you for the great review. I'm going to keep it in my book ideas. I definitely want to read this after reading American Bloomsbury. It was also written in a conversational style which I really enjoyed. Have you read it? If you're interested, I did a book report on it a while ago.

  8. Nan - I much preferred this one to American Bloomsbury. They are very different: Cheever's Bloomsbury is a much shorter book that provides an overview of so many more of Concord's personalities, while Matteson's book is a much more detailed account of just one family. I found Matteson's book approach a more balanced look at the individuals involved and his style more readable, but suspect that a lot of people might find it too detailed.