Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Alcott Family of "Marmee and Louisa"

I am enthusiastically finishing up a new quilt. Quilting keeps my hands busy, but I like to listen to an audiobook while I work to keep my mind engaged as well. My current book is Marmee and Louisa by Eve LaPlante.  Having enjoyed many of Louisa May Alcott's books, and knowing that Little Women was at least partly autobiographical, I was intrigued by the idea of knowing more about the Alcott and May families.  I knew the Alcott family was transcendentalist and experimented in utopian communal living, but I didn't know much more.

Knowing more, however, has filled me with a sad, disgusted feeling that makes my stomach churn and face sour. Amos Bronson Alcott was well read, spoke eloquently, and gave the best first impression to those he came in contact with. Yet, his words were poisonous -- full of theory and philosophy but lacking anything close to practicality or truth. He misused scripture and taught his children (or let them believe) that Jesus was a good man but that that their father was the best man now.

His rejection of the divinity of Christ (believing himself to be a kind of Christ and truth unto himself) is all the worse in that he advocated the early education of children and aimed his philosophy squarely at children as young as three years old. Thankfully, none of his schools lasted long, and he eventually turned to giving "conversations" for adults. Equally unprofitable, but at least his listeners chose to be there and hear his egotistical lectures.

The Bible verse Luke 17:2 comes to mind:

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. (Luke 17:1-2 ESV)
Perpetually in debt, Alcott refused to do any actual work (or left it half done) and failed to provide basic necessities for his family -- often deserting them at the time of their greatest need so he could read and philosophize without the distraction of his wife and young children. When he distanced himself for months and failed to write home, his wife Abigail was left wondering if her husband had died.

His lack of personal or family responsibility should classify him with the lowest of good-for-nothings. His shameless borrowing and living off of other people's work and generosity with very little attempt at repayment is embarrassing and put great strain on his more considerate wife. She did what she could to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Still, Abigail idolized her husband and loved him with a devotion he seemed to take for granted and trample upon.

The last straw for me was Bronson Alcott's lengthy glorification of his own ability to reproduce  -- without any mention of his wife Abigail's actual sacrifices in the day to day struggles of being pregnant while caring for three young children. When their only son is stillborn, Alcott blames his wife for "poisoning the fountain at which her child draws sustenance." His language is spiteful, and this small quote is only a drop in the bucket of derogatory comments he makes regarding his industrious, self-sacrificing wife.

Mr. Alcott has thoroughly angered this pregnant woman and I grieve for the spiritual damage he inflicted on his children and students and the emotional and physical trauma he put on his wife.

Despite my criticism of Bronson Alcott, Marmee and Louisa it is an interesting an educational book. I am glad I am listening to it, because it gives great insight into Louisa May Alcott, her family, and times. Mr. Alcott does upset me, but I have a more educated opinion of him now than I did before finding this book. The author did a fine job researching the family, and her use of original journal entries and letters lets the reader hear Bronson, Abigail, Louisa, and others' own words.

It is discouraging to read about people who were so lost and in need of saving grace. I plan on making the next book I read more uplifting!

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