Thursday, February 22, 2007

on american bloomsbury

A gazillion years ago [Sunday the 18th], KathyR asked me a question: "What do you think of Susan Cheever's book about the Concord intellectuals?"

The book in question is American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work .

I told KathyR that my answer would not be worth the wait. Here it is: I haven't read it.

But, unlike the hundreds of other books out there that I haven't read solely because I have no time, I specifically chose not to read this one. See, I don't purposely read things I know will irritate the hell out of me. Seriously, I get anxious sometimes when my boss says, "I'm going to forward this email to you from [Client X] about [something stupid and not our fault that we'll have to fix, explained using bad grammar and vague references]." I say, "Will it irritate me? and she invariably says "yes" and I invariably say "just translate it and I'll write it down" and, bless her, most of the time she does. But alas, I digress (a lot).

Ok so back to Cheever's book: I know, I know, super bad scholar for taking the word of others over actually examining a text.

However, based on reviews I have read (and I've read many), the only reason I'd pick up this book would be for the same reason people stop and stare at trainwrecks, car accidents, etc. I'd be rubbernecking. If even a cursory glance at the book produces glaring factual errors, as has been reported by numerous reviewers, then I can imagine what someone like me would do with it—probably throw it across the room.

By "someone like me" I mean someone who has read a great deal of primary works/letters/journals by the folks listed After the Colon, especially RWE and HDT. Given my research assistance/indexing/general discussion around my prof's forthcoming book, Notes of Conversations: 1848-1875 by A. Bronson Alcott [edited with glossary, preface, and introduction], I know how lives and lineages were intertwined for real, not some wacky fantasy version of it. And hell, I'm just a beginner as far as studying these things go.

I've also read—and enjoyed—many of the historical/biographical/scholarly works referenced by reviewers who say "don't read Cheever's book, go read..."
- Emerson: The Mind on Fire
- Emerson Among the Eccentrics
- Mary Moody Emerson and the Origins of Transcendentalism
- Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind
- The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism
- Daughter of Boston: The Extraordinary Diary of a Nineteenth Century Woman [Caroline Healey Dall]

Incidentally, the glossary entry in the Alcott book for Dall reads like this:
American teacher, writer, reformer; born Caroline Wells Healey in Boston, MA; educated by governesses & at Abbot's school for girls. Married Reverend Charles Henry Appleton Dall in 1844, who abandoned his wife and children in 1855 to become a missionary in India. Dall operated a nursery in North End of Boston for children of working women from 1837-42; wrote moral and religious essays for newspapers and periodicals; attended Margaret Fuller's conversations for women; teacher in Georgetown, DC from 1824-44; wrote for antislavery annual in Boston; became supporter of women's rights; lecturer on women in history, education, law, and the workplace; her works include The College, the Market, and the Court; or Woman's Relation to Education, Labor, and Law (1867) and Margaret and Her Friends (1895). Her son, William Healey Dall, was a naturalist who studied under Louis Agassiz.
I wasn't allowed to write "teh awesome" in a book for an academic press, go figure.

On that note, there are a ton of cool folks from that time who have interesting biographical snippets and even richer lives. I don't need to read some sensationalized/fictionalized story about relationships that may or may not have occurred—the real thing is plenty rich!

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