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American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever

American Bloomsbury (2006)

by Susan Cheever

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Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne are enshrined in America's literary canon while Louisa May Alcott was the author of one of the most beloved novel for girls ever written. Susan Cheever's eminently readable book about the menage of famous authors and thinkers living in Concord, Massachusetts in the mid-19th Century strips away the reverence surrounding these people and gives us a "warts and all" picture of their lives, their writing and their political acts

The person who caused this group to all come together in this little town west of Boston was Emerson, who, by the fortunate early death of his wife, became a wealthy man, enabling him to finance the Hawthornes, the Alcotts and Thoreau who without him would surely have starved. The personal dynamics of this group makes for fascinating reading. There was the love triangle of Margaret Fuller (an early free-thinking feminist) and Emerson and Hawthorne. There was Bronson Alcott, an uneducated pontificator of dubious education and dietary philosophies and there was Thoreau living in his cabin (conveniently paid for by Emerson) expounding on living without money and with nature.

For a short period of time their stars all shown brightly in the American literary firmament. Then it was over. Thoreau and Hawthorne had early deaths, Emerson sank into Alzheimer's disease, Hawthorne died with his career in serious decline and poor Louisa MAy Alcott - much like her doppelganger Jo March - supported her family with her writing.

Their writing, rediscovered by a generation of young people in the 1960's lives on today. Ms. Cheever has given us a wonderful picture of the real people underneath the legends. ( )
  etxgardener | Feb 18, 2015 |
Cheever here offers an evocative glimpse into life in Concord, MA, from about 1840 to the mid-1860s, when such luminaries as Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau lived, worked, and loved. More than a mere study of the Transcendentalist movement, this intriguing volume examines the dynamic relationships among these remarkable men and women, who constituted what may be considered the first American literary community. Cheever convincingly establishes their work as pivotal in shaping modern thought on the environment and the importance of self. Summary Library Journal

I listened to the audiobook first, then checked out the hard copy to revisit various sections. Reading about this colony of artists subsidized by Emerson (well, by his late wife actually) was truly fascinating to me. I had no idea that these writers even knew each other, never mind flirted, walked, read and boated with each other. Ms Cheever's imaginative reconstruction of conversations bordered on overripe prose for me. As one review put it, she ended up doing a disservice to the community she was extolling. Still, AMERICAN BLOOMSBURY points the reader in the right direction to discover the almost incredible literary and philosophical flowering in mid-19th century New England.

6.5 out of 10 Recommended to readers of 19th century American history and to fans of the "Concord" authors. ( )
  julie10reads | Feb 15, 2015 |
The time: mid 1800's
The place: Concord, Massachusetts "biggest little place in America," (Henry James)

Susan Cheever explores the intersecting personal lives of a group of friends, who we acknowledge as an extraordinary group of writers.
The "Concord gang" would include literary residents such as Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Henry David Thoreau.

The American Bloomsbury bears little resemblance to their Victorian "British Bloomsbury" counterparts.
You'll find they are avant-garde bohemian types, often at odds with the existing moral and social structures.
In such close proximity, they intertwine intellectually and romantically.

"Ralph Waldo Emerson was the central and most influential figure among the group of radical thinkers and writers of the 1830s-1850s known as the New England Transcendentalists"
His 1836 essay NATURE is usually considered the decisive moment at which transcendentalism became a major cultural movement.

The audio presentation by Kate Reading brought to life the volatilities and passions of this "cluster of geniuses"
If you have read their writings and have an interest in the era, you'll enjoy this read.

(6 audio discs)

★ ★ ★ ★ ( )
  pennsylady | Jan 14, 2015 |
Very enjoyable read but not the scholarly treatment I was hoping for. It reads more like a series of expanded magazine articles than a full-fledged book. The stories of the lives and interactions of the authors were interesting and certainly knew nothing about either the Hawthorne or Margaret Fuller connections to Concord and the Transcendentalists. However, I ran into a few factual errors that made me doubt other parts of the stories (Plymouth is not on Cape Cod). The author also seems very naive and sheltered, unable to come to grips with modern suburban Concord that isn't the 1850s village. Her glowing praise of Little Women as a book to change American literature also seems odd, esp. as Alcott herself was fairly negative on it. It did make me curious to read Alcott's 'serious' novel, Moods. Hello, Project Gutenberg.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
Well researched book about a group of famous authors who all lived in the small town of Concord, MA in the 1800's. Some did not gain notoriety or recognition til they died. ( )
  bogopea | Feb 13, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743264614, Hardcover)

A brilliant, controversial, and fascinating biography of those who were, in the mid-nineteenth century, the center of American thought and literature.Concord, Massachusetts, 1849. At various times, three houses on the same road were home to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry and John Thoreau, Bronson Alcott and his daughter Louisa May, Nathanial Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller. Among their friends and neighbors: Henry James, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, and others. These men and women are at the heart of American idealism.We may think of them as static daguerreotypes, but in fact, these men and women fell desperately in and out of love with each other, edited each other's work, discussed and debated ideas and theories all night long, and walked arm in arm under Concord's great elms-all of which creates a thrilling story.American Bloomsbury explores how, exactly, Concord developed into the first American community devoted to literature and original ideas-ideas that, to this day, define our beliefs about environmentalism and conservation, and about the glorious importance of the individual self.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:52 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A portrait of five Concord, Massachusetts, writers whose works were at the center of mid-nineteenth-century American thought and literature evaluates their interconnected relationships, influence on each other's works, and complex beliefs.

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