Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson

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Pat Young

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Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson published by Norton (2007).

This book won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and it is easy to see why. The joint biography provides an engaging biography of the author of Little Women and of the father who sometimes nurtured her, sometimes forgot her, but who was always a force in her life. It is also a biography of a family, all of the “Little Women” of the Alcott clan are lovingly painted in words by John Matteson. So too are the leading lights of New England Transcendentalism and the other men and women involved in the creation of American letters.

With Emerson offering little Louisa May the free use of his library, with Hawthorn a neighbor and Thoreau a guide to the study of nature, and with house guests like Walt Whitman, Louisa May Alcott’s literary turn was not surprising. That she executed a book that has outsold any work by those fathers of American literature, is. Matteson provides insights into how she became both a master of the philosophy of the Transcendentalists and how she crafted believable stories out of their esoterica.

But this is not just her story. It is also the biography of her father Bronson.

Before I read Eden’s Outcasts I knew Bronson as an ineffectual dreamer. A man who sometimes neglected his wife and four daughters as he chased Transcendentalist rainbows. Women I know tell me that they have dated men like Bronson and thank God that they did not have children with them. Louisa’s mother did not dodge that bullet.

Note: This review will appear in several installments.
 
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