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American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work Hardcover – Deckle Edge, December 19, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This beguiling book is Cheever's exploration of the extraordinary cross-fertilization of creativity in Concord, Mass., during the mid-19th century, when Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne and the Alcotts lived as neighbors there. If it won't offer much new information for serious students of American literature, it does provide a lively and insightful introduction to the personalities and achievements of the men and women who were seminal figures in America's literary renaissance, and who, Cheever theorizes, influenced the social activism of succeeding generations. In episodic chapters, Cheever describes their entwined relationships. Margaret Fuller was their brilliant, free-spirited muse and a model for Hester Prynne. Louisa May Alcott, was forced to support her family because her feckless father, Bronson, had no intention of doing so. Herman Melville briefly entered the enchanted circle through his friendship with Hawthorne. Cheever touches on their love affairs and intellectual platonic attractions, their high-minded idealism, their personal losses, their intermittent misunderstandings and jealousies, the years of penury suffered by all except Emerson and their full-fledged tragedies—such as Margaret Fuller's drowning. While Cheever sometimes indulges in high-flown speculation about their personal lives, she keenly analyzes the positive and negative ways they influenced one another's ideas and beliefs and the literature that came out of "this sudden outbreak of genius." 8 pages of photos. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

A request to write a new introduction to Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, writes novelist and memoirist Cheever, inspired her to explore the literary atmosphere of Alcott's childhood. A daughter of one of the free spirits intellectually supported and financially subsidized by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa intermittently lived in Concord, Massachusetts, where Cheever sets her intimate narratives. She explores the interpersonal relationships linking the prospectively famous writers Emerson drew in. In the transcendentalist florescence of the 1840s and 1850s, the aspirant writers tried out their ideas and idealism in conversation at Emerson's house, alongside Concord's roads, or afloat on its creeks. Moving among descriptions of such haunts, Cheever constructs a many-layered contemplation of this distinctive collection of American literary icons in their formative periods, and encompasses day-to-day events and the character of their attractions, as between a married Emerson and Margaret Fuller, whom Emerson lodged in his house. Emotionally warm and critically engaged, Cheever's history successfully evokes the incubation of Concord's literary glory. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (December 19, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743264614
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743264617
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,249,337 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born in New York City and have lived here on and off my entire life--in fact I went to nursery school a few blocks from where I write this. It took me a long time to admit I was a writer--I had a career as a teacher and I loved it. When I was married I couldn't get a teaching job so by an amazing stroke of luck I went to work for my local small town newspaper. After a long time as a newspaper and magazine journalist, I took off to write a novel when I was 35 and I haven't looked back.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

146 of 155 people found the following review helpful By Ann H. Harris on January 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
What a peculiar book! American Bloomsbury is easy to dislike for all
the reasons given in a number of the editorial and customer reviews:
the factual errors riddling the book beginning right on page 1 (little
Waldo Emerson was 5 when he died, not 9; Emily Dickinson and other
"neighbors" were not neighbors to the Concordians; the Emersons were
not married in 1838; and on and on and on), the jarring colloquialisms
(Emerson as sugar daddy, Thoreau as moocher, Hawthorne as rat), the
sweeping and totally unfounded assertions, and the sporadic
real-clunker sentences.

Such factors as these contribute to making a bad book, but what makes
this book peculiar is that the author shows herself capable, on a
number of pages, of producing compelling, factual, graceful prose, but
just as you are lulled into the story and willing to forgive and
forget the clunkers and errors just passed, she pulls you up short
with some sensationalistic or speculative doozy that utterly breaks
the spell. In the worst cases, these sojourns into fantasy make one
angry because they are so clearly untrue -- and purposeless except as
means to stoke the potboiler theme of the book: unconsummated lust,
cerebral adultery (and maybe more!), jealousy, seething

The best example of this is her depiction of Hawthorne,
whose complex moral and intellectual flaws receive no attention at all
because Cheever chooses instead to focus one glaring spotlight on him
as "a rat with women.
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133 of 146 people found the following review helpful By Stube's Auntie on February 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I did not expect a great book on this subject by Susan Cheever, but I expected a fun and readable book. This is neither fun nor interesting nor particularly readable. Not only is _American Bloomsbury_ rife with factual errors -- an inexcusable breach considering the subject matter, upon which so much ink has been spilled that there is no excuse for shoddy research -- it is written in a bizarrely disjointed, juvenile tone and is the most poorly edited book I've seen in years. The interpretation of personalities and events are embarrassingly shallow, and the author can't decide if this is a personal reflection or a historical literary overview. Why, for instance, should we care about Cheever's revelation on p. 43 that "my ancestor Ezekiel Cheever was part of the [Salem witch] trials"? Ah, nepotism! Ms. Cheever must assume that her great literary name will interest readers of this book. Is there any other reason to skip into first person in the eleventh chapter of a book about the Transcendentalists?

I'm such a huge fan of the Transcendentalists that I'll read *anything* on them, but slogging through the rest of this stilted mess is going to take a LOT of commitment.

If you haven't purchased it yet, do yourself a favor and get the eminently superior _Emerson Among the Eccentrics_ by Carlos Baker. Read anything by David Robinson. Read _Daughter of Boston: The Extraordinary Diary of A Nineteenth-Century Woman Caroline Healey Dall_ by Helen Deese. Read Megan Marshall's marvelous contribution, _The Peabody Sisters_, read Phyllis Cole's absolutely brilliant _Mary Moody Emerson And the Origins of Transcendentalism_.

There is such a wealth of wonderful books out there on this subject, there's no reason to support this shoddy effort.
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89 of 101 people found the following review helpful By Corinne H. Smith VINE VOICE on January 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The premise seems interesting enough: use a light-hearted approach to detail the lives of the major Concord authors (Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau) and their sometimes steamy interpersonal relationships. To that end, Ms. Cheever does a decent job here. The nearly endless combinations indeed weave a transcendental web: Louisa-Henry, Louisa-Waldo, Henry-Lidian, Waldo-Margaret, Nathaniel-Margaret. And that's not even mentioning Ellen, Sophia or Count Ossoli. Thus does "American Bloomsbury" provide an overview of the lives of the originators of truly American literature.

And yet, nonfiction readers deserve accuracy. And the Concord writers deserve to be remembered honestly. This book is fraught with factual errors. And we're not talking about infinitesimal, esoteric, or subjective ones. We're not even talking about interpretations. These are mistakes that could have, nay, SHOULD have been corrected by consulting the very books listed in the bibliography on pages 211-214.

To Ms. Cheever's credit: she at least knew that the North Bridge wasn't standing in the mid-1800s. That's the most common mistake that writers make about this time period. But what about something as basic as the natural environment? Thoreau wouldn't have pointed out deer tracks or beaver dams to his students because both animals were rare in New England back then. He didn't see cardinals either, for they were "Dixie invaders" that didn't come north until decades later. OK, you might say. Those don't sound like big deals. We could overlook those assumptions. Fine.

Concord devotees will find here more than a dozen inaccuracies regarding Thoreau alone.
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