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The Glory Cloak: A Novel of Louisa May Alcott and Clara Barton Paperback – May 4, 2004
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Women's friendships are at the center of this appealing historical novel that spans the years 1850 to 1888 and links the lives of Louisa May Alcott and Clara Barton. Narrator Susan Gray, a fictitious third cousin who joins the Alcott household after being orphaned in her teens, is 10 years Louisa's junior but becomes her confidant. Together, Louisa and Susan leave home to join the Civil War effort by nursing at a Washington hospital, where they meet Barton, a beloved figure on battlefields, and injured soldier John Sulie, allegedly a blacksmith with suspiciously gentlemanly ways. As love grows between Sulie and Louisa, Susan also is attracted to him, leading to relationships complicated by war, politics, illness, and emotion and a rift in the friendship that takes years to mend. O'Brien, whose previous novels were contemporary, does a nice job with the language of the period and provides an afterword to help separate fact from fiction. With its vivid portrayals of a wartime hospital and of Andersonville, this is a briskly paced, engaging work of historical fiction. Michele Leber
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Robert Morgan bestselling author of Gap Creek From the radical, transcendentalist village life of nineteenth-century Concord, Massachusetts, to the horrors of the Civil War hospitals in Washington, D.C., Patricia O'Brien has given us a portrait of our country at its time of greatest peril and greatest hope. Part romance, part mystery, part history, The Glory Cloak is most of all a story of remarkable women, their private struggles and public deeds that helped make possible the best of our own world.
Gore Vidal Louisa May Alcott and Clara Barton are splendid protagonists in this vivid and revealing story of our Civil War.
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I have read one of the Alcott biographies cited by the author, the "modern" one by Martha Saxton, and recognized some of the sources of Louisa's troubles. Her famous father, Bronson Alcott, was a dreamer who refused to support his family, so this unpleasant duty was left to his talented daughter. Just like Jo in "Little Women," Louisa felt she could never live up to the Victorian ideal of the submissive, perfect daughter, and doubted her serious writing ability. When her first mature work, "Moods" (partly about her love for Thoreau), was rejected by the public, she felt that her entire being was unworthy. She wrote lurid potboilers to make money to support her three sisters and her parents, and eventually found fame after fictionalizing her idealized family in "Little Women" and its sequels. It is hard for me to imagine any woman who has read this book as a girl to be unaffected by it. I,too, wanted to be a better person, although I admired Jo's unconventionality and independence. The fact that she so loved her naturalist teacher, Henry David Thoreau, made me admire Louisa all the more.
I was glad that O'Brien humanized Alcott by making her fall in love with John--yet Louisa had to kill him off in her own fiction so that he could remain safely in the past. She was a conflicted genius whose health was marred by the calomel she was forced to ingest while a nurse in Washington. Clara Barton fits into the story obliquely, as she is not the main protagonist. Both women, and the fictional Susan, are admirable role models for thoughtful women of today.
The history is good, slightly fictionalized, but that's ok - we all go into the story aware that it is NOT a text book. The characters are truly engaging and quite three dimentional. I felt as though I got to know the person inside Alcott and I liked doing it through Cousin Susan as a vehicle, even while I got to know Susan in her own right. The story flows smoothly, enriched by detail that gives a nice sense of place without becoming cloyng about transendentalists (the sense of seeing intimate glimpses of famous writers like Hawthorne, Thoreau and Emerson was fun. Like being a bit of a voyeaur).
Let me say this - I'm a voracious reader, but often guilty of skimming through slow parts or speed reading to get flavor and not waste my time with the drudge of some books. This one - well, I began it one afternoon, read for about an hour - reading each word, sometimes rereading passages I enjoyed - then got called away. Next day, I locked myself up and read until the very last page. Then I wished I could stay a while longer.[...]
"normal" dictates of society.
The story is told in the first person by Alcott's fictional cousin, Susan Gray. She recounts their childhood, family and famous residents of Concord. As adults, the Civil War begins and Mary and Louisa volunteer as nurses in a Washington DC hospital, where they meet the famous nurse and activist Clara Barton, and the mysterious patient John Sulie, who Louisa is strongly attracted to. Do be warned, this was not a pretty war, nor was the aftermath on the wounded soldiers. The author doesn't pull any punches here. The story then shifts to the aftermath of the Civil War, and Clara Barton's mission to account for all the missing and dead soldiers, which the government would prefer to remain unaccounted for. The book finishes with the remainder of Louisa's life in Condord until her death.
While Susan is a fictional cousin, it was a good way to bring the reader closer to Alcott's inner circle and know her better. Some parts of the story play a little loose with known history, which are acknowledged in the author's notes at the end of the book. All in all an entertaining read, but as I previously noted, I'm not a huge fan of Alcott. Good read, but not one I'm likely to take off the shelf and read again every few years.