A favorite blogger writes: "What has happened to all the women who are done with child-rearing? Young voices permeate the blogosphere." What do sixty-something women do with their lives, especially if they do not have full-time jobs? We're here to find that out.
Monday, January 08, 2007
It was Mark Twain, I think, who wrote "I've written a long letter because I didn't have time to write a short one". Susan Cheever has taken the time to write a short letter. She spent six years working on this slim, entertaining book about the "genius cluster" that materialized in Concord, Mass. in the mid-nineteenth century. The lengthy bibliography, chronology, detailed chapter notes and index suggest that it will be a scholarly work. On the contrary, it's highly readable, oddly chatty, hinting at improper liaisons, inserting curious but memorable details (plump Elizabeth Peabody once smothered a litter of kittens by sitting on them, as the anguished mother cat meowed in despair) and contemporary asides (the old wooden Plymouth, New Hampshire Inn where Hawthorne died is no longer there, but was owned by an Indian family who introduced curries to the menu in its final incarnation).
The key characters are Emerson (the "sugar daddy" who financed them all), Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Hawthorne, and the lesser known Margaret Fuller (the model for Hester Prynne). The jacket copy promises that they will be "removed from their dusty pedestals". Yep. That's what happens. Not only do they and their extended families all come to life, but along the way we encounter Melville, John Brown, Franklin Pierce, Longfellow, OW Holmes, the Brownings - even Twain. There's probably not much here that's new, but it's all so well-distilled, and jam-packed with surprising detail. Not entirely without fault (is it really appropriate, for example, to compare HRT to the widespread use of the mercury poison, calomel?) , but it doesn't seem fair to nitpick. I'm delighted that Cheever took the time to write this idiosyncratic but unforgettable short book. And that I happened to notice it on the "new books" shelf at the library.