Sunday Salon

Reading today:

Eden’s Outcasts: the Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson. I’m making heavy weather of this book, mainly because I’m finding Bronson Alcott such a difficult person. I’m only reading a few pages each morning, which is about all I can put up with Bronson’s self-centred approach to life.

It will take me a while to finish this book as it’s over 400 pages long. So far, I’m up to page 118, and Bronson has tried and failed at almost everything he has undertaken in his search for perfection. His efforts at running a school have failed and he is about to embark on a new project – a self-sufficient commune, a ‘beacon of morality in a fallen world.’  This was to be ‘an earthly heaven‘, anything that came from the work of slaves was excluded, they would do away with money, shun the use of animal products and rely as little as possible on animals for work.

He asked Emerson to join him in his venture and also to back him financially. Emerson refused and wrote in his diary:

For a founder of a family or institution, I would as soon exert myself to collect money for a madman. (page 114)

I have to agree with Emerson.

There has been little yet in this book about Louisa but I’m hoping that will soon change as she is now 11 and beginning to rebel against her father, who baffles him with her stubbornness.

I’ve also started to read Perfume: the Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind. I’m not sure yet what I think of this novel. It begins well, grabbing my attention with a description of the birth of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in Paris just before the French Revolution began. The description of the smells of Paris at that time is breath-taking in its awfulness:

The streets stank of manure, the courtyards of urine, the stairwells of mouldering wood and rat droppings, the kitchens of spoiled cabbage and mutton fat; the unaired parlours stank of stale dust, the bedrooms of greasy sheets, damp featherbeds, and the pungently sweet aroma of chamber-pots. The stench of sulphur rose from the chimneys, the stench of caustic lyes from the tanneries, and from the slaughterhouses came the stench of congealed blood. People stank of sweat and unwashed clothes; from their mouths came the stench of rotting teeth, from their bellies that of onions, and from their bodies, if they were no longer very young, came the stench of rancid cheese, and sour milk and tumorous disease.  (page 3)

Grenouille born in this stink, is not an attractive character either. Having no odour of his own but a highly developed sense of smell, he is a strange character to say the least. On the trail of an elusive but exquisite smell he tracks it down to a young girl and kills her to possess  her scent for himself.

Peter Ackroyd is quoted on the back cover:

A meditation on the nature of death, desire and decay.

I’m reserving judgement for the time being.

10 thoughts on “Sunday Salon

  1. Margaret – Thanks for sharing your perspective thus far on these books. Interesting that they both feature characters you find unsympathetic. I’ll be interested to read what you think when you’re done…


  2. I finally took ‘Eden’s Outcasts’ back to the library yesterday having come to the same conclusion as you and feeling that I couldn’t justify keeping it any longer should there be someone else who wanted to read it. At least now I don’t feel such a failure.


  3. Margaret, everything I’ve read about Bronson Alcott makes me know that I would find him tiresome in the extreme. Last year, I read the novel THE LOST SUMMER OF LOUISA MAY ALCOTT by Kelly O’Connor McNees. She did her research on the Alcott family very thoroughly and Bronson was annoying to me. Never wanted to work and had crackbrain ideas that he subjected his family to. Somehow everything always worked best for him and pretty awful for them. At least that’s how I saw it. 🙂


  4. Bronson Alcott was certainly a strange and selfish man who seemed to feel the women in the family were simply there to do his bidding. I think he meant well, but . . .

    As for Perfume, I know writers are supposed to remember to add sound and smell to description but this reeks. Very odd premise for a mystery novel.


  5. I find it interesting that the “real” version of LMA’s father is so different from the one she portrayed in her fiction.

    I guess that when writers embellish their characters that are based on real people, they sometimes cast them in a golden glow.


  6. Loved the Emerson quote and your response to it 🙂
    Hopefully you’ll get more on Louisa as I assume that’s why you chose the book in the first place.


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