Book: Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott
Genre: Realistic Fiction (Classic)
This is a bit late, but this weekend was busy–two days, two Jane Austen events. Life among my chosen people was great, but didn’t allow much time for writing!
As I often do, I reread my Louisa May Alcott books this year, and as I’ve done for the past two years, I added a new one to the mix. This year’s addition was Rose in Bloom, the sequel to Eight Cousins.
Rose picks up a few years after Cousins leaves off. Rose, Uncle Alec, and Phebe have just returned from spending the last few years abroad. On the edge of adulthood, Rose is about to come into her sizable inheritance and must decide how she is to spend it and her life. For example, should she be philanthropic like Uncle Alec, or should she be a belle like her friend Kitty?
Rose is not the only one who has grown up since we last left her. Cousin Archie has gone into the family business; Charlie dabbles in the arts and studying law, but much prefers to waste time and money; Steve busies himself with being an ornament to society; Mac has decided to study medicine; Will and Geordie attend a military academy, and Jamie is now a schoolboy.
Rose is a mixture of idealism and reality. She is incredibly high-minded, thanks to being brought up by Uncle Alec, but she also just wants to have fun, like any girl her age. Part of that fun, naturally, includes romance.
Charlie has always been much taken with Rose, and now that they are both grown up, he is ready for his admiration to turn into sentiment. The aunts are all much pleased with this development. For one thing, all of Rose’s money will stay in the family. For another, principled Rose is just what wayward Charlie needs to keep him on the straight and narrow.
A great deal of the book is devoted to the Charlie question. In fact, this idea of depending on a woman to keep a man from popular evils is hardly a new theme in Miss Alcott’s work. And indeed, Miss Alcott’s message on this topic from story to story does not vary—a woman might keep a good man steady, but she cannot save an errant one from himself. This novel is no different in that Charlie, while professing love for Rose and promising to mend his ways, chooses his vices over Rose’s healthy and upright influence and eventually pays the ultimate price.
Like all of Miss Alcott’s works that I have read, Rose in Bloom is highly moral, occasionally crossing the line into preachy-ness. I imagine that this Rose story, even more so than Cousins, is not extremely popular today. I however, have a high regard for it. Then again, I have always been a little out of touch with trends du jour. I don’t drink, I believe in healthy living and modesty (for boys and girls as well as their grown up counterparts), and for my money a little propriety never hurt anyone. But young girls, wanting to emulate teenagers wanting to emulate college girls wanting to emulate the Sex and the City style female won’t get this book. Too bad.
One refreshing thing I did realize while reading about Rose’s struggles is that the conflict of innocence verses worldliness is hardly a twentieth century creation. Certainly I didn’t think that everyone before 1900 behaved as the Victorian ideal. But I always have this tendency to think that overall, most people in the past lived more restrained lives and the party-going crowd was smaller than today. I’m beginning to doubt this. The high-fliers may have had different ways of letting loose than today, but their antics were still popular, still what most people tended to do. In other words, I would have been as out of it then as I am today.
So yes, I am a Rose rather than a Kitty, and I would choose a Mac rather than a Charlie. Some things stand the test of time.