Saturday, February 24, 2007

"American Bloomsbury"

Susan Cheever is the bestselling author of twelve books, including five novels and the memoirs Note Found in a Bottle and Home Before Dark.

Her new book is American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work.

Susan applied the "page 69 test" to American Bloomsbury and reported the following:
Page 69 in American Bloomsbury focuses on Hawthorne -- one of five writers profiled in the book during the years between 1840 and 1870.

"Hawthorne was obviously very aware of the power of sex to ruin lives as it does in The Scarlet Letter, and he was also aware of its joys."

The men and women who lived, visited and wrote in Concord, Massachusetts in the years before the Civil War -- they included Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, and Margaret Fuller as well as Henry James, Herman Melville, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Horace Mann -- were a genius cluster of writers and thinkers responsible for most of American literature and for many of the ideas which shape our world today. The critic F.O. Matthiesen once said that all of American literature was written in five years from 1850 to 1855, but what's even more astonishing is that most of it was written by men and women who lived in three houses at a crossroads in Concord, Massachusetts. What was it in that small town which engendered this explosion of creative energy and talent? In exploring this question I found answers -- I also found dozens of intriguing stories about the writers involved.

We often think of these writers as static daguerreotypes, Great Writers whose work was somehow created by a two dimensional 19th century muse, but in fact these men and women fell in and out of love with each other, edited and read each others work, talked about ideas all night and walked arm in arm under Concord's great elms. They were sometimes controlled by the power of sex and always haunted by what might have been. They were the first group of professional writers in America, many of them sober, and many vegetarians. Often called the Transcendentalists, they reinvented everything from the way we think about nature to our definition of God to the institution of marriage.
Read an excerpt from American Bloomsbury and peek at Susan Cheever's favorite books.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.