In this third Young Ladies Literary Tea, we returned to Alcott. In an unplanned twist, our general Eight Cousins book club got upgraded to a Young Ladies Literary Tea for the Rose Campbell books. Alcott’s writing is so safe that I decided to convert this to one of our teas because I knew that it would be gentle enough for my youngest little ladies to join in. And so, by popular demand, we read Eight Cousins and Rose In Bloom and had one of our best book club discussions to date!
Returning to the home of my friend Giovanna, I arrived to find the table was set with a grownup table cloth. Two of the girls provided bread they baked themselves (like Rose learned to do in Eight Cousins). Another family brought 16 unique tea cups that made the table oh so elegant. I brought a Black Forest Tea that is absolutely delicious with a small stir-in of honey. (The tea was a gift from my reading buddy, Jennifer Halverson, so I took special joy in sharing it with my book club ladies while I told them about how Jen and I read together.) My sweet friend, Giovanna, spent the entire club keeping our teacups filled with hot tea and our plates full of scrumptious bread, butter, and homemade jam. It was a feast for the senses and made us all feel a little more like kindred friends.
The Rose Campbell stories are probably my favorite Alcott stories because there is so much goodness to feast on. Rose is flawed and realistic. Mac is eccentric and lovable. Phebe is enchanting. Uncle Alec is one of the best characters in all of Alcott. Aunt Jessie is a woman of grace and virtue. The boys are boyishly delightful. The old aunts are tender-hearted even when a bit misguided. My girls almost universally elected Uncle Alec the real hero of the story, and he claimed second if not first place in all of their hearts. Most, but not all of my readers are homeschooled, so there was great sympathy for the educational reform that Uncle Alec was affecting. The girls thought him to be a most trustworthy character.
In nearly all of our clubs the girls are quick to point out when a character is not believable. This Alcott story satisfied them because they thought that most of the characters were fairly realistic, if a bit romanticized. They loved Rose for her simple and loving ways. They loved Mac because they all have a brother or friend like him. They sympathized with Charlie’s struggles even though they blame him for his situation. We had a hearty discussion about the need to make good decisions and the need to keep your body, spirit, and soul in good order so that you can choose wisely.
This conversation needed little prompting. Nonetheless, here are some of the questions we pondered:
- Was Charlie doomed to be a problem child? If so, why?
- Why were the aunts so committed to treatments that were so unhealthy?
- Why did Phebe have to leave, and was her return right for the story?
- Being Catholic, we know a lot of families with seven or more children… were these characters more like a collection of small families or more like one large family? If one family, what role does birth order play in the way personalities develop?
- As Catholics, we talked about Charlie’s final scenes and were particularly grateful for the way our Church treats a situation like that.
- Since Catholic Canon Law forbids the marrying of biologically related first and second cousins, the girls were shocked that not all other churches taught the same, and that in Alcott’s time it was very common for first cousins to marry.
- Alcott’s reference to the Madonna and her inclusion of saint cards piqued our interest. We talked about the fact that Alcott was not Catholic, but that in Little Women she has a similar scene with Amy March. We thought that was interesting.
We have an entire series on the Young Ladies Literary Teas. You can find them here.