American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever
Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work

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Even the most devoted readers of nineteenth-century American literature often assume that the men and women behind the masterpieces were as dull and staid as the era's static daguerreotypes. Susan Cheever's latest work, however, brings new life to the well-known literary personages who produced such cherished works as The Scarlet Letter, Moby-Dick, Walden, and Little Women. Rendering in full color the tumultuous, often scandalous lives of these volatile and vulnerable geniuses, Cheever's dynamic narrative reminds us that, while these literary heroes now seem secure of their spots in the canon, they were once considered avant-garde, bohemian types, at odds with the establishment.

These remarkable men and women were so improbably concentrated in placid Concord, Massachusetts, that Henry James referred to the town as the "biggest little place in America." Among the host of luminaries who floated in and out of Concord's "American Bloomsbury" as satellites of the venerable intellect and prodigious fortune of Ralph Waldo Emerson were Henry David Thoreau -- perpetual second to his mentor in both love and career; Louisa May Alcott -- dreamy girl and ambitious spinster; Nathaniel Hawthorne -- dilettante and cad; and Margaret Fuller -- glamorous editor and foreign correspondent.

Perhaps inevitably, given the smallness of the place and the idiosyncrasies of its residents, the members of the prestigious circle became both intellectually and romantically entangled: Thoreau serenaded an infatuated Louisa on his flute. Vying with Hawthorne for Fuller's attention, Emerson wrote the fiery feminist love letters while she resided (yards away from his wife) in his guest room. Herman Melville was, according to some, ultimately driven mad by his consuming and unrequited affection for Hawthorne.

Far from typically Victorian, this group of intellectuals, like their British Bloomsbury counterparts to whom the title refers, not only questioned established literary forms, but also resisted old moral and social strictures. Thoreau, of course, famously retreated to a plot of land on Walden Pond to escape capitalism, pick berries, and ponder nature. More shocking was the group's ambivalence toward the institution of marriage. Inclined to bend the rules of its bonds, many of its members spent time at the notorious commune, Brook Farm, and because liberal theories could not entirely guarantee against jealousy, the tension of real or imagined infidelities was always near the surface.
Susan Cheever reacquaints us with the sexy, subversive side of Concord's nineteenth-century intellectuals, restoring in three dimensions the literary personalities whose work is at the heart of our national history and cultural identity.

About Susan Cheever

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Susan Cheever is the author of both nonfiction and fiction works, including My Name is Bill, Note Found in a Bottle, As Good As I Could Be, Home Before Dark, and Treetops. She is the director of the Yaddo Corporation, and has received the Associated Press Award, the Boston Globe's Winship Medal, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She lives in New York City. Tavia Gilbert, a multiple Audie Award nominee and AudioFile Earphones and Parent's Choice Award-winning producer, narrator, and writer, has appeared on stage and in film. School Library Journal has called the performances of this highly acclaimed performer "as close as you can get to a full cast narration with a solo voice." She has narrated nearly 150 multicast and solo voice audiobooks.
Published December 19, 2006 by Simon & Schuster. 252 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction, Biographies & Memoirs, Business & Economics. Non-fiction

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It’s also hard to take seriously the arguments of someone who writes so sloppily: Cheever labels John Brown a “violent murderer,” and favors us with such overripe passages as a bodice-ripping evocation of “the madness that envelops lovers on hot summer nights.” Despite the best intentions, this ...

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Publishers Weekly

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This beguiling book is Cheever's exploration of the extraordinary cross-fertilization of creativity in Concord, Mass., during the mid-19th century, when Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne and the Alcotts lived as neighbors there.

Sep 25 2006 | Read Full Review of American Bloomsbury: Louisa M...

USA Today

There were times when I felt like I was walking beside the flaky if brilliant Thoreau or sitting with Alcott in her room as she struggled with mercury poisoning and wrote Little Women.Her Emerson is an minence grise who becomes the town's sugar daddy, keeping his friends Bronson Alcott (Louisa's ...

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20Something Reads

A time to re-discover reading for pleasure - and FINALLY - read what you want.”

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Bookmarks Magazine

Matthew Price Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 of 5 Stars "Cheever re-examines the [Concord] setting through a blurry 21st-century lens of psycho-sexuality, conventional feminist politics and a dose of leaden personal memoir all couched in travel-story prose usually found in Yankee magazine."

Aug 21 2007 | Read Full Review of American Bloomsbury: Louisa M...

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