Saturday, April 23, 2011

orchard house

I posted this on my personal blog but I thought BRG readers might be interested in it too. Because last week, I ventured out and saw something that has been long on my "to do" list. I went to Orchard House!

Orchard House? What is that, you ask? Does this help?

Yes, it was the home of Louisa May Alcott, the author of one of my most memorable childhood books, Little Women!

I live only 40 minutes away from this historical site, but until this spring I had never visited. Now I no longer have to hang my head in shame.

It was a great fun. I admit don't love Little Women as much as I love Anne of Green Gables (my trip to PEI does still rank a bit higher) but it was rather awe-inspiring to be walking through the same rooms where such classic literature had been written.

They didn't allow any photos to be taken in the house, but in the gift shop they did sell..Graces! To be honest, I'm not sure what these were, exactly.

And I did get to peek into the Concord School of Philosophy, established by Mr. Alcott who had some good ideas (like schools should have recess) and some wacky ones (like trying to exist on only plants that reached to the sky--so it went beyond vegan, no potatoes or carrots--the family had to almost starve before he gave that one up):
But of course it was Louisa May and the parallels of her life and Little Women that interested me the most. Our guide was quite knowledgeable and everything she told us was fascinating.

For example, all the characters of Little Women were based on Louisa May's family. However, she changed all the names (even her own for, of course Jo was based on herself) except for Beth. Beth had already died when Louisa wrote Little Women and she couldn't bear to write her differently. She wanted the character of Beth to be as exactly as she remembered her sister, name and all.

The other thing I found gratifying was the real life story of the character of Amy, based on Louisa's sister May. I've had issues with Amy, (probably because I felt she was the sister I had the most in common with) and it was nice to hear that all the money and effort that the family poured into May's art education was not in vain.

She never became a great master artist of her own name (the first edition of Little Women was illustrated by her but received negative reviews), but she was the teacher and the key reason that Daniel Chester French became an artist and sculptor. According to the guide, everyone thought Daniel Chester French was a loser but May stepped in and said he was an artist and taught him...the tools he used to sculpt Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial were the ones May Alcott gave to him.
Pretty neat, huh?

All in all, it was a great time and the perfect way to spend a spring day! Go if you have the chance.

Now I'm off to reread my copy of Little Women...


Naomi Canale said...

That's so neat, I didn't know such a place existed. I love Little Women! The best part was how May stepped in and said Chester was an artist and taught him. And the tools he used to sculpt Lincoln were the ones May Alcott gave to him, WOW (My favorite part)

Kristine Asselin said...

This post reminds me I have to go again! I only live 20 minutes from here, and it's such a great place to visit. Hmmm, maybe I should read Little Women again, wonder if my daughter is up for it yet...

Lynda Shoup said...

I enjoyed your post about the Orchards, a place I find inspiring.

The packages they sold in the gift shop were probably a game called "graces". It consists of two dowels and a hoop. First you cross the sticks inside the hoop and pull them apart quickly. This launches the hoop up into the air. The object is to then be able to catch the hoop on one (or both) of your dowels. Sturbridge Village has sets of these out for kids to try. They usually have them by the church and the bakery. You can often get a re-enactor to demonstrate. It's lots of fun. My (limited) understanding is that they used to attach ribbons to the hoop and the game showed off the graceful quality of young ladies catching the hoops. I may be wrong, but that is what I remember.

Hope I didn't ramble too long.

Sheela Chari said...

How interesting! I was JUST talking about Louisa May Alcott with my daughter yesterday on the drive home from Boston! I have family in the area, and this is one place I keep meaning to visit. I was recommending Little Women to my daughter as a book for us to read and thought we could visit the Orchard House in the summer. Thanks for sharing!

Kristin said...

Fascinating, thanks for the tour!

Meghan McCarthy said...

Wow, that house is so dark. I guess that's a typical historic color. What did the inside look like?

Michelle L. Brown said...

This was wonderful! You lucky people to live so close. Thanks for sharing! That's fascinating about May's connection to the Lincoln Memorial.

Glad I found this blog!