Thursday, August 11, 2016

Reading New England: American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever

American Bloomsbury--Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work by Susan Cheever (2006) caught my eye earlier this year at a used book sale. I loved the title, and right away, I knew that a book about the Transcendentalists was something I wanted to read for the nonfiction category of Reading New England over at Emerald City Book Review.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, known as the "sugar daddy" of the group (Cheever's words, not mine), provided the financial means for this group to write as well as places in Concord for them to live. Although Emerson conducted lecture tours at various times in his life to generate income, he was also independently wealthy from the fortune he inherited upon his first wife's death. Emerson made much of this money available to finance the ventures of the Transcendentalists. Emerson's connections and his influence was also invaluable in launching the careers of several of the writers.

Cheever covers a lot of ground in American Bloomsbury, from 1840 through 1868, and she portrays the group as the hippies of their day, thumbing their noses at society. I loved knowing the background on writers' lives, and it was fascinating to read about the relationships between the writers.  

Cheever focuses at length on author and women's' rights advocate Margaret Fuller and her relationships with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Emerson's wife would burst into tears whenever Fuller appeared at the Emerson home where Fuller was a frequent visitor, often staying with the Emersons for weeks at a time. However, Hawthorne's wife, Sophia, treated Fuller as a friend and welcomed her husband's spending time with Fuller so that she could devote her time to her passion as an artist. Fuller's relationship with Emerson did her no good professionally. Fuller was the editor of his literary journal, The Dial, but Emerson refused to pay her the wages that he owed her. Eventually, she moved to Europe, only to die an untimely death in a shipwreck on a trip to the United States.

Although Cheever's narrative is a bit rambling at times, I learned a lot about the Transcendentalists. Cheever's enthusiasm for Concord makes me want to visit and see what the place is like. Also, reading American Bloomsbury has given me an interest in reading the work of Margaret Fuller and the early writings of Louisa May Alcott.    

I would recommend American Bloomsbury to anyone interested in these writers or reading about how the literary movement of the Transcendentalists came to be.

From left to right: Louisa May Alcott; Ralph Waldo Emerson; Margaret Fuller; Nathaniel Hawthorne; and Henry David Thoreau


  1. I enjoyed your review. This is a book I would like to read. Happy Reading!

  2. This does sound fascinating. I keep driving through Concord, but I really need to stop off there for a proper visit.

  3. Hi Fellow RNEer. Nice review. You reminded me that I have this book, so thanks for that! What I know about the Alcotts, you sure could call Emerson their sugar daddy! I think Fuller is an interesting person and I would like to know more about her. If you ever read Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance, the character Zenobia is supposedly based on Fuller.