November 11, 1852

alcott_lou

Louisa May Alcott

(1832 – 1888)

Thursday Nov 11th

Ann & Catharine has cleaned the shed chamber

and sitting room chamber & I have been 

putting draws & closets in order.

Mr Ames & self at Olivers to tea  Mr &

Mrs Swain & Mrs Meader there

Commenced Susan an Angola yarn stocking

 

For Evelina, this was a productive day. Her servants, Ann Shinkwin and Catharine Murphy, cleaned the shed and the sitting room, while she herself reorganized “draws & closets”. She must have felt quite satisfied having put two key rooms in order. Come evening, she and her husband went next door to tea where they visited not only with the Oliver Ameses, but also with Ann and John Swain and Ann’s mother, Sarah Bliss Meader. Mrs. Meader was from Nantucket; she must have been visiting in the wake of the death of little John Swain.

For Louisa May Alcott, a 19th century author who should need no introduction, this was an important day. Some literary sources have it that Miss Alcott, using the name “Flora Fairfield,” published her first story, The Rival Painters: A Story of Rome, on this exact date, when the author was barely twenty years old. However, closer examination suggests that The Rival Painters first appeared back on May 8 in The Olive Branch, a periodical published in Boston from 1836 through 1857.  A second story, easily confused with the first, was The Rival Prima Donnas, which was published on this date in 1854 in The Saturday Evening Gazette, earning the author five dollars.

Regardless of the scholastic disagreement over the first appearance in print of Louisa May Alcott, we can imagine that Evelina was exposed to her writing at various times from this year onward. Surely Evelina read other short stories and novels by this increasingly famous author. If she developed an affection for the author’s work, Evelina would have read Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys and been as familiar with the triumphs and travails of the March family as devoted readers still are 160 years later.

*A fine resource for readers wanting to know more about Louisa May Alcott is “Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women,” by Harriet Reisen, New York, 2009.

 

 

March 30, 1852

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

1852

March 30th  Tuesday  Spent the forenoon puttering about

the house doing nothing at all.  Have been to

carry Orinthia to Mrs John Howards.  Mrs S Ames

went with us and we called at Mrs Reed, Whitwell

J. Howard  Mrs Merrill and Mrs Hills  Mrs Ames

stoped here to tea and spent the evening.  Louisa

Swan was at home and Ann Johnson.  Augusta called

Hannah called for a moment this forenoon

Apparently, there was no sewing today; perhaps Evelina’s fingers were sore from working the heavy moreen fabric the day before. She hardly seemed to mind “doing nothing at all,” however, and gave the afternoon over entirely to calling, an occupation she enjoyed. She, her sister-in-law Sarah Lothrop Ames, and guest Orinthia Foss called on Caroline Howard, Abigail Reed, Eliza Whitwell, Mrs. Merrill and Mrs. Hills. They may have called on some younger fellow Unitarians, too: Louisa Swan (daughter of Dr. Caleb Swan) and Ann Johnson.

Calling was an essential component of social life in the 19th century, as we’ve noted before.  Some women thrived on it, others only tolerated it, but just about every woman exercised the obligation to call on their friends and neighbors, as due. In Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, “Little Women,” an entire chapter is devoted to two of the March sisters, Amy and Jo, making calls. Amy enjoyed them, but had to persuade Jo to join her:

“Now put on all your best things, and I’ll tell you how to behave at each place, so that you will make a good impression.  I want people to like you, and they would if you’d only try to be a little more agreeable. Do your hair the pretty way, and put the pink rose in your bonnet; its becoming, and you look too sober in your plain suit.  Take your light kids and the embroidered handkerchief. […]

“Jo […] sighed as she rustled into her new organdie, frowned darkly as she tied her bonnet strings in an irreproachable bow, wrestled viciously with pins as she put on her collar, wrinkled up her features generally as she shook the handkerchief, whose embroidery was as irritating to her nose as the present mission was to her feelings; and when she had squeezed her hands into tight gloves with two buttons and a tassel, as the last touch of elegance, she turned to Amy with an imbecile expression of countenance, saying meekly, –

“‘I’m perfectly miserable; but if you consider me presentable, I die happy.'”*

*Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

November 2, 1851

IMG_0540

1851

Sunday Nov 2d  This has been a stormy day, but this evening

has cleared off pleasant  I have been to meeting all

day & went to Mrs John Howards at noon with

Lavinia & Mother  Mr Ames came home at noon and it rained

so hard that he did not go back.  Mr Whitwell

gave us two fine sermons.  Mr Ames & self passed

the evening at Augustus.  Have made an agreement

which I hope we shall both be careful to keep.

At the end of this rainy, chilly Sunday at the start of November, “the most disagreeable month in the whole year,” according to the fictional Margaret March, eldest of Louisa May Alcott’s four sisters in “Little Women,” our non-fictional Evelina and her husband, Oakes, reached an important decision.  Unfortunately, we don’t know what that decision was.

Surely this entry is one of the most tantalizing in Evelina’s diary. She and Oakes “made an agreement” that she hoped they’d “both be careful to keep.”  What did they decide? What promises did they exchange? Oakes had been away from home a great deal lately; did their discussion stem from that? Was this the moment when Oakes determined to become involved in regional politics? Would he have needed Evelina’s approval?  If this was the case, what might he have asked of her, or offered her in exchange?

Or was the decision less historic and more pedestrian? Did their discussion have anything to do with domestic arrangements or the recent spending on the house? Were they going to exercise more prudent care of their “accounts,” as Evelina calls them? Did their agreement have something to do with their children? Did it stem from something Reverend Whitwell said in one of his “fine sermons”? What was this agreement?

And were they able to keep it?