Thursday, April 21, 2011

orchard house

Spring is here! To celebrate, 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...


Cindy said...

Wow, thanks for a great tour! I always did enjoy Little Women, although I'm not sure I could pinpoint a reason why (maybe it was Jo's spunky personality). Have you ever read "The Diamond in the Window" by Jane Langton? It is set in that part of Massachusettes and at one point the main characters visit Orchard House. You might enjoy it... it's one of my favorites.

Logan said...

Those pictures are amazing! I especially love the "Graces" in the Gift Shop. I believe that Graces was a game that involved two people, a hoopand a pair of sticks. The players would stand opposite each other each holding a stick and the hoop would get tossed from one stick to another without touching the ground. This game was supposed to teach girls their "graces" and help them with hand eye coordination. The tour of the site was great by the way . . . as well as your books!

Joyce said...

Loved all the stuff I learned from this post, Grace!

Susan Bailey said...

Enjoyed your post very much. I too live only about 45 minutes from Orchard House but I have visited it many times and love it every time.

I blog about Louisa May Alcott (Louisa May Alcott is My Passion at and have a Facebook page for her as well (see link on blog) - I'm going to post a link to your blog today, I'm sure my readers will enjoy it.

drbethnolan said...

As an Orchard House volunteer I love that you visited and enjoyed your day! You might enjoy coming back for a living history program, too.
And your reader was correct about what "Graces" is.
We love YOUR books, too, at our house! :) -beth

Grace Lin said...

Thanks all for your comments. I'm so glad I went and hope everyone who hasn't gone does so in the future!

Cindy--I'll have to look up the Langton book.
Logan--thanks for the info about the Graces!
Susan--wow-great blog! They should hire you at Orchard House! Maybe commenter drbethnolan can fix you up...
Joyce & drbethnolan-- so glad you enjoyed this post AND my books!

mgudlewski said...

I loved finding out about May's influence on Daniel Chester French. How wonderful that her "talent" had such a lasting effect. The backstory from your Blue Roses Girls post really filled in the details.

Jess Stork said...

I've always loved Little Women. It was so interesting to hear reactions to the tour from an author.

Jeannine Atkins said...

I've loved my visits to Orchard House and seeing that half-moon shaped desk where LMA wrote Little Women. I'm so glad you got to visit and get into a friendlier relationship with May. I like Daniel Chester French for always giving a nod to her; the sculpting tools she gave him are displayed at his studio in the Berkshires, Chesterwood, where you also get to see a small train track he used for dragging his big sculptures out to see in the sun.