Eden’s Outcasts (notes?)

Eden’s Outcasts
by John Matteson
2008 / p’back 497 pages
Rating – 9

Well it looks like I’m rereading this for the All-nonfiction group.  I read it back in 2009 and can’t find my review but I do remember enjoying it quite a lot.  It was a self-select back then.  It’s quite good – enjoy.

Bronson was a strange man – I’m fascinated but I don’t know as I would have liked him much.  He’d be okay to visit or to be friendly with,  to watch and maybe talk about,   but any closer than that I’d want to shake him and tell him to ” be practical – realistic!!!”  At least until toward the end.

Prologue – just kind of sets the stage for the people we will meet – Amos Bronson,   Abigail,  Louisa.  And Matteson gives a broad-outline of the material so the reader is not just plopped into the biography proper.  There seems to be no “goal” other than to re-introduce an important thinker of our history.

Chapter 1 –  Bronson’s childhood,  early influences,  peddling,  religious influences, attempts at schools,  meeting and marrying Abigail.

The educational influences are interesting to me – that’s the way I would like to teach but with today’s standards there is no time – the troubles with parents seemed very familiar.

Chapter 2 –  A Birthday in Germantown
Bronson’s educational ideas – rather like extreme holistic practices of the 1980s – according to development,  a classroom with the atmosphere of a literate family, the teacher using a kind of Socratic method.  Moral teaching imperative with Christ’s parables as guide. Teacher exemplifies love and is a fellow traveler – perhaps a “facilitator” at most.   Abba gives birth to Anna –  Bronson is determined to make a perfect environment for a perfect child.  He experimented using his methods.   I think in general his ideas were good but it’s important not to take it too far or it’s just pampering with the caregivers learning patience and tolerance and fortitude and certainly not the child.

I just kept reading and am up to Chapter 10.   Bronson was a totally idealistic man whose ego way outstripped any practicality or concern for those around him.   His little family utopia at Fruitlands failed in large part because of impatience and extremist ideas.  He pays close attention to the raising of his daughters,  Louisa and the others.  Abba gets most of  the credit for keeping the family together.  After Fruitlands failed Bronson had a breakdown and could no longer really “work”  but conducted “conversations” instead – these brought in some money but not enough.  Abba did what she could but she was also forever helping anyone in need.  They got smallpox.   Lizzy dies and Anna marries.  Louisa started writing stories for publication.   They moved to Concord,  out to a farm,  back to Concord and finally Orchard House.

The business about John Brown is interesting.  Bronson is able to simply do what he has to do.  But he reveres Brown a bit too much in the name of humanity he accepts the violence.

The theme of the book is in large part the relationship between Bronson and Louisa and to this point he’s mostly been disappointed and frustrated with her – she’s not as moldable as Anna and she’s so high strung.  But in Chapter 11 we get to witness their pride in each other.   She works like a maniac (and I suppose he identifies with that) while he has succeeded at the Concord school.

When war breaks out,  Bronson becomes enamored of war and Louisa goes to serve in a hospital in Washington DC.

And then Louisa comes home very ill with mercury poisoning but doesn’t know that’s what it is.  She  pushes herself to write Little Women which turns out to be a best seller – She goes to Europe and returns to write Little Men.  She’s also working on her adult fiction at the time – and becoming more and more of what we call a “feminist.”   Jo in Little Women has copped out of  defying society and marries but … not the one society would pick.

Bronson is happy,  working at what he can.  And the story follows them through the deaths of Marmee,  Anna and May to their own successes and final days.


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