Reading Eight Cousins, by Louisa May Alcott, brought back memories of times spent with my own cousins while I was growing up…and, oh my goodness, I had a lot of cousins! The photo above, which includes my two older brothers, shows 19 of my 48 cousins on my mother’s side! My cousins were my first and forever friends and I always looked forward to spending time with them.
Much of Alcott’s story of Eight Cousins brought back memories of the imagination and the fun, and the comradeship, too, of a group of cousins. In Alcott’s story Rose Campbell is newly orphaned and goes to live with her Aunts at what was affectionately called the “Aunt Hill.” Rose is a sweet girl, both shy and sickly. She is taken underwing (and out from under the oppressive wings of those Aunts), by her Uncle Alec, a doctor with very progressive (for 1875) ideas of how a child should be raised and educated: lots of fresh air, exercise and outdoor play, as well as training to become independent and self-sufficient! The seven cousins that Rose comes to love and admire are all boys ranging in age from 16 to 6, and they learn and play together on their road to becoming good and caring adults.
Rose and her cousins have adventure after adventure, and each time a lesson about life is learned. This is a book my mother would have called “wholesome,” for it is infused with moral lessons and encourages right behavior and right decision-making. In that sense, the style is a little old fashioned, for our moral teachings in children’s literature today may not be as direct or didactic as in Alcott’s stories from the 1800s. But the games, the fun, and the loving relationships are timeless experiences of extended family.
The thing that impressed me the most about this little book, however, was that woven throughout the story was the idea that Rose would become a strong, independent, self-sufficient person. Different family members became her teachers of the important skills needed to become that person. It was certainly a forward-looking attitude for women of that time period.
I have become very interested in Louisa May Alcott and her work. I loved Little Women when I read it as I was growing up, but for some reason never read the rest of her books. I would like to read more of them now because I admire her writing and am fascinated by her own life.