Monday, May 16, 2011

Hawthorne or Alcott?

When my husband and I went to Boston for the weekend, we hiked on the Battle Trail--a 5.5 mile trail that marks the path taken by British soldiers marching from Boston to Concord.

It's a gorgeous trail in early May, especially if you're coming from Maine, where green hasn't yet asserted itself as the dominant spring color. All the trees along the trail are arrayed in the vivid greens of brand new leaves, and the meadows are covered in spring wildflowers. It's a feast for my winter weary eyes. We pass tourists and joggers, and one incredibly tough woman jogging uphill while pushing two children in a stroller.

On the map of the Battle Trail, it mentions a place called The Wayside, where you can visit the home of authors Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott and Margaret Sidney. I love Louisa May Alcott, and so we decided to stop there. I was expecting a little neighborhood--and I thought how incredible that one neighborhood could boast of so many famous authors. But it wasn't one neighborhood. It was one house. Seriously. The Wayside is the name of a home that was originally built in 1717. And not only famous authors lived there. Samuel Whitney was living there in 1775. He was the Muster Master for the Concord Minutemen during the Revolutionary War, and munitions were hidden in this house.

 Bronson Alcott bought the house from him and named it The Hillside. I never thought that I had much of a problem distinguishing fiction from reality, but as I looked around the house, I couldn't figure out exactly where Teddy's grandfather's mansion would have been. To the left of the home were paths through a woods that had been there since before Louisa's time, and to the right was an old barn. Teddy couldn't have looked through his window to spy on the March's house. O.K. Melanie! No matter how similar Louisa's personality was to Jo March, it doesn't make Little Women an exact autobiography. Get over it.

Nathaniel Hawthorne bought the home from the Alcotts for $1,500. After buying the house, Hawthorne wrote, "Mr Alcott... had wasted a good deal of money in fitting it up to suit his own taste—all of which improvements I get for little or nothing. Having been much neglected, the place is the raggedest in the world but it will make, sooner or later, a comfortable and sufficiently pleasant home."[1] Nathaniel renamed it "The Wayside" 'because it stood so close to the road that it could have been mistaken for a coach stop.' Doesn't he sound like a pleasant fellow?

Daniel and Harriet Lothrop bought the house in 1883. Harriet Lothrop used the pen name Margaret Sidney, which didn't mean anything to me until a few minutes ago when I was doing a little research for this blog post. Margaret Sidney is the author of Five Little Peppers and How They Grew! I love that book! What an awesome thing to find out the author wrote it while living in Louisa May Alcott's house.

I loved seeing the home and thinking about its unique history. Look at this picture though:

Notice how Nathaniel Hawthorne's name is written in big block letters? Humph.

My husband says I need to reread The Scarlet Letter before I say this, but in my opinion, Louisa May Alcott's work is so much more important to our society today than Nathaniel Hawthorne's books are. His works are definitely valuable! Yikes, I don't want to start that battle. But Louisa May Alcott is a voice our children need to read today, to be transported back to a time when people spent time with each other and played together.

I wish I knew how old this sign was, and why his name is so much larger than hers. I suppose he may have been much more famous at some point in his life. But is he now? Or maybe it was because he was a man. Or maybe my perception is just skewed.

What do you think?

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