Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Eight Cousins

I just finished re-reading Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott. It’s one of those books that I can come back to after six months or maybe a year and enjoy reading it just as much as the first time. I’m sure I have read it at least three times, and every time I read it, new things jump out at me.

Eight cousins is the story of Rose, an orphan who goes to live on ‘aunt hill’, so named because of her six aunts who all live there near each other. She also has eight cousins, all boys, and most of the stories are about Rose’ friendship with them and the adventures and trials they have. Her guardian is Uncle Alec, a single man who had been a sailor for years, which makes me wonder where he got his knowledge of how to raise children! He is extremely wise and teaches Rose to be a modest and thoughtful young lady.

One thing I noticed reading it this time was a mystery about Uncle Alec’s relationship to Rose’ deceased mother.

"As he spoke, Dr. Alec turned his back abruptly and affected to be examining the pictures again; but the aunts understood how dear the child was to the solitary man who had loved her mother years ago, and who now found his happiness in cherishing the little Rose who was so like her."

How could I have not noticed this before! Uncle Alec was in love with Rose’ mother? Did she love him back? Why did she marry his brother? This brings a whole new meaning to the passage at the beginning when Rose first meets Uncle Alec.

He says,

"It is my fault that I am a stranger to you, when I want to be your best friend. That is one of my mistakes, and I never repented it more deeply than I do now. Your father and I had a trouble once, and I thought I could never forgive him; so I kept away for years. Thank God, we made it all up the last time I saw him, and he told me then, that if he was forced to leave her he should bequeath his little girl to me as a token of his love. I can't fill his place, but I shall try to be a father to her; and if she learns to love me half as well as she did the good one she has lost, I shall be a proud and happy man."

This makes me think that what they quarreled over was the fact that they were in love with the same woman. There is a whole story there that is just hinted at in this one. I wish Louisa May Alcott had left us more clues than that. I want to know what happened between them.

If I’m right about this, it changes the story for me. Uncle Alec is not just a two-dimensional character. He is the hero of a tragic story with a bittersweet ending. He lost the woman he loved to his brother, and spent years alone at sea. Now he gets a second chance when he forgives his brother and cares for Rose as his own daughter. Rose is named for her mother, and it mentions in the book that she ‘…inherits her mother’s sensitive nature.’

I think someone should write a prequel about Uncle Alec’s story.



Lindsey said...

Have you read Rose in Bloom? It's the sequel to Eight Cousins and hints just a bit more about the situation, but not much...

Jane said...

Yeah! I read that book years ago, I couldn't remember whether it was mentioned, thanks. I loved that book. I will have to read that again next.

Im a gal.. so what?? said...

Hey... That was beautiful thing you wrote and yeah even I want a prequel because I also want to know the whole history. I do want to know what happened between George and Alec but more interestingly I want to find out what kind of advances did Alec make to Rose's mother and how did she reply. Thank you so much for clearing my doubts. :D

- Mimi