Poor little Rose has been recently orphaned. Thankfully, “Eight Cousins” isn’t the type of book where someone gets locked in a garret and made to shovel coal. Rather, Rose is taken in by her Uncle, a gentleman sailor & physician recently returned from the sea. Surrounded by a large & rowdy family, Uncle Alec begins to raise Rose as he thinks best befits a little girl- basically, just like her male cousins. No corsets and “lady-like” behavior here! Rose learns to run and play, is comfortable and well-fed, rows a boat and has dozens of adventures with her cousins.
Uncle Alec (and through him, Louisa May Alcott) isn’t at all shy about sharing his opinions, either. “Eight Cousins” is full of little homilies about family and child-rearing, honesty and courage and forthrightness. It comes just shy of being overbearing, but is thankfully saved by the sheer sense of fun in the story. Rose and her seven male cousins are always up to something- play-acting in the country, camping on an island, cavorting and having a fabulous time. They’re joined by Phoebe, the dish-washing maid whom Rose decides to “adopt” as her sister, and the family thus opens their arms to her.
I remember adoring this book as a little girl (mostly wishing that I could also have a fantastic, rich family and fabulous adventures). This time around I still enjoyed it, but I also found myself actually paying attention to some of Alcott’s little rules of life. I’m sure we could all stand to be a little more honest & good in our lives, right?
The story of Rose & her cousins continues in “Rose in Bloom.” I have to admit that I was less impressed with this installment. Rose is a grown woman now, and her moral problems now have more to do with balancing her fortune and the expectations of her social circle. Uncle Alec would prefer that she avoid her peers entirely, but Rose is determined to be a part of it. There’s a definite sense of “poor little rich girl” for large parts of it. Woe is Rose, people like her for her money. Rose’s moral values are also quite a bit stronger than some of her peers, and I felt that she often judged people a bit too harshly. In fact, the entire family seems a bit more harsh and less-than-accepting of people’s faults. Maybe it’s just because the cousins are adults now, and they’re exposed to the more “adult” side of the family, but the story definitely isn’t as sweet as “Eight Cousins.”
If the goal of “Eight Cousins” is to teach us to good people, “Rose in Bloom” serves as a warning: don’t get so caught up in being good that you neglect or reject people because they aren’t as good as you are.