The name of my blog is taken from a line in a novel by Louisa May Alcott, Work: A Story of Experience. When people asked what the book was about, I’d have to confess, “I haven’t yet read it, but I understand it’s a thinly-veiled account of LMA’s experience as a nurse during the Civil War.”
It was gnawing at me that I hadn’t read the book, the inspiration for She is Too Fond of Books. I also wanted to settle the debate: I’ve seen both “… and it has addled her brain” and “… and it has turned her brain.” Which was it? I was convinced that Alcott wouldn’t have used the simple “turned” when such a fun word as “addled” was available. It was time to find out.
Our local library had this copy of Work: A Story of Experience in the stacks. I’ve very surprised it’s in circulation! It’s a rebound early edition; this rectangle of leather on the cover and everything inside the endpapers is original.
The title page shows it was published by Roberts Brothers in 1892 (again, I’m shocked that this is in circulation!). According to Wikipedia, Roberts Brothers was a bookbinding firm; they were bought by Little Brown in 1898.
Isn’t this dedication page sweet!? To my mother, whose life has been a long labor of love, this book is gratefully inscribed by her daughter.
Work is a delight! I’ll save most of my comments for a full review, but let me tell you, Louisa May Alcott never ceases to impress me with her wit, her sometimes stinging remarks, and her fairly unusual (for her time) characterization of smart and strong women. I’m about halfway through the novel, reading in bits and pieces between other books I’m juggling. It’s the story of Christie, an orphan raised by her aunt and uncle; at age 21 she sets out to find her place in the world, not content to marry a local boy or teach school for the low wages offered to women.
She stumbles her way into a number of occupations, including seamstress, companion, governess, and actress. Early on, she is hired as a servant, household help to a pampered couple. Here’s where she is too fond of books comes in, I’ve excerpted here, with several ellipses:
… Mr. and Mrs. Stuart spent their evenings in chasing that bright bubble called social success, and usually came home rather cross because they could not catch it.
On one of these occasions they received a warm welcome, for, as they approached the house, smoke was seen issuing from the attic window, and flames flickering behind the half-drawn curtain. Bursting out of the carriage with his usual impetuosity, Mr. Stuart let himself in and tore upstairs shouting “Fire!” like an engine company.
In the attic Christie was discovered lying dressed upon her bed … A book had slipped from her hand, and in falling had upset the candle on a chair beside her; the long wick leaned against a cotton gown hanging on the wall, and a greater part of Christie’s wardrobe was burning brilliantly.
“I forbade her to keep the gas lighted so late, and see what the deceitful creature has done with her private candle!” cried Mrs. Stuart …
… Sitting up [Christie] looked dizzily about her. … Mr. Stuart with an excited countenance was dancing frantically on a heap of half-consumed clothes pulled from the wall … skipping among the fragments with an agility which contrasted with his stout figure in full evening costume, and his besmirched face, made the sight irresistibly ludicrous.
Mrs. Stuart, though in her most regal array, seemed to have left her dignity downstairs with her opera cloak, for with skirts gathered closely about er, tiara all askew, and a face full of fear and anger, she stood upon a chair and scolded like any shrew.
The comic overpowered the tragic, and being a little hysterical with the sudden alarm, Christie broke into a peal of laughter that sealed her fate.
“Look at her! look at her!” cried Mrs. Stuart gesticulating on her perch as if about to fly. “She has been at the wine, or lost her wits. … She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.”
There you have it; mystery solved. She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain. Addled or turned, I consider Christie a kindred spirit. At the wine, lost her wits, too fond of books… are these phrases synonymous?!