On November 21, the Concord Bookshop had another great event with strong local interest – Richard Francis spoke on his latest work of non-fiction, Fruitlands: The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia. Fruitlands was established by Bronson Alcott and the Englishman Charles Lane in the mid-1840s on the Wyman Farm near Harvard, Mass.
This short-lived (only seven months) utopian experiment was derived from the tenets of Transcendentalism – the group lived communally as a “consociate family,” owned no personal property, ate a vegan diet (and wore only linen clothes and canvas shoes, for various philosophical reasons), and intended to grow all they needed to eat, and to make all they needed to live.
Fruitlands failed for many reasons, several of which Francis touched upon in his very engaging presentation and Q&A with the audience. His work encompasses not only the seven months at Fruitlands, but also the historic and political climate that created the impetus for the move, and the fallout after its failure.
Louisa May Alcott wrote about Fruitlands in her thinly-veiled autobiographical novella, Transcendental Wild Oats. I have yet to read this, nor have I visited theFruitlands Museum; it’s only about 20 minutes from me, and I plan to make it a priority to visit next Spring. After all, if Richard Francis can come over from England to research and write about this community, I can drive a bit up Route 2!
The author’s background is very interesting – he writes both fiction and non-fiction; much of his non-fiction is centered on topics about people and movements in New England (Ann Lee, the founder of the Shakers, and Samuel Sewall, a judge in the Salem Witch Trials are two of his subjects). Take a peek at Richard Francis’ website with information about his life and his work.
Fruitlands was published by Yale University Press in October 2010; the October 29 issue of the Wall Street Journal has a very favorable review. I did purchase a signed copy of Fruitlands - the cover illustration makes me want to snuggle in with it during one of our winter snowstorms!