So I told you that this was going to be eclectic. I actually have been thinking of reviewing something else, but tonight when I got home, pulled this book out of my closet (Because my hall closet has the only shelves available anywhere) (Books are everywhere. Literally) and gave it some thoughtful consideration.
I have a love/hate relationship with Louisa May. Sometimes, if I’m not in the right mood, she bugs me ’cause she’s so damned preachy. Other times, I just adore her, because she does have those high ideals that I aspire to (But never quite reach, because I mean, come on. Who realistically among us is not full of original sin?)
Rose is one of her most privileged heroines. She has everything; good looks, fortune, good friends, the adoration of her hot cousins, and parental figures who dote on her. If she were super good, she’d be insufferable, but she isn’t – quite. She likes having a good time, the admiration of her bad boy cousin Prince Charlie, and she gets a tad jealous and insecure now and then.(I know, I know, cousin?? Eeeeewwww. But this was 1876 and the elite liked to keep those bloodlines pure)
Basically, Louisa May Alcott is writing a coming-of-age story, with the whole focus being Rose. Who will she marry? The audience breathlessly waits for her to wake up and realize that Mac is the only acceptable choice. Charlie seems to hold the field for the first half of the book, but after he (oh, horrors!) gets drunk and tries to woo our innocent Rose, she becomes disillusioned with him and begins to separate herself from him as delicately as a lady knows how. In the meantime, to distract herself and improve her character, she embarks on a series of good deeds and uses her money to help the less fortunate.
I suppose I love this book because Cousin Mac is one of my favorite literary heroes of all time. Well. Not of all time, but he’s definitely in the top five. He’s smart to the point of nerdy professor and he has a very clear, logical mind. But he writes poetry and can discuss Emerson and talk seriously about stuff like his emotions and dreams without sounding all girly. He worships Rose, but thinks he isn’t good enough for her until she clues him in on what her dream-fella might be like.
The whole dialogue between them is wonderful. When I first read it, I fell in love with Mac. I couldn’t help but think of all the times in high school I had nerdy guys confess their undying love for me. If they only had Mac’s confidence, then perhaps my life would be rather different, but none of them did…perhaps they couldn’t…being only high school boys and not men.
Or perhaps nobody ever loved me that much.
So here we are.
Rose has been sorta engaged to Charlie, but, like I said, her heart was never in it. He has died and here we see her explode because the family – especially Mac – insists on seeing her as heartbroken, when she isn’t.
“You will insist on believing that I loved him better than I did!” she cried, with both pain and impatience in her voice, for the family delusion tried her very much at times.
“How could we help it, when he was everything women most admire?” said Mac, not bitterly, but as if he sometimes wondered at their want of insight.
“I do not admire weakness of any sort – I could never love without either confidence or respect. Do me justice to believe that, for I am tired of being pitied.”
She spoke almost passionately, being more excited by Mac’s repressed emotion than she had ever been by Charlie’s most touching demonstration, though she did not know why.
“But he loved you so!” began Mac, feeling as if a barrier had suddenly gone down but not daring to venture in as yet.
“That was the hard part of it! That was why I tried to love him, why I hoped he would stand fast for my sake, if not for his own, and why I found it so sad sometimes not being able to help despising him for his want of courage. I don’t know how others feel, but, to me, love isn’t all. I must look up, not down, trust and honor with my whole heart, and find strength and integrity to lean on. I have had it so far, and I know I could not live without it.”
‘Your ideal is a high one. Do you hope to find it, Rose?” Mac asked, feeling, with the humility of a genuine love, that he could not give her all she desired.
“Yes,” she answered, with a face full of the beautiful confidence in virtue, the instinctive desire for the best which so many of us lose too soon, to find again after life’s great lesson’s are learned. “I do hope to find it, because I try not to be unreasonable and expect perfection. Smile if you will, but I won’t give up my hero yet,” and she tried to speak lightly, hoping to lead him away from a more dangerous topic.
“You’ll have to look a long while, I’m afraid,” and all the glow was gone out of Mac’s face, for he understood her wish and knew his answer had been given.
“I have Uncle to help me, and I think my ideal grew out of my knowledge of him. How can I fail to believe in goodness, when he shows me what it can be and do?”
The two go on in this way for some time and Mac hints that Rose might wait a while before looking for her ‘hero’ and take him ‘on trial’ while she waits. Rose is touched and briefly considers it, but decides that she only feels only compassion for him, and that its no substitute for true love. Hoping to comfort him, Rose says:
“Dear Mac, I cannot give you the love you want, but I do trust and respect you from the bottom of my heart, if that is any comfort,” began Rose, looking up with eyes full of contrition for the pain her reply must give.
She got no further, however, for those last words brought a marvelous change in Mac. Dropping her hands, he stood erect, as if inspired with sudden energy and hope, while over his face there came a bright, brave look, which for the moment made him nobler and a comelier man than ever handsome Prince (Charlie) had been.
“It is a comfort!” he said, in atone of gratitude that touched her very much. “You said your love must be founded on respect, and that you have given me – why can I not earn the rest? I’m nothing now, but everything is possible when one loves with all his heart and soul and strength. Rose, I will be your hero if a mortal man can, even though I have to work and wait for years. I’ll make you love me, and be glad to do it. Don’t be frightened. I’ve not lost my wits – I’ve just found them. I don’t ask anything – I’ll never speak of my hope, but it is no use to stop me. I must try it, and I will succeed!”
With the last words, uttered in a ringing voice while his face glowed, his eyes shone, and he looked as if carried out of himself by the passion that possessed him. Mac abruptly left the room, like one eager to change words to deeds and begin his task at once.”
And of course he does succeed, in the end. And Rose realizes little by little what a swell guy he is, until she doesn’t feel so worthy of him herself. I just love these few pages of the book. Its romantic. Sappy as all get-out. But it touches on a significant truth about love and relationships. What I find missing from most of my experiences when I look back over them. I, myself, don’t really love someone without respecting them first. Nor do I enjoy looking down on potential boyfriends. Integrity and character are super important to me. More so than I usually admit.
And yeah, when you love someone, you should be willing to make yourself a better person for their sake, to really deserve their regard and love, not just have it handed to you because you desire it.
Of course, there are limits and gray areas and all that. But ultimately, I like Alcott because she cuts to the chase. She reminds us – even 100 and some odd years later – the importance of being a good person, a well-developed person, to treat one another with consideration and kindness, and to work hard at the things you do. She reminds us how necessary it is to feel fulfilled in all aspects of life; in one’s work, play, love, and family.