his love for Abba, he did not act on these feelings, and eventually Abbaproposed marriage. At age thirty, they began a married life that affordedgreat intellectual and physical freedoms to one of its parties. LaPlantedemonstrates with passages from Abba’s letters and journals how passionately she believed in her philosopher husband’s brilliance and thenobility of his financial failures (Bronson lost teaching jobs because ofhis unusual practices; he amassed debts wherever the family moved, atendency he never curbed). While Abba supported Bronson in everyway she could, he does not seem to have reciprocated, either emotionallyor materially. LaPlante notes that from the earliest years of their marriage, Bronson frequently lived apart from his wife and children, rentinga room where he could study, while Abba alone tended to their children.
A central premise of LaPlante’s joint biography is that Abba and Louisa were closer than spouses, an intimacy arising from their similar temperaments and often figured as the dynamic between an ailing motherand resourceful child. When Louisa was ten, shortly after Bronsonhad involved the family in his brief communitarian living experiment,Fruitlands, Abba gave Louisa an etching of a mother and daughter. Abbawrote, “‘In my imagination, I have thought you might be just such an industrious good daughter and that I might be a sick but loving mother,looking to my daughter’s labors for my daily bread.’” Abba’s health wassound when she gave Louisa this picture; however, she began to declinein her early fifties, when she held several physically draining jobs. By thetime Louisa achieved her goal of supporting her parents, her mother wassuffering from heart disease and eye troubles, effectively housebound.Meanwhile, the boyishly spry Bronson continued making his annualthree- to six-month western lecture tours until he suffered a stroke at ageeighty-two. Marmee & Louisa doesn’t cast blame upon Bronson for thehardships that the family suffered; LaPlante instead suggests that “Bronson was as restricted as his wife was by traditional gender roles. . . . Hewas constitutionally unable to assume the role of provider that societyexpected a husband to fill.” Rather, Marmee & Louisa builds the argument that all Louisa’s achievements were spurred by her compulsion toprovide her mother with the security so long lacking from the Alcotts’peripatetic lives. Though Abba did not live to see women’s suffrage—in support of which she several times wrote and circulated petitions tothe Massachusetts State Legislature—she was not disappointed by herdaughter. Much has been written by and about Bronson Alcott, vitalmember of the Concord Transcendentalist circle, but Louisa May Alcott