By Nicole O’Connell
In this column, Nicole deciphers Victorian cursive and explores old class diaries to see what students were up to in the early days of Worcester State. “Much and Nothing” refers one diarist’s account of a day’s happenings in 1877, but perhaps the sentiment applies more aptly to a multitude of entries.
The class diaries are part of the Apprenticeship Materials in the WSU Archives.
While the Normal School seemed to be constantly receiving guests, no visitor attracted as much attention as the writer, educator, and transcendentalist, Amos Bronson Alcott. In 1876, he came and spoke of a variety of topics, including his daughter, Louisa May Alcott.
On April 7, a student wrote of his visit, “I think what particularly interested us, was what he said about his daughter Louise, whom every one knows as the author of that charming book ‘Little Women.’ I think no one who has read this could fail to have an interest in its author.”
Later 1876 entries mention LMA books being added to the bookshelves and a photograph of her being added to the hall, but the students seemed to especially appreciate her father’s discussion of her. He was someone who knew her; the students’ connection to a beloved piece of literature.
By the time the elder Alcott visited the Normal School in 1876, Little Women had been in print for eight years, giving the students plenty of time to become familiar with its plot. Perhaps the students would have also read LMA’s more-recent novel, Eight Cousins, published in 1875.
While the heroine of Eight Cousins, Rose, may have been a more timely counterpart to the students, she is surrounded by her seven cousins, all young men. Considering the student population at the Normal School was almost all young women, perhaps the students would have related to the characters of Little Women more than Rose.
Both Little Women and Eight Cousins take a rather high moral tone, just as the diaries often do. However, Louisa May Alcott did not just write happy little homilies for children; she also wrote thrillers.
A Long Fatal Love Chase was written in 1866, two years before the March sisters of Little Women. However, the Normal School students did not get the chance to read this tale. A Long Fatal Love Chase was rejected for being “too sensational” and was only eventually published in 1995.
I have shared some sensational tales from the entries before, such as the listless James and his illicit drug trade. However, the diarists only use the word “sensation” one time.
Fittingly, the use appears the same year as many of the Alcott mentions. On April 12 of 1876 it was written, “After lunch nearly all the girls went out to enjoy the warm sunshine; and in our rambles we discovered here and there a bit of grass, but oftener a bit of snow, which suggested a severe conflict between Winter and Spring, but I think Spring has won in the battle. Several of us went over to the cliff that is east of the building and but a short distance, and we wondered while there, if it would be at all prudent to descend, and then climb back, but we thought on the whole we would not put ourselves in a place where we should be likely to make a sensation – if we should suddenly drop about half way up!”
The students considered the possibility of falling down a cliff too sensational to attempt, but in the grand scheme of things, this passage could easily be found in Eight Cousins or Little Women. It doesn’t come close to the stalking, secrets, and peril present in A Long Fatal Love Chase. Yet, it is still interesting to see what was considered “sensational” in the eyes of the past.
As an added note, I was going to write about how thankful we should be that the April 12 entry was not deemed “too sensational” to be published. Yet, even with it’s 1995 publication date, A Long Fatal Love Chase only waited 129 years for publication, while this entry took 143 years to finally see the light of day!