Sizzling scribes in Concord?

Author Susan Cheever adds women to mix

TELEGRAM & GAZETTE
2007

The prolific writer Susan Cheever has penned memoirs, novels and a biography. She has written about her famous father, the novelist and short story writer John Cheever. She has described her own tumultuous life and drawn a vivid portrait of Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

But, Cheever says, no topic has proved as captivating as that of her new nonfiction book “American Bloomsbury Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work.” (Simon & Schuster, $26)

“Of all the books I’ve written, it’s definitely my favorite,” says Cheever, who lives in New York City. “I love these people.”

Cheever’s 223-page volume covers a 25-year period in the mid-19th century when these intellectual and literary giants all lived in Concord, Mass., and produced enduring works of American literature, including “The Scarlet Letter,” “Walden” and “Little Women.” Countless biographies have focused on the lives of the men in this literary circle. By including the women in her joint portrayal, Cheever says she has done something new and changed the dynamic of the story.

“I don’t know why Louisa May Alcott and Margaret Fuller have been marginalized in terms of their impact,” Cheever says. “But I don’t like it.”

In vivid, novelistic prose, Cheever recounts how the members of “the Concord group” fell in and out of love, bolstered each other financially and intellectually and mourned and celebrated together. These are the men and women who developed ideas on environmentalism, feminism, sexuality and education that inform our thinking today.

Cheever writes with verve and humor about their thorny interactions. Hawthorne had an intense relationship with intellectual powerhouse Margaret Fuller while she exchanged love letters with Emerson. Thoreau, who lived with the Emersons for an extended period, fell in love with Emerson’s wife, Lidian. Louisa May Alcott “seems to have been alternatively in love with both Emerson – the intellectual – and Thoreau – the natural man – and this passionate dichotomy is the basis of her novel `Moods,’” the author writes.

“I’ve been criticized for calling Fuller and Hawthorne lovers, but `lovers’ doesn’t mean they had sex,” Cheever says. “I desperately wanted to find some kind of evidence that there had been an affair between Lidian and Thoreau. But it wasn’t there.”

The story winds up in 1868 when Louisa May Alcott sits down to write “Little Women,” a book Cheever feels passionately about. Alcott wrote about the details and concerns of her family’s domestic life. It was a precursor to today’s memoir.

“Grown men should be reading `Little Women’” Cheever avers. “It’s not about the great things. What are the great things? War? Come on.”

In her view, “Little Women” is every bit as much a change agent as many other books in the canon. The memoir, Cheever says, is “a powerful political engine – a voice for the voiceless.”

Cheever will be at Tatnuck Bookseller, 18 Lyman St., Westboro, at 7 p.m. Jan. 22. She will talk about and read from “American Bloomsbury,” answer questions and sign books.

Just the right book has been published for those who love skiing and history. Arcadia Publishing, which has gained fame and earned kudos for its regional history collections, has put out a 128-page pictorial review of the development of skiing in the Bay State, from the early days of the 20th century through the post-war boom, with the introduction of sophisticated ski lifts and snowmaking

“Skiing in Massachusetts” by Cal Coniff and E. John B. Allen, which costs $19.99, is part of Arcadia’s Images of Sports series. The volume includes historical photos and wonderful images of posters and ads for early ski areas, such as Moose Hill, which was 10 miles from Worcester.

The first major boom in skiing coincided with increased transportation opportunities to popular skiing sites. The early ski operator had to be creative and versatile, says Coniff, pointing to the invention of the rope tow to haul people up the slope. Movies glamorized skiing, but photographers and reporters were key to the sport’s development in Massachusetts. “The famed newsman Lowell Thomas broadcast from a number of Massachusetts ski centers,” Coniff writes.

To gather his materials, Coniff, who managed Mount Tom Ski Area in Holyoke for 14 years, scoured the files of historical societies, museums and the libraries of small hill-town newspapers. “Another source not to be ignored were the `old-timer’ skiers, many in their 80s, who were the real trailblazers in the early days of the sport,” says Coniff, who started learning to ski in 1935 as a child growing up in Vermont.

Proceeds from the sales of “Skiing in Massachusetts