I ticked Rose in Bloom off my VMC list quite near to the start of the project; I never set out to reread books as part of VVV if I had already read them at some point before I began, and I had read both Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom whilst at school. But I hankered after my own copies and was very excited to get Rose in Bloom as part of my Awesome Books loot this week. Particularly as the copy that arrived was in almost pristine condition.
I still didn't plan to reread it, rather just put it onto my bookshelves, particularly as it is the second in a pair of books, but something made me pop it into my bag yesterday. and I'm really glad I did. I started off by skipping over the introduction and attacking the novel, but then something made me turn back. Written by Sara Maitland, it set a book that I can remember reading at school into the far broader context of women's literature at a level that I would not have appreciated when I read the Puffin classics edition at the bottom of this post merely for its story (and I am ashamed to say that I would have, if you'd asked me, dismissed it as a children's book, based on the fact that I read it at school, when actually I think it is more than that).
The book follows on from Eight Cousins, which I am now also keen to reread (particularly if that has an interesting introduction!), and tells the tale of Rose, now a woman of fortune as she tries to find her place in the world as an adult, coming out as a debutante, falling in love and learning who her friends are. Yes, it is sentimental, but it is also very interesting.
According to Maitland, Alcott was strongly influenced by the belief of transcendentalist philosophy, and this informed her concept of the "ideal woman" which is what she wants to portray Rose as. It was a movement believing in the "divine sufficiency of the individual" - in other words, it is about being true to oneself, with the virtues of strong-mindedness, self-control and self-knowledge being the most important. And this is the underpinning philosophy that Alcott used to draw the character of Rose.
Maitland also draws parallels between this and other Alcott sequels; Rose in Bloom is a sequel to Eight Cousins like Good Wives follows on from Little Women and Jo's Boys follows from Little men. The first books focus on childhood and moral education whereas their sequels are more romantic, and look at the issue of finding one's marriage partner, frequently ending with engagement. This Maitland suggests was typical of the time for books aimed at the adolescent but may also have reflected that Alcott herself never married (how that surprised me!)