Sunday, April 21, 2013

Book Chapter Review: Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott

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The Asperger's traits addressed in this post include:
*Finding celebrations and parties stressful

*Boredom with small talk
*Too quiet or too talkative
*Honesty and bluntness
*Difficulty learning to relax

Fans of Little Women will enjoy this peek into Rose in Bloom, another book by Louisa May Alcott. Mac Campbell is the best characterization of an Aspie that I have come across. If this character resembled anyone the author knew in life, then here is evidence that people with Asperger's traits existed long before Hans Asperger described their personalities as a syndrome. Rose in Bloom was written in 1876, and Dr. Asperger lived from 1906 to 1980. I like this chapter especially because it shows how the influence of a friend who really cares can help an Aspie change.

POLISHING MAC by Louisa May Alcott

"Please could I say one word?" was the question three times repeated before a rough head bobbed out from the grotto of books in which Mac usually sat when he studied.
"Did anyone speak?" he asked, blinking in the flood of sunshine that entered with Rose.
"Only three times, thank you. Don't disturb yourself, I beg, for I merely want to say a word," answered Rose as she prevented him from offering the easy chair in which he sat.
"I was rather deep in a compound fracture and didn't hear. What can I do for you, Cousin?" And Mac shoved a stack of pamphlets off the chair near him with a hospitable wave of the hand that sent his papers flying in all directions.
Rose sat down, but did not seem to find her "word" an easy one to utter, for she twisted her handkerchief about her fingers in embarrassed silence till Mac put on his glasses and, after a keen look, asked soberly: "Is it a splinter, a cut, or a whitlow, ma'am?"
"It is neither. Do forget your tiresome surgery for a minute, and be the kindest cousin that ever was," answered Rose, beginning rather sharply and ending with her most engaging smile.
"Can't promise in the dark," said the wary youth.
"It is a favor, a great favor, and one I don't choose to ask any of the other boys," answered the artful damsel.
Mac looked pleased and leaned forward, saying more affably, "Name it, and be sure I'll grant it if I can."
"Go with me to Mrs. Hope's party tomorrow night."
"What!" And Mac recoiled as if she had put a pistol to his head.
"I've left you in peace a long time, but it is your turn now, so do your duty like a man and a cousin."
"But I never go to parties!" cried the unhappy victim in great dismay.
"High time you began, sir."
"But I don't dance fit to be seen."
"I'll teach you."
"My dress coat isn't decent, I know."
"Archie will lend you one; he isn't going."
"I'm afraid there's a lecture that I ought not to cut."
"No, there isn't I asked Uncle."
"I'm always so tired and dull in the evening."
"This sort of thing is just what you want to rest and freshen up your spirits."
Mac gave a groan and fell back vanquished, for it was evident that escape was impossible.
"What put such a perfectly wild idea into your head?" he demanded, rather roughly, for hitherto he had been left in peace, and this sudden attack decidedly amazed him.
"Sheer necessity, but don't do it if it is so very dreadful to you. I must go to several more parties, because they are made for me, but after that I'll refuse, and then no one need be troubled with me."
Something in Rose's voice made Mac answer penitently, even while he knit his brows in perplexity. "I don't mean to be rude, and of course I'll go anywhere if I'm really needed. But I don't understand where the sudden necessity is, with three other fellows at command, all better dancers and beaus than I am."
"I don't want them, and I do want you, for I haven't the heart to drag Uncle out anymore, and you know I never go with any gentleman but those of my own family."
. . .
"What's amiss with Charlie? I thought he was the prince of cavaliers. Annabel says he dances 'like an angel,' and I know a dozen mothers couldn't keep him at home of an evening. Have you had a tiff with Adonis and so fall back on poor me?" asked Mac, coming last to the person of whom he thought first but did not mention, feeling shy about alluding to a subject often discussed behind her back.
"Yes, I have, and I don't intend to go with him any more for some time. His ways do not suit me, and mine do not suit him, so I want to be quite independent, and you can help me if you will," said Rose, rather nervously spinning the big globe close by.
. . .
"If you will kindly play escort a few times, it will show Charlie that I am in earnest without more words and put a stop to the gossip," said Rose, coloring like a poppy at the recollection of what she heard one young man whisper to another as Charlie led her through a crowded supper room with his most devoted air, "Lucky dog! He is sure to get the heiress, and we are nowhere."
"There's no danger of people gossiping about us, is there?" And Mac looked up with the oddest of all his odd expressions.
"Of course not; you're only a boy."
"I'm twenty-one, thank you, and Prince is but a couple of years older," said Mac, promptly resenting the slight put upon his manhood.
"Yes, but he is like other young men, while you are a dear old bookworm. No one would ever mind what you did, so you may go to parties with me every night, and not a word would be said or, if there was, I shouldn't mind since it is 'only Mac,'" answered Rose, smiling as she quoted a household phrase often used to excuse his vagaries.
"Then I am nobody?" he said, lifting his brows as if the discovery surprised and rather nettled him.
"Nobody in society as yet, but my very best cousin in private, and I've just proved my regard by making you my confidant and choosing you for my knight," said Rose, hastening to soothe the feelings her careless words seemed to have ruffled slightly.
"Much good that is likely to do me," grumbled Mac.
"You ungrateful boy, not to appreciate the honor I've conferred upon you! I know a dozen who would be proud of the place, but you only care for compound fractures, so I won't detain you any longer, except to ask if I may consider myself provided with an escort for tomorrow night?" said Rose, a trifle hurt at his indifference, for she was not used to refusals.
"If I may hope for the honor." And, rising, he made her a bow which was such a capital imitation of Charlie's grand manner that she forgave him at once, exclaiming with amused surprise: "Why, Mac! I didn't know you could be so elegant!"
"A fellow can be almost anything he likes if he tries hard enough," he answered, standing very straight and looking so tall and dignified that Rose was quite impressed, and with a stately courtesy she retired, saying graciously: "I accept with thanks. Good morning, Dr. Alexander Mackenzie Campbell."
When Friday evening came and word was sent up that her escort had arrived, Rose ran down, devoutly hoping that he had not come in a velveteen jacket, top-boots, black gloves, or made any trifling mistake of that sort. A young gentleman was standing before the long mirror, apparently intent upon the arrangement of his hair, and Rose paused suddenly as her eye went from the glossy broadcloth to the white-gloved hands, busy with an unruly lock that would not stay in place.
"Why, Charlie, I thought--" she began with an accent of surprise in her voice, but got no further, for the gentleman turned and she beheld Mac in immaculate evening costume, with his hair parted sweetly on his brow, a superior posy at his buttonhole, and the expression of a martyr on his face.
"Ah, don't you wish it was? No one but yourself to thank that it isn't he. Am I right? Dandy got me up, and he ought to know what is what," demanded Mac, folding his hands and standing as stiff as a ramrod.
"You are so regularly splendid that I don't know you."
"Neither do I."
"I really had no idea you could look so like a gentleman," added Rose, surveying him with great approval.
"Nor that I could feel so like a fool."
"Poor boy! He does look rather miserable. What can I do to cheer him up in return for the sacrifice he is making?"
"Stop calling me a boy. It will soothe my agony immensely and give me courage to appear in a low-necked coat and curl on my forehead, for I'm not used to such elegancies and I find them no end of a trial."
Mac spoke in such a pathetic tone, and gave such a gloomy glare at the aforesaid curl, that Rose laughed in his face and added to his woe by handing him her cloak. He surveyed it gravely for a minute, then carefully put it on wrong side out and gave the swan's-down hood a good pull over the head, to the utter destruction of all smoothness to the curls inside.
Rose uttered a cry and cast off the cloak, bidding him learn to do it properly, which he meekly did and then led her down the hall without walking on her skirts more than three times on the way. But at the door she discovered that she had forgotten her furred overshoes and bade Mac get them.
"Never mind; it's not wet," he said, pulling his cap over his eyes and plunging into his coat, regardless of the "elegancies" that afflicted him.
"But I can't walk on cold stones with thin slippers, can I?" began Rose, showing him a little white foot.
"You needn't, for there you are, my lady." And, unceremoniously picking her up, Mac landed her in the carriage before she could say a word.
"What an escort!" she exclaimed in comic dismay, as she rescued her delicate dress from a rug in which he was about to tuck her up like a mummy.
"It's 'only Mac,' so don't mind," and he cast himself into an opposite corner with the air of a man who had nerved himself to the accomplishment of many painful duties and was bound to do them or die.
"But gentlemen don't catch up ladies like bags of meal and poke them into carriages in this way. It is evident that you need looking after, and it is high time I undertook your society manners. Now, do mind what you are about and don't get yourself or me into a scrape if you can help it," besought Rose, feeling that on many accounts she had gone further and fared worse.
"I'll behave like a Turveydrop see if I don't."
Mac's idea of the immortal Turveydrop's behavior seemed to be a peculiar one; for, after dancing once with his cousin, he left her to her own devices and soon forgot all about her in a long conversation with Professor Stumph, the learned geologist. Rose did not care, for one dance proved to her that that branch of Mac's education had been sadly neglected, and she was glad to glide smoothly about with Steve, though he was only an inch or two taller than herself. She had plenty of partners, however, and plenty of chaperons, for all the young men were her most devoted, and all the matrons beamed upon her with maternal benignity.
Charlie was not there, for when he found that Rose stood firm, and had moreover engaged Mac as a permanency, he would not go at all and retired in high dudgeon to console himself with more dangerous pastimes. Rose feared it would be so, and even in the midst of the gaiety about her an anxious mood came over her now and then and made her thoughtful for a moment. She felt her power and wanted to use it wisely, but did not know how to be kind to Charlie without being untrue to herself and giving him false hopes.
"I wish we were all children again, with no hearts to perplex us and no great temptations to try us," she said to herself as she rested a minute in a quiet nook while her partner went to get a glass of water. Right in the midst of this half-sad, half-sentimental reverie, she heard a familiar voice behind her say earnestly: "And allophite is the new hydrous silicate of alumina and magnesia, much resembling pseudophite, which Websky found in Silesia."
"What is Mac talking about!" she thought, and, peeping behind a great azalea in full bloom, she saw her cousin in deep conversation with the professor, evidently having a capital time, for his face had lost its melancholy expression and was all alive with interest, while the elder man was listening as if his remarks were both intelligent and agreeable.
"What is it?" asked Steve, coming up with the water and seeing a smile on Rose's face.
She pointed out the scientific tete-a-tete going on behind the azalea, and Steve grinned as he peeped, then grew sober and said in a tone of despair: "If you had seen the pains I took with that fellow, the patience with which I brushed his wig, the time I spent trying to convince him that he must wear thin boots, and the fight I had to get him into that coat, you'd understand my feelings when I see him now."
"Why, what's the matter with him?" asked Rose.
"Will you take a look and see what a spectacle he has made of himself. He'd better be sent home at once or he will disgrace the family by looking as if he'd been in a row."
Steve spoke in such a tragic tone that Rose took another peep and did sympathize with Dandy, for Mac's elegance was quite gone. His tie was under one ear, his posy hung upside down, his gloves were rolled into a ball, which he absently squeezed and pounded as he talked, and his hair looked as if a whirlwind had passed over it, for his ten fingers set it on end now and then, as they had a habit of doing when he studied or talked earnestly. But he looked so happy and wide awake, in spite of his dishevelment, that Rose gave an approving nod and said behind her fan: "It is a trying spectacle, Steve yet, on the whole, I think his own odd ways suit him best and I fancy we shall be proud of him, for he knows more than all the rest of us put together. Hear that now." And Rose paused that they might listen to the following burst of eloquence from Mac's lips: "You know Frenzal has shown that the globular forms of silicate of bismuth at Schneeburg and Johanngeorgenstadt are not isometric, but monoclinic in crystalline form, and consequently he separates them from the old eulytite and gives them the new name Agricolite."
"Isn't it awful? Let us get out of this before there's another avalanche or we shall be globular silicates and isometric crystals in spite of ourselves," whispered Steve with a panic-stricken air, and they fled from the hailstorm of hard words that rattled about their ears, leaving Mac to enjoy himself in his own way.
But when Rose was ready to go home and looked about for her escort, he was nowhere to be seen, for the professor had departed, and Mac with him, so absorbed in some new topic that he entirely forgot his cousin and went placidly home, still pondering on the charms of geology. When this pleasing fact dawned upon Rose her feelings may be imagined. She was both angry and amused. It was so like Mac to go mooning off and leave her to her fate. Not a hard one, however; for, though Steve was gone with Kitty before her plight was discovered, Mrs. Bliss was only too glad to take the deserted damsel under her wing and bear her safely home.
. . .
A day or two later Rose went to call upon Aunt Jane, as she dutifully did once or twice a week. On her way upstairs she heard a singular sound in the drawing room and involuntarily stopped to listen.
"One, two, three, slide! One, two, three, turn! Now, then, come on!" said one voice impatiently.
"It's very easy to say 'come on,' but what the dickens do I do with my left leg while I'm turning and sliding with my right?" demanded another voice in a breathless and mournful tone.
Then the whistling and thumping went on more vigorously than before, and Rose, recognizing the voices, peeped through the half-open door to behold a sight which made her shake with suppressed laughter. Steve, with a red tablecloth tied around his waist, languished upon Mac's shoulder, dancing in perfect time to the air he whistled, for Dandy was proficient in the graceful art and plumed himself upon his skill. Mac, with a flushed face and dizzy eye, clutched his brother by the small of his back, vainly endeavoring to steer him down the long room without entangling his own legs in the tablecloth, treading on his partner's toes, or colliding with the furniture. It was very droll, and Rose enjoyed the spectacle till Mac, in a frantic attempt to swing around, dashed himself against the wall and landed Steve upon the floor. Then it was impossible to restrain her laughter any longer and she walked in upon them, saying merrily: "It was splendid! Do it again, and I'll play for you."
Steve sprang up and tore off the tablecloth in great confusion, while Mac, still rubbing his head, dropped into a chair, trying to look quite calm and cheerful as he gasped out: "How are you, Cousin? When did you come? John should have told us."
"I'm glad he didn't, for then I should have missed this touching tableau of cousinly devotion and brotherly love. Getting ready for our next party, I see."
"Trying to, but there are so many things to remember all at once keep time, steer straight, dodge the petticoats, and manage my confounded legs that it isn't easy to get on at first," answered Mac with a sigh of exhaustion, wiping his hot forehead.
"Hardest job I ever undertook and, as I'm not a battering ram, I decline to be knocked round any longer," growled Steve, dusting his knees and ruefully surveying the feet that had been trampled on till they tingled, for his boots and broadcloth were dear to the heart of the dapper youth.
"Very good of you, and I'm much obliged. I've got the pace, I think, and can practice with a chair to keep my hand in," said Mac with such a comic mixture of gratitude and resignation that Rose went off again so irresistibly that her cousins joined her with a hearty roar.
"As you are making a martyr of yourself in my service, the least I can do is lend a hand. Play for us, Steve, and I'll give Mac a lesson, unless he prefers the chair." And, throwing off her hat and cloak, Rose beckoned so invitingly that the gravest philosopher would have yielded.
"A thousand thanks, but I'm afraid I shall hurt you," began Mac, much gratified, but mindful of past mishaps.
"I'm not. Steve didn't manage his train well, for good dancers always loop theirs up. I have none at all, so that trouble is gone and the music will make it much easier to keep step. Just do as I tell you, and you'll go beautifully after a few turns."
"I will, I will! Pipe up, Steve! Now, Rose!" And, brushing his hair out of his eyes with an air of stern determination, Mac grasped Rose and returned to the charge bent on distinguishing himself if he died in the attempt.
The second lesson prospered, for Steve marked the time by a series of emphatic bangs; Mac obeyed orders as promptly as if his life depended on it; and, after several narrow escapes at exciting moments, Rose had the satisfaction of being steered safely down the room and landed with a grand pirouette at the bottom. Steve applauded, and Mac, much elated, exclaimed with artless candor: "There really is a sort of inspiration about you, Rose. I always detested dancing before, but now, do you know, I rather like it."
"I knew you would, only you mustn't stand with your arm round your partner in this way when you are done. You must seat and fan her, if she likes it," said Rose, anxious to perfect a pupil who seemed so lamentably in need of a teacher.
"Yes, of course, I know how they do it." And, releasing his cousin, Mac raised a small whirlwind around her with a folded newspaper, so full of zeal that she had not the heart to chide him again.
"Well done, old fellow. I begin to have hopes of you and will order you a new dress coat at once, since you are really going in for the proprieties of life," said Steve from the music stool, with the approving nod of one who was a judge of said proprieties. "Now, Rose, if you will just coach him a little in his small talk, he won't make a laughingstock of himself as he did the other night," added Steve. "I don't mean his geological gabble that was bad enough, but his chat with Emma Curtis was much worse. Tell her, Mac, and see if she doesn't think poor Emma had a right to think you a first-class bore."
"I don't see why, when I merely tried to have a little sensible conversation," began Mac with reluctance, for he had been unmercifully chaffed by his cousins, to whom his brother had betrayed him.
"What did you say? I won't laugh if I can help it," said Rose, curious to hear, for Steve's eyes were twinkling with fun.
"Well, I knew she was fond of theaters, so I tried that first and got on pretty well till I began to tell her how they managed those things in Greece. Most interesting subject, you know?"
"Very. Did you give her one of the choruses or a bit of Agamemnon, as you did when you described it to me?" asked Rose, keeping sober with difficulty as she recalled that serio-comic scene.
"Of course not, but I was advising her to read Prometheus when she gaped behind her fan and began to talk about Phebe. What a 'nice creature' she was, 'kept her place,' dressed according to her station, and that sort of twaddle. I suppose it was rather rude, but being pulled up so short confused me a bit, and I said the first thing that came into my head, which was that I thought Phebe the best-dressed woman in the room because she wasn't all fuss and feathers like most of the girls."
"Oh, Mac! That to Emma, who makes it the labor of her life to be always in the height of fashion and was particularly splendid that night. What did she say?" cried Rose, full of sympathy for both parties.
"She bridled and looked daggers at me."
"And what did you do?"
"I bit my tongue and tumbled out of one scrape into another. Following her example, I changed the subject by talking about the charity concert for the orphans, and when she gushed about the 'little darlings,' I advised her to adopt one and wondered why young ladies didn't do that sort of thing, instead of cuddling cats and lapdogs."
"Unhappy boy! Her pug is the idol of her life, and she hates babies," said Rose.
"More fool she! Well, she got my opinion on the subject, anyway, and she's very welcome, for I went on to say that I thought it would not only be a lovely charity, but excellent training for the time when they had little darlings of their own. No end of poor things die through the ignorance of mothers, you know," added Mac, so seriously that Rose dared not smile at what went before.
"Imagine Emma trotting round with a pauper baby under her arm instead of her cherished Toto," said Steve with an ecstatic twirl on the stool.
"Did she seem to like your advice, Monsieur Malapropos?" asked Rose, wishing she had been there.
"No, she gave a little shriek and said, 'Good gracious, Mr. Campbell, how droll you are! Take me to Mama, please,' which I did with a thankful heart. Catch me setting her pug's leg again," ended Mac with a grim shake of the head.
"Never mind. You were unfortunate in your listener that time. Don't think all girls are so foolish. I can show you a dozen sensible ones who would discuss dress reform and charity with you and enjoy Greek tragedy if you did the chorus for them as you did for me," said Rose consolingly, for Steve would only jeer.
"Give me a list of them, please, and I'll cultivate their acquaintance. A fellow must have some reward for making a teetotum of himself."
"I will with pleasure; and if you dance well they will make it very pleasant for you, and you'll enjoy parties in spite of yourself."
"I cannot be a 'glass of fashion and a mold of form' like Dandy here, but I'll do my best: only, if I had my choice, I'd much rather go round the streets with an organ and a monkey," answered Mac despondently.
"Thank you kindly for the compliment," and Rose made him a low courtesy, while Steve cried, "Now you have done it!" in a tone of reproach which reminded the culprit, all too late, that he was Rose's chosen escort.
"By the gods, so I have!" And casting away the newspaper with a gesture of comic despair, Mac strode from the room, chanting tragically the words of Cassandra, "'Woe! woe! O Earth! O Apollo! I will dare to die; I will accost the gates of Hades, and make my prayer that I may receive a mortal blow!'"

How this topic applies to Christian living:

I Peter 5:5b
Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.