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Did Alma lead a good life?

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Sherri Feedback on the book from other readers? What's your perspective? Love it? Hate it? I just finished reading it and am processing it. This was a rather ponderous read so different from Gilbert's earlier memoirs. I tried twice to read it and finally had to buckle down and push through to the end. It was intriguing and yet rather slow moving. I kept waiting to see what we should be 'cheering' for. I wanted something to happen to Alma but her life was so limited - not much joy. Ambrose was a long-overdue spark and even that becomes tainted so quickly. It is easy to forget that she would be fairly limited in her options as a woman living in the 1800's. The Tahiti stint was fascinating, but her time with Tomorrow Morning doesn't really clear much up. She confirms what she likely already knew and finds out that A died of his own doing. Does this simply give her the closure to move on? I love that Roger the dog adopts her uncle. At the end, the whole Darwin/Wallace sequence becomes quite a lot to think about and it seems a cop out to state that she never thought about writing her thesis about zoology/plants only and leaving humans out of the equation. Do you think she should have published?I know she says she lived a rich life, but I can't help but feel sad for her. Most of the people connected to her lived bleak lives despite Henry's boldness and sheer wealth: Hanneke, Alma, Retta, George, Ambrose and Prudence. For a book about competition of the strongest, who really came out ahead in the end? I'm not sure I would have wanted her life.


Jessie Cross I did read straight through it but as you say, Sherri, it was heavy going. Slow moving is a bit of a euphemism. It is true - you are always waiting for something to happen - something important, something that would make her life seem worth the while and does not have anything to do with mosses. This anxious wait goes on to the end. Her time in Tahiti is certainly not written to encourage visitors to said land. Certainly not what Gauguin depicted. I think her ending up back in the Netherlands is somewhat contrived - a closing of the circle. I actually bought this book because it was given such good reviews, but I did not finish it with the feeling - which I love - of still being somewhere else i.e. in the book.


Julie You pose such an interesting question, Sherri! I think Alma did live a good, fulfilling life. It wasn’t a perfect life as she experienced a multitude of disappointments, but Alma nevertheless relentlessly pursued her single passion: knowledge. And that’s what I think really makes Alma’s life a “good” life. I also believe that Alma would concur on this point, judging from what she said to Mr. Wallace: “…my little bit of knowledge has been added to all the other accumulated knowledge of history. Added to the great library, as it were. That is no small feat, sir. Anyone who can say such a thing has led a fortunate life.” One of the lessons, I believe, that Alma reinforces to the reader is the idea that while life is never going to be perfect, it can still be wonderfully fulfilling, especially if we pursue our passions.


Hilary Donovan I agree with Julie, and I would like to add that Alma's financial sacrifice was a gift to the Abolitionist movement as well as her sister and was certainly a very meaningful part of her life. The fact that she wasn't steeped in materialism was such a good thing. Alma was a good person. She made lemonade from lemons!


Jane I loved this book and I loved Alma. I agree with Julie and Hilary that Alma led a good life pursuing her passion. She had disappointments for sure, but she lived through them and became a stronger and better person.


Kathryn Mattern I agree with Julie, Hilary and Jane that Alma led a good life, especially given the strictures of women's lives in the 1800's. She grew up in a 'rich' environment from a scientific point of view (allowed to pursue her scientific interests in a conducive environment), she experienced love and heartbreak, travelled to exotic lands and, for an educated white woman, had extremely unusual experiences in Tahiti. Certainly she was 'experienced' in the Jimi Hendrix sense of the word. Maybe her romantic and maternal instincts were not fulfilled, but that's really not for everyone. I agree with Julie that her passion was knowledge, and in that area, for a woman of her time, she had a very rich life experience that seems to have been good in her own eyes.


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