My roommate and I stumbled across Louisa May Alcott’s A Long, Fatal Love Chase in our local Tattered Pages Bookshop, squeed, and it inevitably had to come home with us. Both of us are fans of Little Women, she from her childhood and I having come across it at our all-women’s liberal arts college, which happens to have a renowned children’s literature graduate program.
In our “head canon,” this book is the manuscript that Mr. Bhaer made Jo destroy. Its history rather fits. Written before Little Women, it was rejected by Alcott’s publisher for being too sensational, and so, in financial straits, Alcott turned to the more wholesome Little Women instead. A Long, Fatal Love Chase lay forgotten, dead to the world, in a university library till uncovered by an Alcott enthusiast, who deciphered Alcott’s handwriting, returned to its original form (free of the edits that Alcott made to try and make the story publishable) and got permission to publish it.
Would Alcott approve? Well, we’ll probably never know. I hope so; I think so. I was always angry with Jo for destroying her work. Louisa obviously didn’t set flames to this manuscript.
A Long, Fatal Love Chase tells the story of Rosamond Vivian, a vivacious, young girl who gets swept away in the romance and excitement of Phillip Tempest’s extravagant life—and by his yacht and his schemes. [SPOILERS] Tempest lures her into a false marriage, which she discovers by accident, having lived as his wife for some time. Believing her continued relationship with Tempest sinful and distrusting and hating him now for deceiving her, she spends the remainder of the novel trying to escape Tempest as he follows her across Europe, finding her everywhere, and accidentally killing her in his jealous machinations against her priestly would-be-lover. [END SPOILERS]
This book is in some ways supremely predictable and in many ways ridiculous. My low expectations of the book (I entered it with the mindset, frankly, of a Harlequin romance, and was pleasantly surprised by its use of literary techniques and the quality of its construction) allowed me to just laugh away and roll with the improbability of the unexpected (by Rosamond; I quickly came to expect the unlikely) appearances of Tempest and his right-hand Baptiste. These appearances required more than the suspension of disbelief that is part and parcel to fiction. I could not suspend my disbelief to accept them as probable in the course of the fictional world and scenario built by Alcott. I could only choose to allow them to be and continue on with the novel.
Backstories for many of the characters are well-developed if many seem caricatural for their exaggerated representations. Rosamond if anything benefits from her inflated qualities. Many critics paint her a feminist model, extolling her unquenchable desire for independence; her independent, drastic actions to frustrate a man’s desires; her wit and intelligence in her schemes to allude Tempest; and her femininity through all of these independent actions. Rosamond is difficult to dislike. I’m not sure that I saw her as the beacon of feminism that some critics do—but as I’ve said before, I was reading for pure pleasure not expecting merit, and that might alter my impression of her.
In sum, this was, as I expected, an enjoyable book but sensationalist.
Alcott, Louisa May. A Long, Fatal Love Chase. Ed. Kent Bicknell. New York: Dell-Bantam Doubleday Dell-Random House, 1995.
This review is not endorsed by Louisa May Alcott, her estate, Kent Bicknell, Dell Publishing, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc, or Random House. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.