Rose in Bloom covers a relatively brief period in the life of Rose Campbell. It picks up, not right after Eight Cousins ends, but between a year and eighteen months later. The time that is left unnarrated involved a lengthy trip to Europe taken by Rose, Uncle Alec and Phebe, Rose’s maid-and-unofficially-adopted-sister.
Rose has grown up during her time away from the Aunt Hill, coming of age as a young woman preparing to be launched into society and into marriage. Phebe, as well, has become an accomplished singer during the time in Europe, and has also blossomed into a beauty.
Most of Rose in Bloom concerns the nineteenth century process of finding a husband and wild oats sowing. Upon arrival home, Rose is – accidentally – informed by the youngest and bluntest of the boys that she is intended for one of her cousins to keep her money in the family. She is a bit put off by this, but appears to acquiesce to the family plans to marry her off to Charlie, the second oldest, handsomest, wildest, and most spoiled of the Campbell males.
So, this book. It is, in my opinion, neither as charming nor as enjoyable as Eight Cousins. Louisa May and her preachiness cannot be contained. Also, the whole first cousins marrying thing is a bit squicky. Apparently Alcott did not feel this way, but I do.
So, approaching Rose in Bloom with an eye toward the time in which it was written is absolutely necessary to enjoy the book at all. Otherwise, it is not possible to refrain from violent eye-rolling at the expectations placed upon poor Rose and her magical virtue which will somehow turn drunkards and animals into young gentlemen. Also, straying from the path of righteousness is definitely going to kill you.
But, it is Alcott, and it was the nineteenth century, and, well, Rose in Bloom is actually really, really sweet. And the actual romance between Rose and her ultimate suitor is adorable. And Rose herself remains good-hearted and honest and pretty immune to nonsense. She does stand up for herself when she must and she refuses to be sacrificed to save her cousin. And good for her, because there was no substance there, just empty charm and looks.
There is also a charming side story about Phebe and Archie falling in love.