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Literature / Eight Cousins

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Eight Cousins and its sequel, Rose in Bloom, by Louisa May Alcott, are the Victorian novel equivalent of a Reverse Harem manga. Rose Campbell, the recently orphaned heroine, comes to live with her Uncle Alec, six opinionated aunts, and seven handsome male cousins who flock around her "like bees to their queen."

The first book deals with Rose's first year among the family, as Alec puts her through a trial period to test his views on women's health and education (which were quite ahead of their time, by the way). The second book, where 20-year-old Rose returns from a trip to Europe, settles the question of what she will do with her inherited fortune, how to hold on to the good habits Alec has taught her in the shallow world of fashion, and most importantly — for some readers, at least — which cousin she will marry.


Provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Charlie in the second book, much to Rose's dismay.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Subverted. Rose is attracted to the idea of being Charlie's Morality Chain, but her common sense and Uncle Alec both warn her not to commit herself to a man she cannot trust. Not to mention, Charlie actually dies later.
  • Beta Couple: Phebe and Archie; Steve and Kitty.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Archie. Rose becomes a big sister mentor to her female friends.
  • Camp Straight: Steve, who is more obsessed with fashion and cleanliness than Rose. He's also extremely happy and loyal to his girlfriend Kitty.
  • The Caretaker: Plenty to Peace and Myra; Rose to Mac (see Eye Scream); Phebe to Alec, helping him through a potentially deadly fever, which wins her Archie's hand in marriage as soon as the family finds out.
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  • Cinderella Circumstances: Phebe, Rose's maid, is an orphan from the workhouse who first becomes Rose's lady-in-waiting of sorts, and then Uncle Alec later launches her into a successful singing career. At one point other characters even call Phebe Cinderella.
  • Daddy's Girl: Rose was this to her late father, George, and at the beginning of the first book she's still grieving very painfully for what appears to be his relatively recent loss. Over the course of the ensuing year, she grows to be this for Uncle Alec as well.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Rose is named after her dead mother.
  • Death Is a Sad Thing: Aunt Peace dies between the two books, causing Rose's tour of Europe to be delayed for several months due to everyone's grief.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: Charlie dies in a riding accident; subverted as Rose and Mac, the other sides of the "triangle," don't even like each other that way until a few years later.
  • The Ditz: Kitty and Annabel.
    • Aunt Clara is an older version, and Uncle Alec isn't exactly kind about his thoughts on her flighty behavior.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Mac, after Rose's initial rejection, remains on friendly terms with her and waits in case she changes her mind. She does. This is placed in sharp contrast to Charlie, who flirts with her constantly and puts her under heavy pressure by begging her to "save" him from his own flaws.
  • Exact Words: At the Christmas celebration, during a game of forfeits, Charlie dares Rose to take "old Mac" Under the Mistletoe and kiss him. She gets around kissing their cousin (whom everyone expects to object) by taking him literally and tugging Mac's father, her Uncle Mac, under the mistletoe instead.
  • Eye Scream: Mac almost loses his eyesight due to too much reading in the sun, and Rose takes care of him until he recovers.
  • Fair for Its Day: Many of the ideas presented in the books (such as being active and healthy and respecting women) are very progressive for the era they were presented.
  • Feminine Women Can Cook: Played with. Rose notes that she would like to be accomplished, so Uncle Alec arranges for her to start taking lessons in housekeeping from Aunt Plenty, who is delighted with the task. They later increase her responsibilities by having her also take sewing lessons from Aunt Peace. However, this is not presented as being required for Rose to land a husband or anything like that; it's simply seen as being a good idea for Rose to gain useful skills for later in life. (It's noted that Uncle Alec himself is extremely good at sewing.)
  • Five-Man Band:
  • Foreshadowing: On Christmas in the first book, Archie kisses Phebe under the mistletoe
  • Funny Foreigner: Fun See, a Chinese immigrant.
  • Happily Married: Aunt Jessie and Uncle Jem, if their reunion on Christmas Day (their wedding anniversary) is any indication.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Phebe and Rose "enjoy each other like a pair of lovers" and "but the worst of all was the one who would make love in public" (he was proposing).
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Rose, who grows up to found an orphanage of her own and adopt a child whom she names Dulcie. Also Phebe.
  • Her Heart Will Go On - The Mourning After: Aunt Peace's fiance died just hours before their wedding; she almost died herself from the shock, but managed to survive, although she never got over it. Gender-flipped for Uncle Alec, who is heavily implied to have been in love with Rose's dead mother. (It may be noted that of all the Campbell brothers, he alone never married.)
  • Henpecked Husband: Mac and Steve's father.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: All the boys, but especially Archie and Charlie.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Former belle Aunt Clara tries to live vicariously through Rose by pushing her to become a fashionable debutante.
  • Kissing Cousins: The only guys that Rose would even consider marrying are all her cousins. The biggest options are Archie, Charlie, and Mac. Archie is in a Star-Crossed Lovers deal with Phebe but they get better, Charlie dies in an accident, and she ends up with Mac.
  • Last Minute Hookup: Rose and Mac.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Rose offers to be Charlie's little sister so he can confide his problems to her. Once he starts courting her, it stops.
  • Like Parent, Like Spouse: Rose openly admits that her ideal husband is a man just like her uncle Alec. She ends up marrying Mac, Alec's godson, who fits the role perfectly.
  • Likes Older Women: Jamie (at 12) proposes to Rose (at 19). She laughs it off.
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch: Rose may be rich, blonde and popular, but she makes a conscious effort not to let it spoil her.
  • Love at First Note: Archie and Phebe.
  • Maiden Aunt: Peace and Plenty, who are the spinster sisters of the late Grandfather Campbell.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Notably averted, as no one bats an eye at Annabell marrying Fun See.
  • Meaningful Name: Aunt Peace; Aunt Plenty; Phebe (a species of bird) and Rose, who is frequently subject to botanical metaphors.
  • My Beloved Smother: This can be said of Aunt Clara, who is said to have spoiled Charlie's character with too much indulgence; Aunt Myra, whose reliance on dubious patent medicines may have caused the death of her daughter; and to a slightly lesser extent, Aunt Jane, who is notoriously strict.
  • Nephewism: Rose wishes she "had not quite so many aunts" ...
  • Nerds Are Sexy: Mac.
  • No Social Skills: Mac telling Rose how he alienates his dancing partners, causing her to try and "polish" him, with limited success.
  • Oblivious to Love: Rose, at least where her own feelings are concerned; when it comes to others, she's pretty astute.
  • Only Sane Woman: While all of Rose's uncles (or at least, the ones shown) appear to be fairly down-to-earth, of the four aunts-by-marriage, only Aunt Jessie seems to be this.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: The aunts are collectively appalled by Archie's proposing to Phebe - at least until she saves Alec's life.
  • Parental Substitute: Alec and the aunts for Rose and Phebe; later Rose for Dulcie.
  • The Promise: Charlie makes several to Rose: first, to quit smoking as long as she stops wearing earrings; second, to quit drinking; third, to visit his father in Calcutta. He breaks them all, and dies apologizing.
    • Alec promises Rose to do his best as her guardian, which he does.
    • Rose nearly dies of hypothermia after promising to wait for Mac at the frozen river and keeping her word a bit too literally.
  • Scotland: The story is set in New England, like most of Alcott's books, but the Campbells still hold on to their Scottish heritage by singing traditional ballads, playing bagpipes and roleplaying as Highland Warriors. Uncle Alec refers to the cousins at one point as "our bonny Scotch rose, with all her thorns about her."
  • She Is All Grown Up: Rose and Phebe in the second book.
    • Also Fun Lee; Mac uses the trope almost word by word when he tells Rose that he and Annabel are engaged.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Genderflipped when Steve gives Mac a makeover before a ball.
    Rose: Why, Mac! I never knew you could look so like a gentleman.
    Mac: Or feel so like a fool.
  • Shipper on Deck: Uncle Mac and the aunts ship Rose/Archie; Clara ships Rose/Charlie; Rose ships Phebe/Archie; Alec, Archie, and Phebe ship Rose/Mac.
  • Shout-Out: To Emerson, Thoreau, Dickens and the myth of Psyche and Cupid.
  • Sibling Triangle: Rose the elder (see Dead Guy Junior) rejected Alec, married his brother George and died early. The brothers did not speak to each other until shortly before George's death, when he asked Alec to look after Rose Jr. - which accounts a good deal for Alec's protectiveness as a guardian.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Bookish Mac and flamboyant Steve.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Rose emphatically refuses to marry a man she cannot respect morally.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Of the titular eight cousins only Rose is a girl. There was another female cousin (Caroline, the "sainted" daughter of Aunt Myra), but the narration heavily implies that she died well before the events of the first book.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Archie and Phebe, due to the aunts wanting him to marry Rose and the social differences. Unusually for the trope, they get better.
  • Themed Harem: All of Rose's love interests are her Kissing Cousins.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: Rose and Mac share an intense hug before he leaves to get his book of poems published.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Charlie.
  • Unwanted Harem: Rose isn't interested in romance when she first returns to America (wanting instead to focus on her philanthropy), but her family quickly puts her cousins as her only acceptable possible husbands. Rose is mortified when Jamie, the baby, spills the beans the day that she comes home and she spends most of the book trying to avoid her various suitors' (including many other young men beside her cousins who want the pretty heiress) advances.
  • What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: Mac tries to conduct a study about love by asking anyone who will listen.
  • Widow's Weeds: Although it's been the better part of a year since her father's death, Rose is still in formal mourning at the start of the first book.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Charlie is described as acting like a melodramatic theatre character.


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