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Literature / Eight Cousins

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Eight Cousins and its sequel, Rose in Bloom are two Victorian novels written by Louisa May Alcott.

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.

In the sequel, 20-year-old Rose returns from a trip to Europe and must settle the questions 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 which cousin she will marry.

These books provide examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: When Uncle Alec asks Rose to test out Aunt Clara's fashionable winter outfit, she tries to run. The outfit makes her stumble and trip into a chair. She laughs despite proving that the dress and wrappings aren't practical, and everyone in the room except Clara can't help but laugh as well.
  • 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. When Charlie dies later, she grieves only as a loving relation.
  • Beta Couple: Phebe and Archie; Steve and Kitty.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Archie, being the oldest grandchild, is the "chief" of the Campbell clan and acts as this to all of his younger brothers and cousins. As an adult, Rose becomes a big sister mentor to her female friends.
  • Boring, but Practical: The outfit that Uncle Alec suggests for Rose instead of the corsets that Aunt Clara wants her to wear down the street. The first layer is a warm undergarment (Uncle Alec calls it "pajamas"), and over that, she can wear any dresses she likes. Aunt Clara notes that it makes Rose look plain and like a schoolgirl rather than a lady. Uncle Alec points out that Rose is a schoolgirl, and she's in no hurry to grow up. Rose is given the choice and she goes with the practical outfit, as well as receiving lessons in medicine from Alec when he notices she's bummed about giving up the fashionable option.
  • Calming Tea: If Mac is to be believed in the second book, Rose's "panacea" for everything is a cup of tea. He declines her offer of a cup and requests a glass of milk instead, stating that it has more nutritional value.
  • Camp Straight: Steve, who is more obsessed with fashion and cleanliness than Rose. He's also extremely happy with and loyal to his girlfriend Kitty.
  • The Caretaker: Plenty to Peace and Myra; Rose to Mac (see Eye Scream); Phebe to Uncle Alec, helping him through a potentially deadly fever, which wins her Archie's hand in marriage as soon as the family finds out.
  • Comedic Underwear Exposure: Subverted. Aunt Clara and Plenty at first believe that Rose is going to come out in long johns when showing off Alec's outfit. Uncle Alec explains they're only an undergarment, and she'll be wearing a dress over it. Sure enough, Rose comes out wearing a dress appropriate for her age with winter wrappings that allow her to move.
  • Cool Old Lady: Aunt Peace and Aunt Plenty, sisters of the late Grandfather Campbell, are both shown to be this in very different ways. Plenty is constantly busy, devoted to her large family, and something of a domestic goddess who treats her servants generously. Peace, meanwhile, is soft-spoken and sweet-natured, left frail by grief and illness; however, as explained in Rose in Bloom, she nevertheless served as a mentor for countless young women in the area as they grew up. According to the description of her funeral, several of these young women served as her pallbearers because they remained so grateful for everything she did for them.
  • Cool Uncle: While the personalities of the Campbell aunts widely vary, three of the Campbell uncles are implied to be this. Uncle Alec is the most prominent example, being Rose's guardian who instills her with his own very forward-thinking ideas and gives her an exceptional education. Uncle Mac is a more downplayed example, as he's a bit quiet, and submissive to his more domineering wife; but the narrative notes that Rose is very fond of him, since he was the one who came to collect her after her father's death and has always treated her with great kindness. Uncle Jem, who only shows up for the Christmas chapter, is a boisterous and good-hearted sailor who clearly adores his wife, children, and extended family.
  • 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; how old she was when her mother died is unknown. There's also cousin Geordie, who was named after Rose's father, although he only became this after his Uncle George's death.
  • 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.
  • Disease Bleach: Aunt Peace became gravely ill following the death of her fiancé when she was twenty years old. The narrative notes that although she survived the illness, her hair was left permanently white from the ordeal.
  • 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.
  • Does Not Like Spam: Rose initially dislikes porridge (oatmeal), because everyone keeps telling her that it's so good for her and that makes her hate it. She admits to herself that this is a pretty stupid reason, however, and when Uncle Alec makes no effort to force her to eat it, she replies that "I'll try to eat it to please you, Uncle." Much to her surprise, she sort of enjoys it.
  • 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.
  • Education Mama: Aunt Jane gives off this vibe, dictating Rose's studies until Uncle Alec's return and questioning her about what lessons she has learned. She also brags a great deal about Mac's scholarship, at least until he nearly studies himself blind.
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • Foreshadowing: On Christmas in the first book, Archie kisses Phebe under the mistletoe, while Mac admits that he wouldn't have minded if Rose had done the same to him.
  • Friendly Enemy: Rose and Annabel are something like this in the first book, as Rose isn't especially fond of Annabel and Annabel finds Rose to be a bit of a snot; this is what leads to the earrings incident. Their relationship improves dramatically as they get older, however, and they become much better friends in the second book. It helps that Annabel is nice to Phebe and that Rose likes Fun See, whom Annabel marries.
  • Funny Foreigner: The Chinese in general and recent teenage immigrant Fun See in particular. Unusually for the trope, by the sequel he has become a 'great swell' (ie., a wealthy, successful businessman) and is engaged to Rose's white friend Annabel, to which no one objects, save to find it even more hilarious.
  • Girly Girl with a Tomboy Streak: One throwaway line in the narrative indicates that Aunt Jessie was one of these when she was younger, and approves of Rose being likewise.
  • Gold Digger: Downplayed, but there are a number of instances in the second book which suggest that part of Charlie's interest in marrying Rose is her inheritance. (Even the story synopsis on the backs of some editions mention that he has decided that "Rose and her fortune are to be his.") It also seems to be part of Aunt Clara's motivation in shipping them, as she tries to object to Alec allowing Rose to spend so much money on her philanthropic efforts.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: All of the titular eight cousins have blonde hair and blue eyes, and despite their assorted foibles, they all have good hearts and kindly dispositions.
  • 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 (short for Dulcinea). Also Phebe.
  • Her Heart Will Go On/The Mourning After: Aunt Peace's fiancé 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 Gave My Word: Inverted. Rose gives up her earrings in a bargain to convince both Archie and Charlie to stop smoking, and the boys wear the earrings on their watch guards as a reminder of their agreement. When Charlie breaks the promise and incurs Rose's anger, he offers to buy her a new pair as forfeit; she reminds him that she can't wear only one earring, and "Archie will keep his word, I'm sure."
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Former belle Aunt Clara tries to live vicariously through Rose by pushing her to become a fashionable debutante.
  • It's All My Fault: Mac's reaction to Rose becoming deathly ill roughly halfway through the first book. She develops a chill, which worsens into illness, because she was waiting for him by the frozen lake to go ice skating and he completely forgot about it. He's so eaten up with guilt when he finds out what happened, he actually sneaks into her bedroom in the middle of the night to make sure she's still alive.
  • Kissing Cousins: The only guys that Rose would even consider marrying are her cousins. Even Uncle Alec remarks to Uncle Mac, early in Rose in Bloom, that while he doesn't generally approve of cousins marrying, he can't help thinking that one of his nephews would be the best choice for Rose's husband. 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. They finally get together on the last two pages of the second book.
  • Like Brother and Sister: As they are both only children, 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; he privately decides that she's stolen his heart when he hears her sing for the first time after the girls return from Europe.
  • Maiden Aunt: Peace and Plenty, who are the spinster sisters of the late Grandfather Campbell.
  • Malaproper: A variant. One chapter in the first book has Uncle Alec mangling Annabel Bliss's name as "Ariadne Blish."
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Notably averted, as no one bats an eye at Annabel marrying Fun See.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Aunt Peace is of tranquil disposition and loved by everyone.
    • Aunt Plenty is plump, generous, and an excellent cook and hostess.
    • Phebe (a species of bird) is a naturally gifted singer; she even jokes, when first meeting Rose, that she has "a phebe-bird" in her throat.
    • Rose is frequently subject to botanical metaphors.
  • Middle Name Basis: Mac is always called Mac, but his full name - as shown in the second book - is actually Alexander Mackenzie Campbell. He's named after Uncle Alec, who is his godfather, as well as his own father.
  • Must Have Caffeine: At the beginning of her acquaintance with Uncle Alec, Rose is a coffee addict - Aunt Plenty insists that she drink strong coffee every morning to "tone her up" and keep her perky. Alec puts a quick end to that, citing the drink as being the reason for her sleepless nights and sluggish mornings, and gets her in the habit of drinking fresh milk every morning instead.
  • 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"...
  • Nobody Calls Me "Chicken"!: It's established that Rose doesn't really want earrings; she's only entertaining Annabel when laid up with a broken ankle. For one, they're a symbol of vanity and for another Uncle Alec would kill her. The reason why she agrees is that Annabel asks if she's scared. When the boys hear the full story, they tease Rose about being vain, Alec included, but acknowledge that Annabel dared her.
  • No Name Given: It's not mentioned which of the Campbell brothers was Aunt Myra's husband, only that he has been dead for many years.
  • 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, but only where her own feelings are concerned; when it comes to others, she's pretty astute.
  • Of Corset Hurts: Uncle Alec believes in this, as a doctor. He confiscates a belt that Rose was wearing under the mandate of her horrible boarding school, telling her a sash is more practical for a girl her age. When Aunt Clara has Rose try on a fashionable dress and hides a pair of corsets from a furious Uncle Alec, he finds them and nearly tosses them in the fire. It's only because Aunt Jessie tells him they're made of whalebones that he refrains from burning them, as it would create an almost toxic stench; he grumbles that humans were made with enough bones in their body before letting her take them.
  • Only Child Syndrome: Charlie is extremely spoiled, in part because he's his parents' only child and his father is abroad most of the time. (Charlie Senior doesn't even appear in the story until near the end of the second book, after his son dies.) Rose is also an only child, and somewhat spoiled as well due to having been a Daddy's Girl with a Missing Mom, but she does her best not to be too self-indulgent; Uncle Alec's influence certainly helps.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Pokey, Jamie's "dolly" in the first book, is a cherubic little girl who follows him around and endears herself to most of those around her. Her real name is never given.
  • 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, Aunt Jessie seems to be this.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: The aunts are collectively appalled by Archie 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. Alec specifically notes that he and Aunt Jessie (who is Rose's favorite aunt, due to her Only Sane Woman status) will need to do their best to make sure she "isn't quite fatherless and motherless."
  • Plot-Triggering Death: The death of George Campbell, Rose's father, is what launches the entire story, since he bequeathed his only child to his brother Alec; Rose is taken from her school and brought to live with her great-aunts until her guardian returns from his life abroad to raise her.
  • Precious Photo: For her birthday, Rose is given carefully prepared images of her father and mother, which brings her to tears. (Given the time period, they're probably portraits rather than photographs, but it still counts.)
  • 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; when Rose first meets the seven boys, they're all dressed in full kilt regalia. 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 See; Mac uses the trope almost word for word when he tells Rose that he and Annabel are engaged.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely:
    • A hilarious subversion when Aunt Clara has Rose try on a "fashionable" winter outfit with corsets and a very tight skirt. The prose notes that the narrator feels sorry for whatever seamstress wove it, because all that effort went into an ugly, impractical outfit; it's even mentioned that the colors of the fabric clash. Aunt Clara declares that Rose looks like a lady, but the aunts and Alec say that Rose looks "frightful", and Rose agrees. Uncle Alec tells off Clara for trying to invoke this trope, saying that Rose is a growing girl and she doesn't need to look like an adult debutante.
    • Gender-flipped 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, Cervantes, 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 potential 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 forward as the only acceptable possibilities for husbands. Rose is mortified when Jamie, the youngest, spills the beans the day that she comes home and she spends most of the book trying to avoid the advances of her various suitors (including many other young men beside her cousins who want the pretty heiress).
  • We Really Do Care: A variant, as Rose doesn't have the means to leave the family even if she wished it; but after she nurses Mac devotedly during his illness, and chases all of the other boys out of the sickroom because they're upsetting him, Archie, Charlie, and Steve have a conference among themselves about the whole situation. They realize that they haven't been treating her very well, on account of something which happened earlier in the story, and resolve to make it up to her.
    Archie: I'll tell you what it is, boys. We haven't been half good enough to Rose.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Jamie's "dolly" Pokey disappears late in the first book, and in the final chapter he mentions that "Pokey's gone away." We have no clue as to where she's gone or why; she is only namechecked in passing in the sequel, as part of Rose's childhood memory.
  • What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: Mac tries to conduct a study about love by asking anyone who will listen.
  • Widowed at the Wedding: Aunt Peace's backstory, as noted elsewhere. She was actually widowed just before the wedding, but it was still the day (and nearly the hour) of.
  • Widow's Weeds: Althtllough 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. Justified, as the story takes place during the Victorian era and there really were rules governing how long the various stages of mourning lasted; however, once Uncle Alec arrives, he gives permission for her to stop dressing in dark colors.
    • Aunt Myra still wears these even though it's been years since her husband died. The boys refer to her house as "the mausoleum."
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Charlie is described as acting like a melodramatic theatre character. His mother is of similar temperament.