Written by Louisa May Alcott, Rose in Bloom depicts the story of a nineteenth century girl, Rose Campbell, finding her way in society. Sequel to Eight Cousins.
The story begins when Rose returns home from a long trip to Europe. Everyone has changed. As a joke, Rose lines up her seven cousins to take a long look at them, just as they did with her when they first met. The youngest accidentally mentions that the aunts want Rose to marry one of her cousins to keep her fortune in the family. Rose is very indignant, for she has decided ideas about what her future holds. From the beginning, she declares that she can manage her property well on her own and that she will focus on philanthropic work. Charlie has already decided she is marked out for him, with the approval of his mother.
Phebe also comes home no longer the servant that Rose "adopted" but as a young lady with a cultured singing ability. Rose challenges anyone who would look down on "her Phebe", and she is readily accepted as part of the Campbell clan until Archie falls in love with her: the family feel that Archie would be marrying beneath himself. Phebe's pride and debt to the family make her wish to prove herself before she will accept Archie; so she leaves the Campbells' home and sets off to make a name for herself as a singer, to try to earn the respect of her adopted family.
After some time at home, Rose has her "coming out" into society, much to her Uncle Alec's chagrin. She promises to try high society for only three months. During that time, her cousin Charlie falls in love with her and tries in various ways to woo her. Rose begins to give in to his charm, but he derails the budding romance by coming to her house, late one night, very drunk. This ruins all her respect for him and she sees how unprincipled he really is. After the three months are up, Rose begins to focus on her philanthropic projects and convinces Charlie to try to refrain from alcohol and other frivolous things, in order to win her love and respect.
She tries to help Charlie overcome his bad habits with the help of her uncle, but fails. Charlie does all he can to win her heart, but in the end he succumbs, hindered by his own weak will and his constant need for acceptance by his friends. Being spoilt by his mother meant he never learned to say "no", even to himself, and his lack of discipline proves fatal: Charlie's life ends tragically in an alcohol-induced accident on the eve of his voyage to see his father and restore his good character. Although Rose never was in love with Charlie, she did have hope that he would return a better man and that they might see what relationship could develop.
Several months after Charlie's death, Rose finds out that another cousin, Mac, is now in love with her. At first, never thought of him as anything but "the worm", she refuses his love; but she does declare the deepest respect for him. This gives Mac hope, and he goes to medical school, willing to work and wait for her. She finds his devotion touching, and she begins to see him clearly for the first time, realizing that Mac is the "hero" she has been looking for. He is exactly suited to her tastes and has become a man in the noblest sense of the word. He also settles a joke with her by publishing a small book of poetry to wide critical success, earning her respect even more deeply. It is his absence that shows her how much she cares for him.
While Rose is discovering her heart, Steve and a minor character, Kitty, engage to marry. This creates a new sensation in the family, and Kitty begins to look to Rose for sisterly guidance. Rose encourages her to improve her silly mind, and Kitty is a very willing pupil. Rose continues to wait for Mac's return but reaches a crisis when Uncle Alec becomes very sick while visiting Mac; Phebe nurses him back from the brink of death, at personal peril, and returns him to the anxious Campbells to be greeted as a triumphant member of the family, sealing her own engagement with Archie with everyone's blessing. This homecoming is completed for Rose when she is reunited with Mac and finally declares her own sentiments. The book closes with three very happy couples, and much hope for their felicity.
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