The Glory Cloak

A Novel of Louisa May Alcott and Clara Barton

The Glory Cloak

From childhood, Susan Gray and her cousin Louisa May Alcott have shared a safe, insular world of outdoor adventures and grand amateur theater -- a world that begins to evaporate with the outbreak of the Civil War. Frustrated with sewing uniforms and wrapping bandages, the two women journey to Washington, D.C.'s Union Hospital to volunteer as nurses. Nothing has prepared them for the horrors of this grueling experience. There they meet the remarkable Clara Barton -- the legendary Angel of the Battlefield -- and she becomes their idol and mentor. Soon one wounded soldier begins to captivate and puzzle them all -- a man who claims to be a blacksmith, but whose appearance and sharp intelligence suggest he might not be who he says he is.
Through the Civil War and its chaotic aftermath to the apex of Louisa's fame as the author of Little Women and Lincoln's appointment of Clara to the job of finding and naming the war's missing and dead, this novel is ultimately the story of friendship between women -- women who broke the mold society set for them, while still reckoning with betrayal, love, and forgiveness.
  • Touchstone | 
  • 368 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743257503 | 
  • May 2004
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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide
1. In The Glory Cloak, historical fact and fiction blend seamlessly. How did you feel about rediscovering Louisa May Alcott through the eyes of a fictional character? Did reading this novel enhance your understanding of Louisa May Alcott?
2. Describe Susan's role in the Alcott family. How can she be considered both an integral member of the family and an outsider?
3. How would you characterize the early friendship between Louisa and Susan? How does it change over time? Was it realistic for them to think that that form of their friendship would last forever?
4. Quoting Emerson, Louisa says, "it is impossible to extricate ourselves from the times in which we live" (89). How is the novel as a whole guided by that statement? What famous Americans make appearances in the novel, and what do their presence add to the story?
5. At what point does Louisa cease to be the carefree, courageous girl of Susan's memory? Why? What unique burdens does she bear, and why won't she allow herself to enjoy the fruits of her labor?
6. What does Louisa's youthful enthusiasm -- even passion -- for Henry Thoreau reveal about her? How does it foreshadow her eventual relationship with John Sulie?
7. How would you describe Louisa's vision of the ideal family, and how does this vision shape her writing of Little Women? Why is Louisa so unreasonably upset about Anna's marriage? Similarly, what makes her relationship with her father see more

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About the Author

Patricia O'Brien
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Patricia O'Brien

Patricia O'Brien is the author of the critically acclaimed novel The Glory Cloak and co-author of I Know Just What You Mean, a New York Times bestseller. She lives in Washington, D.C.