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Louisa May Alcott

An American novelist. . She is best known for the novel Little Women, set in the Alcott family home, Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, and published in 1868. This novel is loosely based on her childhood experiences with her three sisters.

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Who was the real Louisa May Alcott?

  • Aug 27, 2010

The nineteenth century produced an extraordinary number of superb women authors- the Brontes, George Eliot, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Jane Austen, to name a few....and Louisa May Alcott.

Everybody reads “Little Women,” of course, the book is as comfortable as an old shoe, but Alcott wrote a great deal more including some astonishing horror-mystery stories under her nom de plume. A.M. Barnard. As an author deserving much more scrutiny, Alcott gets shoved under the rug as her work is virtually never discussed in college literature courses.

Poverty made it necessary for Alcott to seek employment as a teacher, seamstress and governess. (Doesn’t that remind you of the Bronte girls)? Although she wrote for the Atlantic Monthly in an escape from being a governess, when the Civil War broke out she served as a nurse in a Union hospital for six weeks. She was both an abolitionist and a feminist and her family even harbored a runaway slave. She kept on writing no matter what and her pen was always her great escape.

Remember kindly Professor Bhaer in “Little Women” telling Jo she should write from her own experience and not produce lurid, scandalous tales? Jo was in tears over the gentle criticism, but promised to reform. But the real Jo, Louisa May Alcott, didn’t “reform” at all but plunged right into the penning of those lurid tales of women scorned, murder and mayhem and wickedness and revenge and opium dens told in the over-wrought prose very popular at the time.

Would you believe Alcott hated “moral pap for children” her exact words and relished hiding behind the name A.M. Barnard and going amok? In her wild writing mode Alcott reminds me a bit of Emily Bronte. The woman behind A.M. Barnard was  a very different woman than the one behind “Little Women.” When Alcott was in Europe she apparently had quite a passionate fling with  one Ladislas Wisniewski (Laddie) the inspiration for Laurie. Alcott removed from her journal all references to this romance before she died, but it’s quite likely this was the emotional and sexual relationship of her life. Still waters run deep.

I’m glad Alcott got back to writing “moral pap” for children and penned the superb “Little Women.” “Little Men” “Jo’s Boys” and her other novels for young people never quite produced the same popularity as “Little Women.” But from a literary standpoint her lurid stories can’t be shoved under the rug. They are quite fabulous, if overwrought. In a book entitled “Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott” four of the Gothic tales are compiled by the well-known biographer and antiquarian Madeleine Stern. A review of these astonishing tales will follow this one here on Lunch.









Louisa May Alcott

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September 02, 2010
Nice review about the woman behind the words. I found that fact out about her when I read "A Long Fatal Love Chase." It was so much better than "Little Women," or at least what I remember of that book. To read my review, go here: http://www.lunch.com/Reviews/book/A_Long_Fat...=74&rid=20256#rid_20256
September 02, 2010
Adrianna, terrific review for "A Long Fatal Love Chase". I really laughed at your comment that "Little Women" was too wholesome for your taste! Where did you get that image of Louisa May looking at her own portrait? Wow!
September 03, 2010
Thanks! I'm so glad you enjoyed the review. It's one of my favorites. I have no idea where I found that image. I did a random search online for photos of her. That one really piqued my interest.because it was so compelling. I saved a copy to my computer if you want me to email you it. Just shoot me a private message with your email info. Also, if you want to read some quotes from the book, I created a list here: http://lunch.com/t/15uu
August 29, 2010
The Summer of Louisa May Alcott is a new novel postulating a romance for her when her family stayed in Walpole, NH.
August 29, 2010
Ladislas apparently was her boyfriend while she was in Europe, acting as a paid companion. Another guy in Walpole? Good for Louisa May!
August 28, 2010
Did you read one book to get this information? I enjoy Alcott's works and visited her house in a sort of Alcott pilgrimage one year. I had never heard about Ladislas -- I'd love to read more detail about him. Thanks for this interesting recap of her life.
August 29, 2010
No, Joytur, I put Louisa through Google and read every pertinent article about her- there were a lot! The book containing four of her Gothic stories is on order from Amazon and I will review them when I get and read the tales! (Of course I've read "Little Women". "Little Men" and "Jo's Boys").
More Louisa May Alcott reviews
Quick Tip by . September 02, 2010
Louisa May is enjoying a resurgence of popularity! The T-shirt making company, Zazzle, offers many Louisa products from portraits to famous things she said to images of Little Women... on shirts, cups, buttons and more!
Quick Tip by . August 29, 2010
Louisa May Alcott shared.a birthday with her father, Amos Bronson Alcott. When it came time for Mr. Alcott to die he said to Louisa May, who was also mortally ill "I am going up..will you come with me?" "I wish I could!" answered Louisa. She died two days after her father on March 6, 1888, possibly of lupus. I like to think they are both "up" there together!
About the reviewer
Pam Sharp ()
Ranked #151
   I'm a retired botanist with degrees from Smith College and the University of Arizona. I'm currently into designing T-shirts and other items for Zazzle. Am interested in almost everything … more
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Alcott was the daughter of noted transcendentalist and educator Amos Bronson Alcott and Abigail May Alcott. She shared a birthday with her father on November 29, 1832. In a letter to his brother-in-law, Samuel Joseph May, a noted abolitionist, her father wrote: "It is with great pleasure that I announce to you the birth of my second daughter...born about half-past 12 this morning, on my [33rd] birthday." Though of New England heritage, she was born in Germantown, which is currently part of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the second of four daughters: Anna Bronson Alcott was the eldest; Elizabeth Sewall Alcott and Abigail May Alcott were the two youngest. The family moved to Boston in 1834,[1] After the family moved to Massachusetts, Alcott's father established an experimental school and joined the Transcendental Club with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

In 1840, after several setbacks with the school, the Alcott family moved to a cottage on 2 acres (8,100 m2) of land, situated along the Sudbury River in Concord, Massachusetts. The Alcott family moved to the Utopian Fruitlands community for a brief interval in 1843-1844 and then, after its collapse, to rented rooms and finally to a house in Concord purchased with her mother's inheritance and financial help from Emerson. They moved into the home they named "Hillside" on April 1, 1845.

Alcott's early education included lessons from the naturalist Henry David Thoreau. She ...
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