Field Stone Cottage Blog

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Biography of Louisa May Alcott

Little Women has been one of my all-time favorite books ever since I first read it at about age 12 but I'd never read a biography of Louisa May Alcott until now. I knew that Little Women was loosely based on Alcott's own family and that she had never married. Particularly because of the way Pilgrim's Progress is interwoven in the story, I'd always imagined Louisa May Alcott as a sweet Christian spinster.

Harriet Reisen is the author of Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women. Her well researched, well-written biography reveals a very different image from the one I've held all these years. Louisa May was the second daughter of Bronson Alcott, a prominent member of the circle of Transcendentalists of New England in the nineteenth century that also included Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. She was very much affected by the thinking of these men which seems to be much the same as that which is now referred to as New Age. Louisa May in fact referred to herself as a Bhuddist and espoused a belief in reincarnation.

Bronson Alcott never successfully supported his family and this also affected Louisa greatly. She was a determined and spirited child and made up her mind early that she would support the family as soon as possible. She became wealthy through the writing of Little Women and her other children's fiction but she wrote in that genre for the money and not for the love of it. Indeed, she was quite cranky and impatient with the young girls who comprised the Little Women Clubs that sprang up after the publication of her most famous novel. Her true writing passion was in pulp fiction which she wrote under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard.

Never really healthy in her adult life, it is postulated that Louisa May Alcott suffered from Lupus as well as manic-depressive illness. Perhaps this accounts for her bad temper as well as her addiction to opiates which was apparently not uncommon among women of the time.

Despite the fact that Harriet Reissen effectively destroyed my fond and long-held image of the author of Little Women, I am glad that I read Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women. But before you read it, do be warned that your mental picture of this classic author may never be the same.


Kim from Hiraeth said...

Excellent review, Dorothy.

AuntE said...

I agree with Kim.

I happened to see a portion of a biography (maybe on PBS TV?) of LMA. I, too, was very surprised and I think maybe I held a similar 'romantic' notion of this wonderful author. It was well done, the bit I saw, and I'd love to see the whole thing sometime.