Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A fascinating book about Louisa May Alcott

I believe I was about eight years old when I first read Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women."  It was an abridged version, but it launched me into a world of book-loving that I've never left.

I subsequently read everything by Alcott that I could get my hands on, and of course, I've re-read many of them several times.

This is exactly what my first copy of "Little Women" looked like

So I was delighted to read Harriet Reisen's "Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women."

Reisen, who wrote the book after researching the author's life for a documentary, provides a wealth of detail and glimpses into the personal letters and journals of Louisa and her family

Yes, Little Women was largely based on Louisa's own family--her father, famed philosopher Bronson Alcott, her mother Abby, and her sisters, Anna, Lizzie and May.

More than the March Family

But there is so much more to the story of Louisa and her family.  Bronson Alcott's perpetual head-in-the clouds philosophizing and transient schemes for utopian communities and innovative schools brought him fame and even admiration, but it rarely paid the bills.

This caused his wife and family to suffer, and Louisa bore the brunt of it for much of her life.  Once she became a successful author, she felt the constant weight of supporting her family financially.

There's a lot of sadness and suffering in Louisa's life, but through it all emerges the woman that "Jo" was based on...feisty, funny, and usually emerging triumphant over trials and depression.

This image of Louisa as a young woman is so much more attractive than later images.  Can you imagine how pretty she would be if she was smiling?

A fascinating woman

Louisa was ahead of her time.  She was passionate about issues like slavery and women's rights, and she firmly believed a woman could do whatever God had gifted her to do.

 Reisen never questions Louisa's sexuality in the book, as I think some other authors have done.  It's obvious from her personal writings, journals and letters that Louisa was attracted to men, and had a few suitors in her day.

By the way, Reisen believes Louisa's forays into pulp fiction were not just a means to pay the bills, although that was a huge factor.  She posits that Louisa lived vicariously through those daring, sensational tales, experiencing a life beyond her own tame domestic one.

A woman to admire

I find it sad that Louisa never married.  I think her life could have been much sweeter if she had had a life partner to share it with.

It's also sad that medical science had not yet advanced to the point where Louisa's life could have been lengthened beyond the age of 55.  Reisen cites doctors who have speculated that she may have had lupus.

This book left me with an even greater respect and liking for a fascinating woman.  I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the author of so many beloved books.


Barbara H. said...

I just happened upon a Louisa May Alcott challenge for the summer -- I may have to include this book in it.

Anonymous said...

I read a fictionalized version of her life - The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott - that I enjoyed very much, and it touched a lot on Bronson and his failure to be a good father and provider. I'm adding this one to my to-read list, as I'd love to know how much of that previous book was based in fact.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

This sounds really good! I am going to look for it.


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