Archiver > QUEBEC-RESEARCH > 2004-11 > 1101744025

Subject: Excerpt Of History
Date: Mon, 29 Nov 2004 11:00:25 EST

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832 - March 6, 1888) was an American
novelist, best known for the novel Little Women (1868).
She was the daughter of Amos Bronson Alcott and Abigail May, and though of
New England parentage and residence, was born in Germantown, now part of
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She began work at an early age as an occasional
teacher, seamstress, governess, and writer — her first book was Flower Fables
(1854), tales originally written for Ellen Emerson, daughter of Ralph Waldo
Emerson. In 1860 she began writing for the Atlantic Monthly, and she was nurse in
the Union Hospital at Georgetown, D.C., for six weeks in 1862-1863. Her
letters home, revised and published in the Commonwealth and collected as Hospital
Sketches (1863, republished with additions in 1869), displayed keen power of
observation and record with a healthy dose of the humor of retrospection, and
garnered her the first critical recognition. Despite its uncertainty of
method and of touch, Moods, a novel (1864), also showed considerable promise.
A lesser-known part of her work are the passionate, fiery novels and stories
she wrote, usually under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard. These works, such as A
Long Fatal Love Chase and Pauline's Passion and Punishment, are of the type
referred to in Little Women as "dangerous for little minds" and were called
"potboilers" or "blood-and-thunder tales" by Victorians. Their protagonists
are willful and relentless in their pursuit of their own aims, which often
include revenge on those who have humiliated or thwarted them. These well-written
works with an uncommon point of view achieved immediate commercial success
and are highly readable today.
She also produced moralistic and wholesome stories for children, and, with
the exceptions of the semi-autobiographical tale Work (1873), and the
anonymous novelette A Modern Mephistopheles (1877), which attracted suspicion that it
was authored by Julian Hawthorne, she did not return to creating works for
Her overwhelming success dated from the appearance of the first part of
Little Women: or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy (1868), in which, with unfailing humour,
freshness and realism, she put into story form many of the sayings and doings
of herself and sisters. Little Men (1871) similarly treated the character and
ways of her nephews who lived with her at Orchard House in Concord,
Massachusetts, in which Alcott's industry had now established her parents and other
members of the Alcott family. Jo's Boys (1886) completed the "March Family
Saga." Most of her later volumes, An Old-Fashioned Girl (1870), Aunt Jo's Scrap
Bag (6 vols., 1871-1879), Rose in Bloom (1876), and others, followed in the
line of Little Women, of which the author's large and loyal public never
Her natural love of labor, her wide-reaching generosity, her quick
perception, and her fondness for sharing with her many readers that cheery humor that
radiated from her personality and her books, led her to continue to produce
stories despite worsening health. At last she succumbed to the lingering
aftereffects of mercury poisoning, contracted during her Civil War service, dying
in Boston on March 6, 1888, two days after visiting her father on his
Alcott's early education had included lessons from the naturalist Henry David
Thoreau but had chiefly been in the hands of her father, and in her girlhood
and early womanhood she had fully shared the trials and poverty incident to
the life of a peripatetic idealist.
In a newspaper sketch entitled "Transcendental Wild Oats", afterwards
reprinted in the volume Silver Pitchers (1876), she narrated, with a delicate wit
and humour, the experiences of her family during an experiment towards Utopian
"plain living and high thinking" at "Fruitlands" in the town of Harvard,
Massachusetts in 1843.
The story of her life and career was initially competently told in Ednah D.
Cheney's Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters and Journals (Boston, 1889) and
then in Madeleine B. Stern's seminal biography Louisa May Alcott (University
of Oklahoma Press, 1950).

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