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Alcott Louisa May
Louisa May Alcott was an American novelist born in 1832 in Germantown. She is best known for the novel Little Women and its sequels Little Men and Jo's Boys. Little Women, published in 1868 and set in the Alcott family home Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, was loosely based on her childhood experiences with her three sisters. Little Women was very well received and is still a popular children's novel today. Alcott never married and died in Boston in 1888 .
Alcott was born on November 29, 1832 in Germantown, which is currently part of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of noted transcendentalist and educator Amos Bronson Alcott and Abigail May Alcott. 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." 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, where Alcott's father established an experimental school and joined the Transcendental Club with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Bronson Alcott's opinions on education and tough views on child-rearing shaped young Alcott's mind with a desire to achieve perfection, a goal of the transcendentalists. His attitudes towards Alcott's sometimes wild and independent behavior and inability to provide for his family sometimes created conflict between Bronson Alcott and his wife and daughters.
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 three years they spent at the rented Hosmer Cottage were described as "idyllic". By 1843, Alcott family moved, along with six other members of the Consociate Family, 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, but she received the majority of her schooling from her father, who was strict and believed in "the sweetness of self-denial". She received some instruction also from writers and educators such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller, who were all family friends. She later described these early years in a newspaper sketch entitled "Transcendental Wild Oats". The sketch was reprinted in the volume Silver Pitchers (1876), which relates the family's experiment in "plain living and high thinking" at Fruitlands.
Poverty made it necessary for Alcott to go to work at an early age as an occasional teacher, seamstress, governess, domestic helper, and writer. Her sisters also became the breadwinners of the family, working as seamstresses and governesses as well while their mother took on social work among the Irish immigrants. Only the youngest, May, was able to attend public school. Due to all these pressures, writing became a creative and emotional outlet for Alcott. Her first book was Flower Fables (1849), a selection of tales originally written for Ellen Emerson, daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1860, Alcott began writing for the Atlantic Monthly. When the American Civil War broke out, she served as a 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) – brought her first critical recognition for her observations and humor. Her novel Moods (1864), based on her own experience, was also promising.
Alcott also wrote passionate, fiery novels and sensational stories under the nom de plume A. M. Barnard. Among these are A Long Fatal Love Chase and Pauline's Passion and Punishment. Her protagonists for these tales are willful and relentless in their pursuit of their own aims, which often include revenge on those who have humiliated or thwarted them.
Alcott produced wholesome stories for children also, and after their positive reception, she did not generally return to creating works for adults. Adult-oriented exceptions include the anonymous novelette A Modern Mephistopheles (1875), which attracted suspicion that it was written by Julian Hawthorne; and the semi-autobiographical tale Work (1873).
As an adult, Alcott was an abolitionist and a feminist. In 1847, the family housed a fugitive slave for one week and in 1848, Alcott read and admired the "Declaration of Sentiments" published by the Seneca Falls Convention on women's rights, advocating for women's suffrage and becoming the first woman to register to vote in Concord, Massachusetts in a school board election.
The 1850s were hard times. Alcott at one point in 1857, unable to find work and filled with such despair, contemplated suicide. During that year, she read Elizabeth Gaskell's biography of Charlotte Brontë and found many parallels to her own life. In 1858, her younger sister Lizzie died and her older sister Anna married a man by the name of John Pratt. This felt, to Alcott, a breaking up of their sisterhood.
In 1863, Alcott published Hospital Sketches, which detailed her time working as a Civil War nurse in the winter of 1862-63. It was her first successful literary works and was originally written for the Boston anti-slavery paper The Commonwealth. She speaks out about the mismanagement of hospitals and the indifference and callousness of surgeons she encountered. Her main character Trib showed a passage from innocence to maturity and is a "serious and eloquent witness".
Alcott became even more successful with the publication by the Roberts Brothers of the first part of Little Women: or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, (1868) a semi-autobiographical account of her childhood with her sisters in Concord, Massachusetts. Part two, or Part Second, also known as Good Wives, (1869) followed the March sisters into adulthood and their respective marriages. Little Men (1871) detailed Jo's life at the Plumfield School that she founded with her husband Professor Bhaer at the conclusion of Part Two of Little Women. Jo's Boys (1886) completed the "March Family Saga".
In Little Women, Alcott based her heroine "Jo" on herself. But whereas Jo marries at the end of the story, Alcott remained single throughout her life. She explained her "spinsterhood" in an interview with Louise Chandler Moulton, "because I have fallen in love with so many pretty girls and never once the least bit with any man." However, Alcott's romance while in Europe with Ladislas Wisniewski, "Laddie", was detailed in her journals but then deleted by Alcott herself before her death. Alcott identified Laddie as the model for Laurie in Little Women, and there is strong evidence this was the significant emotional relationship of her life. Likewise, every character seems to be paralleled to some extent, from Beth's death mirroring Lizzie's so Jo's rivalry with the youngest, Amy, as Alcott felt a sort of rivalry for May, at times Though Alcott never married, she did take in May's daughter, Louisa, after May's death in 1879 from childbed fever, caring for little "Lulu" until her death.
Little Women was well received, finding it suitable for many age groups. A reviewer of Eclectic Magazine called it "the very best of books to reach the hearts of the young of any age from six to sixty,". It was also said to be a fresh, natural representation of daily life.
Alcott, along with Elizabeth Stoddard, Rebecca Harding Davis, Anne Moncure Crane, and others, were part of a group of female authors during the Gilded Age who addressed women’s issues in a modern and candid manner. Their works were, as one newspaper columnist of the period commented, "among the decided 'signs of the times'" (“Review 2 – No Title” from The Radical, May 1868, see References below).
Alcott, who continued to write until her death, suffered chronic health problems in her later years, including vertigo. She and her earliest biographers attributed her illness and death to mercury poisoning: during her American Civil War service, Alcott contracted typhoid fever and was treated with a compound containing mercury. Recent analysis of Alcott's illness, however, suggests that her chronic health problems may have been associated with an autoimmune disease, not acute mercury exposure. Moreover, a late portrait of Alcott shows rashes on her cheeks characteristic of lupus. Alcott died at age 55 of a stroke in Boston, on March 6, 1888 at 3:30 A.M., two days after her father's death. Her last words were "Is it not meningitis?"
The story of her life and career was told initially 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). In 2008, John Matteson won the Pulitzer Prize in Biography for his first book, Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father. Harriet Reisen's biography, "Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women," was published in 2009, and includes the most extensive primary source material (much of which was discovered after Stern's biography), including Madelon Bedell's unpublished notes of interviews with Lulu before Lulu's death. The children's biography Invincible Louisa, written by Cornelia Meigs, received the Newbery Award in 1934 for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
USA, 1940, Louisa May Alcott
USA, 1993, Little Women