Who was Louisa May Alcott Really?
Although she lived a life and belief that caused her to travel in a completely different direction than me, one of my favorite authors of prose and poetry will continue to be the quintessential American Novelist from 19th Century, Louisa May Alcott.
Here at A Pen for Your Thoughts I look forward to sharing a little bit about this unforgettable and talented woman some information you might not yet know. Join me now as we enjoy a moment of learning about who she really was and how she came to be the woman many know nothing about to this day except that she wrote a few books that we have come to love and have enjoyed throughout our lives..
Who was Louisa May Alcott? What can we as readers and writers learn from her, this remarkable woman of the past?
Louisa May Alcott an American novelist, was best known for her novel, Little Women, written and set in the Alcott family home where she lived in Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts.
Little Women was based in part on Louisa's childhood experiences with her three sisters. One can get a hint of the type of woman she would become by delving into one of her primary characters in this novel.
We learn from reading her biography that in 1840, after several setbacks with the school, she and her family were compelled to relocate so they moved to a cottage along the Sudbury River, also in Massachusetts in the town of Concord. The ever adventurous Alcott family later moved to the Utopian Fruitlands community where they resided from 1843-1844 and then, after its collapse went on to live in rented rooms and finally to a house in Concord purchased with Louisa's mother's inheritance and financial help from Emerson.
Louisa May Alcott's early education included lessons from the naturalist Henry David Thoreau; the majority of her schooling, she received directly from her father. Louisa was also privileged to receive some instruction from writers and educators such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller, all family friends.
What an amazing privilege!
Louisa later described these early years of her life 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.
She clearly lived an unusual and unorthodox life for her era, for by the time she entered adulthood, Louisa became an abolitionist and a feminist. In 1847, she and her family housed a fugitive slave for one week, and then in 1848 Alcott read and admired the "Declaration of Sentiments" published by the Seneca Falls Convention on women's rights.
Poverty made it necessary for Alcott to go to work at an early age as an occasional teacher, seamstress, governess, domestic helper, and writer. We also learn of her history that her first book was Flower Fables (1855), a book of tales originally written for Ellen Emerson, daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1860, Alcott began writing for the Atlantic Monthly. She was also employed as a nurse in the Union Hospital at Georgetown, D.C., for six weeks in 1862-1863. While employed at Union Hospital, her letters home, revised and published in the Commonwealth and collected as Hospital Sketches (1863, republished with additions in 1869), garnered her first critical recognition for her observations and humor. Her novel Moods (1864), based on her own experience, was also promising.
Ever the prolific writer, and in moments of totally different character, Louisa also wrote passionate, fiery novels and sensation 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. These works achieved immediate commercial success in their day.
Ever the diverse woman of atypical character, Alcott 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 (1875), which attracted suspicion that it was written by Julian Hawthorne, she did not return to creating works for adults.
Some might consider this remarkable novelist a contradiction in terms.
Alcott wrote until her death, which was attributed to the after-effects of mercury poisoning contracted during her American Civil War service. She had received calomel treatments for the effects of typhoid before her passing which took place in Boston on March 6, 1888 at age 55, two days after visiting her father on his deathbed. Her last words were "Is it not meningitis?"
Much of this writing included on this page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia, modified in several instances by this author.
Used by permission.
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The verse that follows is one of my favorites of Louisa May Alcott.
Hither, hither, from thy home,
Airy sprite, I bid thee come!
Born of roses, fed on dew,
Charms and potions canst thou brew?
Bring me here, with elfin speed,
The fragrant philter which I need.
Make it sweet and swift and strong,
Spirit, answer now my song!
* * * * *
Hither I come,
From my airy home,
Afar in the silver moon.
Take the magic spell,
And use it well,
Or its power will vanish soon!