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Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888), American author wrote Little Women (1868);
“Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
Protagonist Jo March’s character is based on Alcott herself and her sisters form the basis for her other characters whose adventures and lives she recounts in this tale set in New England during the American Civil War. Highly successful upon publication and subsequently inspiring numerous adaptations to the screen, Little Women is still one of the most popular novels read by people of all ages. Alcott wrote many other highly acclaimed works in her time and was an active supporter of the women’s suffrage and abolition movements, but it is her wholesome tales penned from her own experiences growing up that she is best remembered.
Born on 29 November 1832 in Germantown (now part of Philadelphia), Pennsylvania, Louisa May Alcott was the second daughter of Abigail `Abba’ May (1800-1877), women’s suffrage and abolitionist advocate and Amos Bronson Alcott (1799-1893), transcendentalist philosopher and education and social reformer who helped found the controversial and pioneering Temple School in Boston, Massachusetts in 1834. Amos played an active role in the education of Louisa and her three sisters Anna, Elizabeth, and May.
After a failed experiment of living at the communal Fruitlands farm, a result of which was Alcott’s Transcendental Wild Oats (1876), the family moved to `Hillside’ in Concord, Massachusetts. Alcott had become friends with fellow transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose vast library she regularly frequented, and Henry David Thoreau, whom she accompanied on walks in the countryside. Margaret Fuller and Nathaniel Hawthorne and his family were also amongst the Alcott’s varied and intellectual social circle of New England.
By 1858 the Alcotts were living at The Orchard House on Lexington Road in Concord, which is now a National Historic Landmark. Surrounded by acres of apple trees, the rambling and dignified home would be the setting for her future novel Little Women. Its sequels are Good Wives (1869), Little Men (1871), and Jo’s Boys (1886).
Amos’ idealist and unconventional pursuits were not especially lucrative so around the age of fifteen Alcott started to contribute to the family income with various positions including teacher, seamstress, and servant which inspired her later novel Work: A Story of Experience (1873). While she kept a journal from a very early age, she was also encouraged by family and friends to write poems, sketches and plays, acted out by her and her sisters. Some of her first poems were published anonymously or under the pseudonym `A.N. Barnard’ and her first collection of works, written for Emerson’s daughter Ellen, Flower Fables was published in 1854.
In 1856 Elizabeth Alcott died of scarlet fever, and Anna married. Louisa and her mother were a great support to each other in this time of loss and change. She was writing for the Atlantic Monthly when the Civil War broke out and she enlisted as a nurse and went to the Union Hospital in Washington, D.C. in 1862. Hospital Sketches (1863) is a result of her letters home and was critical to her success as an author. She had contracted typhoid fever during her service and the treatment for it which included mercury would hamper her health for the rest of her life.
Alcott became involved with the same reform movements her mother was active in including abolition of slavery and women’s rights. She was also an accomplished writer now achieving wide acclaim and supporting the family financially. Works to follow Sketches were The Rose Family: A Fairy Tale (1864), Moods (1865), and the potboiler A Long Fatal Love Chase (1866). Her publisher Thomas Niles requested `a girl’s story’ from her and the result was Little Women, followed by further development of the March sisters’ lives in Good Wives (1869). An Old-fashioned Girl (1870) was one of her next publications followed by Little Men (1871), Eight Cousins (1875) and its sequel Rose in Bloom (1876). Other Alcott works include A Modern Mephistopheles (1877), Under the Lilacs (1879), and Jack and Jill (1880).
Alcott’s mother Abigail had died in 1877 and in 1878 her sister May married and had a daughter named after her, Louisa `Lulu’ May. May died a year later. Shortly after Alcott moved to Boston where she continued to write novels including Jo’s Boys (1886), Lulu’s Library, written between 1886 and 1888 for her niece Lulu, and A Garland for Girls (1888).
Amos Bronson Alcott died in 1888 and just two days later, on 6 March 1888 Louisa Alcott died in Boston, Massachusetts. She lies buried on Authors Ridge of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts near her family and friends Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau.
“These stories were written for my own amusement during a period of enforced seclusion. The flowers which were my solace and pleasure suggested titles for the tales and gave an interest to the work.
Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2006. All Rights Reserved.
The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.
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