Louisa May Alcott was born on November 29, 1832 to Bronson and Abigail Alcott. Although she was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, she would not stay there long. In fact, over the first twenty-eight years of Louisa’s life, her father moved their family twenty-nine times!
As a child, Louisa loved writing – and running. And she found that the two often went together. Whenever she had trouble with a story, she would take a quick dash outside. This would clear up her mind and leave her feeling fresh and ready to meet her problems.
Although Louisa had been writing for some time before, it was not until she was twenty-two that her first book, Flower Fables, was published. Louisa was paid thirty-two dollars for the book!
Later, she served as a nurse during the War Between the States. Although her labors only lasted for a little over a month, she was able to turn her experiences into another book, called Hospital Sketches.
After the war was over, a publisher contacted Louisa and suggested that she write ‘a girl’s book’. At first, Louisa was not fond of the idea. But as time passed and she tried the suggestion, she discovered that it was not a bad one. The resulting manuscript became Little Women. Although her books had been read and enjoyed before, Little Women gained acclaim and funds for her to a degree that she had never before experienced. She continued to write books in this vein, producing An Old Fashioned Girl, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys.
But Louisa’s last years were not entirely happy. In 1879, both her mother and her youngest sister, May, died. For seven and a half years, Louisa cared for May’s baby daughter, Lulu, and then in March of 1888, Louisa herself succumbed to a cold. She was fifty-five years old
While reading Little Women in the past, I had always resented Aunt March’s haughty insinuation that Mr. March was shiftless and undedicated to taking care of his family. But in reading The Story of Louisa May Alcott, I grew to understand that this was an accurate – or almost accurate – portrayal of Bronson Alcott. Mr. Alcott was not shiftless, but love for his new ideas often displaced care for his family. He dragged them to many different locations, each either because they could no longer stay in their former home due to financial strain, or because he thought the people in the new town would be receptive to his ideas.
His ideas. Bronson Alcott was friends with the great transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson and shared many of his views. He longed to produce a world where everyone lived “loving, thoughtful lives.”
Here is some advice given to Bronson by a friend and how he responds to it.
Mr. Lane wanted to run Fruitlands the way the Shakers ran their village. He even wanted Bronson to send Abba, Anna, Louisa, Lizzie, and little May away and forget they were ever a family. Mr. Lane felt that Bronson’s family ties interfered with their work and their grand plan. And Abba felt that he was interfering with her family life and was becoming more and more angry. At one point she even threatened to leave Fruitlands and take the children with her.
Bronson loved his family very much, but he also loved his ideas. He thought a lot about what Abba and Mr. Lane had said. Still, he could not make up his mind. The children were very afraid. They did not know what was to become of them. Finally, when Mr. Lane was away in Boston, Bronson decided to have a family meeting and ask Abba, Anna, and Louisa what he should do. Abba and the children knew that they wanted to stay together as a family. That night Louisa wrote in her journal:
“In the eve father and mother and Anna and I had a long talk. I was very unhappy and we all cried. Anna and I cried in bed, and I prayed God to keep us all together.”
Louisa’s prayers were answered, because soon after, her father decided to keep the family together. [pg. 29-30]
What selfishness! I support being strongly dedicated to ideas, but a man’s first responsibility is to his family, and if one rises against the other, a man’s family should be first. To see Mr. Alcott playing the exact opposite role than the one he should have been playing – keeping his wife and children in a state of helpless emotional instability rather than providing security for them – angered me. Truly. I felt angry as I read this passage. I’m glad Louisa’s prayers were answered, but the answer should have been obvious to Bronson!
Bronson and his friends believed that it was wrong to kill animals for food. They wore linen clothes, because they did not want to take covering away from sheep. [pg. 22]
It is recorded that Louisa once wrote, “I always thought I must have been a deer or a horse in some former state, because it was such a joy to run.” [pg. 14]
Louisa wrote this journal entry after Beth’s death.
A curious thing happened, and I will tell it here, for Dr. G. said it was a fact. A few moments after the last breath came, as Mother and I sat silently watching the shadow fall on the dear little face, I saw a light mist rise from the body, and float up and vanish in the air. Mother’s eyes followed mine, and when I said, “What did you see?” she described the same light mist. Dr. G. said it was the life departing visibly. [pg. 51]
Louis worked at different jobs, several of which required her to move out of her home for their duration.
One interesting thing that I learned (this is not a caution) is that Louisa’s great-aunt was John Hancock’s wife!
Conclusion. Any areas of caution in The Story of Louisa May Alcott were only facts of Louisa’s life being reported as such.
Review © 2013 Laura Verret