Classic Friday #7: Louisa May Alcott

21 Jun

Classic Friday

Welcome to Classic Friday with Nisha Moodley, your monthly journey into Classic authors and their Literature!

Nisha MoodleyNisha is a South African writer, blogger, amateur historian, mystery-chaser and former ghost-hunter who, with a completed collection of short-stories under her belt, is currently working on her first full-length novel.

I hope you enjoy this ‘Classic Friday’ entry and I’ll be back next month for some more.


Louisa May Alcott




She is most famous for her iconic novel Little Women but Louisa May Alcott was a prolific writer and the author of many other childrens’ novels, poems and short story collections. She was an amazing, strongheaded woman whose beliefs and values seem to have been far ahead of her time.

Early Life

Louisa May Alcott was born on 29 November 1832 in Germantown, Pennsylvania, USA. Her father Bronson was a Transcendalist philosopher and teacher while her mother Abigail was a social worker and women’s activist. In 1838 the Alcotts moved to Boston and then on to Concord,  Massachusetts two years later. Louisa May received most of her education from her father, although she was also given lessons from famous
family friends such as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne. She apparently had a fiery temper and was famous for her mood swings. She also preferred to climb trees, ‘leap fences and be a tomboy’ rather than be the model child her father tried to mould.

The Alcotts were often plagued by periods of financial difficulty which forced Louisa, at a young age, to seek employment. She took on any job she could find to help support her family. In the meanwhile however, she discovered her passion for writing and her literary endeavours would later release her family from their poverty-stricken state.


Writing Career

As a young girl, Alcott wrote plays in which she and her sisters would act out. She also wrote poetry and at the age of 20 she had her first poem Sunlight published in Peterson’s magazine. Three years later her first book, Flower Fables – a collection of fairytales, was published. In 1860, Alcott started writing for the Atlantic Monthly for a small remuneration. Her stories were published under the pseudonym A.M Barnard. The following notable works were also credited under the same name: A Long fatal Love Chase (1866)(only published in 1995), Behind the Mask (1866) and The Abbot’s Ghost (1867).

In the midst of the American Civil War, Alcott volunteered as a nurse in Washington D.C. As a result of this experience she wrote Hospital Sketches which was published in 1863. Afterwards she wrote a few novellas, namely Moods(1864) and The Mysterious Key and What it Opened (1867).

These works got Alcott some public recognition but her biggest breakthrough came in 1868 when Little Women was released. Part Two of the novel titled Good Wives was published the following year. This was followed by An Old-Fashioned Girl in 1870, Little Men (1871), Work: A Story of Experience (1873), Eight Cousins (1875), Under The Lilacs (1878), Jack and Jill: A Village Story (1880), Candy Country (1885) and A Garland For Girls (1888).


Background to Little Women

LittleWomen_RobertsBros_tpAfter reading Hospital Sketches and being impressed by her writing, Thomas Niles from the Roberts Brothers publishing company approached Alcott and suggested she write ‘a book about girls’. This was initially a daunting task for Alcott for she barely knew or kept company with any girls or young women. So for inspiration Alcott turned to her own sisters who would end up serving as the prototypes for the now famous Little Women characters Meg, Beth and Amy. The main character Jo was based on Louisa May herself. She also based the setting of the novel on her family home in Concord, Mass., Orchard House, which still stands today and is now a National landmark and museum.

The book was written in less than 3 months and was separated into two volumes. The first part was published in 1868 and the second volume, Good Wives, came out the year after. The novel became an instant success. It was so popular Alcott was requisitioned to write a sequel, which she subsequently did. The sequel, titled Little Men, was published in 1871.


Alcott the activist

Like both of her parents, Louisa May Alcott was an abolitionist who hit out against slavery and was active in propagating women’s’ rights. She belonged to the suffragette’s movement and on 29 March 1879, Alcott became the first woman in Concord, Massachusetts to register to vote in the school committee elections. Her beliefs on the slave issue and gender equality are clearly expressed in some of her writing as well. Behind The Mask and Work: The Story of Experience, for example, both deal with womens’ issues of equality and treatment in the workplace.


Later Life


While volunteering as a nurse during the Civil War, Alcott contracted typhoid fever. The mercury treatment that cured her would ironically lead to chronic side-effects that would plague her for the rest of her life. She continued to write however and was still active in political and women’s movements. Two days after her father’s death, on 6 March 1888, she suffered a stroke and passed away in Boston, Massachusetts.



Even though as a child she claimed to hate playing with girls and preferred the company of boys, Louisa May Alcott as an adult and writer became an inspiration to a generation of women and a symbol of progression and anti-establishment. However despite all her other literary and humanitarian endeavours, Alcott will always be known for her novel, Little Women. The book has since been translated into over 50 languages and countless movie adaptations have been filmed. It’s safe to say her impact on English Literature was far from little.




15 Responses to “Classic Friday #7: Louisa May Alcott”

  1. Nisha June 21, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

    Reblogged this on In Verbum Scriptum and commented:
    Highlighting the life and works of Louisa May Alcott…

  2. loonyliterature June 21, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    Oh my – this filled me with a very strong sentimental feeling for both the book ‘Little Women’ and the film which I watched in black and white many times as a child. I hadn’t realised what a very strong and special person Louisa was, so thank you for writing this intriguing piece which has made me want to read more about her.

    • Nisha June 22, 2013 at 8:17 am #

      I watched the 1933 version a few months ago, Katharine was awesome as Jo! 😀
      I’m reading the book at the moment but I was also surprised at her non-literary achievements.
      Thanks for reading Michelle, I always appreciate it 🙂

      • loonyliterature June 26, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

        I watched the version with, I think, Elizabeth Taylor in it. I’m going to look it up and if I can find it I’m going to watch it before Christmas as that was when I used to watch it as a young girl. Hope everything is going well for you.

  3. frenzyofflies June 21, 2013 at 1:27 pm #

    This is a great article, Nisha! As always! I must admit to never having read Louisa May Alcott, but I did see Little Woman several times as a kid… Now, I want to read the book! 🙂

    • Nisha June 22, 2013 at 8:19 am #

      Thank you Greg, it always bothered me that I never read it but I’m reading it now. I’ll let you know what I think when I’m done. 🙂

  4. Martin Shone June 21, 2013 at 4:38 pm #

    Little Women is one of my favourite books, I haven’t read Good Wives though and in fact I don’t think I’ve seen it in book shops.

    A great write as always, Nisha.

    • Nisha June 22, 2013 at 8:28 am #

      One of your favourites, Martin? Wow, that shows it’s universal appeal.

      I just did a check. You might have already read Good Wives- it’s now actually Part II of Little Women but originally it was published separately. So it’s not a separate book. 🙂

      And thank you Martin, for reading and your support. 🙂

  5. nelle June 22, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

    Well researched and interesting as always. I came away from Little Women quite impressed by her writing skill. Your summary of her as ahead of her time was exactly what I thought whilst reading it.

    Older works can trigger strange feelings, sort of an out-of-time assessment through the lens of where we are now. When I read The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall, my brain kept pondering ‘butch or transman’, yet it was published the year my mom was born, when we just didn’t give voice to such issues. Radclyffe was put on trial in the UK for its publication. I enjoyed it save for one ugly reference… but the time factor in it stood out, just as it did with Little Women or Mansfield Park.

    • Nisha June 24, 2013 at 8:32 am #

      I guess that’s the reason why some books are deemed Classics, because they are universal and transcend time.
      It’s hard to believe Little Women was written almost 150 years ago, yet I’m sure almost every woman who reads it will find themselves in that book…

  6. laurabesley June 23, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    I remember this story very clearly from my childhood. The thing I remember most about the character Jo was when she cut her hair to sell if for money. I think I’ve seen an adaptation of it too, but can’t remember who played any of the characters. This female author is certainly an inspiration to us all! 🙂

    • Nisha June 24, 2013 at 8:37 am #

      For me, Katharine Hepburn was the most memorable as Jo although Winona Ryder didn’t do a bad job either. But Jo is one of those classic characters you can’t really forget.
      And you’re so right Laura, it’s difficult not to be inspired by Alcott. 🙂

  7. beckyday6 June 24, 2013 at 10:39 pm #

    Coh, all the comments seem so highbrow I’m almost nervous to comment! Great post as always Nisha, I always learn something. I’ve been a little wary of attempting Little Women because I saw the film adaptation when I was younger and remember finding Jo in the really annoying. Then again, I have completely different tastes now so my thoughts on her would probably be very different. 🙂

    • Nisha June 25, 2013 at 8:45 am #

      What? Nonsense, you know I always look forward to your thoughts and comments Beckster 🙂
      Movies(and the actors) do have a tendency to ruin a perfectly good book. But I’m also beginning to notice how different stages of our lives will affect the way we perceive a book. I’ve just started Little Women now so I’ll tell you how it goes. Maybe you’ll really like it. 🙂

      • beckyday6 June 25, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

        Yeah I’ve found that recently with my attempt at Dickens! I hated Oliver Twist when we had to do it at school, but loved Great Expectations. I think as well as the stages of your life the previous books you’ve read have a massive effect as well. For instance when you first read a book it may seem amazing, but rereading it five years later when you’ve read so many other good books you may realise it’s not quite as groundbreaking. 🙂

        I would be very interested to see what you think of it after you’ve finished!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: