Tag Archives: Little Women

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.

http://nmwritersbloq.wordpress.com

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

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Louisa May Alcott

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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.

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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.

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Writing Career

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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).

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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).

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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).

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Background to Little Women

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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.

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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.

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Alcott the activist

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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.

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Later Life

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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.

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Legacy

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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.

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REFERENCES

http://www.louisamayalcott.org/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louisa_May_Alcott
http://www.louisamayalcott.org/louisamaytext.html
http://www25.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/louisamayalcott.html
http://womenshistory.about.com/od/alcottlouisamay/p/l_m_alcott.htm
http://www.greatwomen.org/women-of-the-hall/search-the-hall-results/details/2/8-Alcott

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