Authors: Louisa May Alcott

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

American novelist

November 29, 1832

Germantown, Pennsylvania

March 6, 1888

Boston, Massachusetts


Louisa May Alcott, the famous daughter of a famous father, was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, in 1832, but her early life was spent in the vicinity of Concord and Boston, where she grew up under the influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Her father, Bronson Alcott, was a transcendentalist and a nonresident member of Brook Farm. Reformer, scholar, and educator, he founded the well-known Temple School in Boston. {$I[AN]9810001517} {$I[A]Alcott, Louisa May} {$I[geo]WOMEN;Alcott, Louisa May} {$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Alcott, Louisa May} {$I[tim]1832;Alcott, Louisa May}

Louisa May Alcott

(Library of Congress)

Early in life, Louisa May Alcott realized that her impractical father needed financial assistance to run his household. Accordingly, she worked as a domestic, as a seamstress, and as a teacher. Alcott’s publishing career began as Flora Fairfield with “Sunlight,” an 1851 poem, and “The Rival Painters: A Tale of Rome” (1852). Her first book, Flower Fables, carried Alcott’s own name. Over the next decade, she published extensively, particularly in the Atlantic Monthly. Her repertoire of children’s stories, melodramas, reviews, essays, sketches, and thrillers, including Moods, appeared under her own name or a pseudonym (Fairfield or A. M. Barnard).

During the Civil War, she served as a nurse in the Union Hospital in Georgetown. As a result of this experience, her health was impaired. The letters she wrote home to her family were later revised and published as Hospital Sketches in 1863.

In 1868, she became editor of a children’s magazine, Merry’s Museum. Later that year, Little Women appeared and was an immediate success, both in English and in translation. This perennially popular volume described a normal, pleasant American family life and included plays Alcott had written in 1848. The March family of the novel is drawn from her own family. Jo March is Louisa herself, and the March sisters represent the other girls of the Alcott family. Little Women provided financial freedom for the family, and Alcott continued to satisfy her public mainly with children’s books and short stories.

Her last years were spent in Boston, where she died two days after her father, on March 6, 1888. An ardent abolitionist and advocate of woman suffrage, Alcott maintains a host of admirers for her sentimental novels and gains new ones for her other writings. Little Women, called the most popular girls’ book ever written, remains her chief claim to fame.

Author Works Long Fiction: Moods, 1864, revised 1881 Little Women, 1868 Little Women, Part 2, 1869 (also known as Good Wives, 1953) An Old-Fashioned Girl, 1870 Little Men, 1871 Work: A Study of Experience, 1873 Eight Cousins, 1875 Rose in Bloom, 1876 A Modern Mephistopheles, 1877 Under the Lilacs, 1878 Jack and Jill, 1880 Jo’s Boys, and How They Turned Out, 1886 Short Fiction: Flower Fables, 1854 On Picket Duty, and Other Tales, 1864 Morning-Glories, and Other Stories, 1867 Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag, 1872–82 (6 volumes) Silver Pichers: And Independence, a Centennial Love Story, 1876 Spinning-Wheel Stories, 1884 A Garland for Girls, 1887 Lulu’s Library, 1895 The Early Stories of Louisa May Alcott, 1852–1860, 2000 The Brownie and the Princess, 2004 Poetry: The Poems of Louisa May Alcott, 2000 Drama: Comic Tragedies Written by “Jo” and “Meg” and Acted by the “Little Women,” pb. 1893 Nonfiction: Hospital Sketches, 1863 (essays) Life, Letters, and Journals, 1889 (Ednah D. Cheney, editor) The Journals of Louisa May Alcott, 1989 (Joel Myerson and Daniel Shealy, editors) The Sketches of Louisa May Alcott, 2001 Bibliography Alcott, Louisa May. A Double Life: Newly Discovered Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott. Edited by Madeleine B. Stern. Boston: Little, Brown, 1988. This book contains tales of mystery and melodrama that were published anonymously in weeklies before Alcott wrote her tales of social realism. These stories reveal a side of Alcott that is little known by the general public. Alcott, Louisa May, and May Alcott. Little Women Abroad: The Alcott Sisters’ Letters from Europe, 1870–1871. Edited by Daniel Shealy. Athens: University of Georgia, 2008. The letters that Louisa and her sister May wrote to their family on their visit to Europe are collected here, along with sketches by May. These seventy-one letters reveal the personalities of the Alcotts and help us understand American attitudes toward Europe in the late 19th century. Alcott, Louisa May. Louisa May Alcott: Selected Fiction. Edited by Daniel Shealy, Madeleine B. Stern, and Joel Myerson. Boston: Little, Brown, 1990. A collection of stories that cover the romances Alcott wrote during her teens and the thrillers and Gothic novels she wrote before turning to realism. In these stories, Alcott’s rebellious spirit is reflected as a supporter of abolition and women’s rights. Alcott, Louisa May. The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott. Edited by Joel Myerson and Daniel Shealy. Boston: Little, Brown, 1987. Many of Alcott’s unpublished journals are housed in the Houghton Library at Harvard University. This book, however, offers a personal look at the experiences and responses that she wrote in letters to family members and friends throughout her life. Anthony, Katharine S. Louisa May Alcott. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1938. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977. Reveals the social influence of Alcott’s writing as she kept alive the ideals of the Victorian period. Anthony’s biography discusses the misrepresentation of Alcott by the literary world, which consistently categorizes her as a children’s writer. Includes an excellent bibliography on Alcott and her entire family. Boyd, Anne E. Writing for Immortality: Women and the Emergence of High Literary Culture in America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. Explores efforts by Alcott and other female writers living in mid-nineteenth century New England to achieve recognition as authors equal to that given to their male counterparts in both Europe and the United States. Clark, Beverly Lyon, ed. Louisa May Alcott: The Contemporary Reviews. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Collection of reviews of Alcott’s work that appeared when it was published in the nineteenth century. Provides insights into the author’s reception by her contemporaries in addition to information about the attitudes toward popular fiction and women writers in that period. Delamar, Gloria T. Louisa May Alcott and “Little Women.” London: McFarland, 1990. Unlike many other Alcott biographies, this work includes reviews and critical analyses of Alcott’s work. Eiselein, Gregory, and Anne K. Phillips, eds. The Louisa May Alcott Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001. Six hundred alphabetically arranged entries provide information about Alcott’s family and personal life and place her work within historical and cultural contexts, including various reform movements, the American Civil War, and other major events. Also addresses Alcott’s position in the nineteenth century publishing world. Elbert, Sarah. A Hunger for Home: Louisa May Alcott and “Little Women.” Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984. A feminist study of Alcott, this critical biography analyzes the connections between Alcott’s family life and her work, placing Alcott squarely within the reform tradition of the nineteenth century and the debate over the proper role of women. Keyser, Elizabeth Lennox. Whispers in the Dark: The Fiction of Louisa May Alcott. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995. An examination of the genres in which Alcott wrote, including thrillers, and the ways in which they represent the conventions of Victorian womanhood as well as Alcott’s more progressive portrayals of women desiring equality; includes a list of works cited and index. Meigs, Cornelia. Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of “Little Women.” 1933. Reprint. Boston: Little, Brown, 1968. Biography emphasizes Alcott’s work with young people and her belief that children must have the opportunity to earn independence. Also discusses Alcott’s assistance to soldiers during the Civil War and her trip to Europe. Includes a fine chronology of Alcott’s life. Reisen, Harriet. Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women. New York: John Macrae Books, 2009. This biography focuses on the difficult childhood that Alcott endured and how she took on the role of caretaker to her sisters and mother. Reisen also discusses how much of Alcott’s inspiration for her fiction was gleaned from her experiences as a child and young adult. Saxton, Martha. Louisa May Alcott: A Modern Biography. 1977. Reprint. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995. Depicts Alcott as an ambivalent rebel and irreverent feminist who, despite her bitter childhood with an oppressive father, became famous for writing a sweet story about a happy family. Shealy, Daniel, ed. Alcott in Her Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of Her Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2005. Collection of writings from the 1840s to 1960 from those who met or were influenced by Alcott and her writings; includes photos of the Alcott family and illustrations from her books. Showalter, Elaine. Sister’s Choice: Traditions and Change in American Women’s Writing. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1991. Chapter 3 discusses the wide variance in feminist critical reception of Alcott’s Little Women: Some feel that bowing to pressures of the time kept Alcott from fulfilling her literary promise; others see the novel as an excellent study of the dilemma of a literary woman writing in that age. Stern, Madeleine B. Louisa May Alcott: A Biography. 1950. Reprint. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1999. Considered to be the standard biography of Alcott since its initial publication in 1950, this reprint features a new introduction by Stern, a rare-book dealer who has written several books about Alcott and has edited anthologies of her work. Stern, Madeleine B. Louisa May Alcott: From Blood and Thunder to Hearth and Home. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998. Collection of essays analyzes Alcott’s key themes, including her love for the theater and feminism, and examines her “double literary life” as an author who wrote both domestic dramas and “blood-and-thunder” thrillers. Strickland, Charles. Victorian Domesticity: Families in the Life and Art of Louisa May Alcott. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1985. Surveys the range of Alcott’s ideas about domestic life and considers Alcott’s literary treatment of women, families, and children within the various fictional forms in which she chose to work. Trites, Roberta Seelinger. Twain, Alcott, and the Birth of the Adolescent Reform Novel. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2007. Analyzes the work of Alcott and Mark Twain to delineate how they helped change the nature of American adolescence, viewing it as a time in which children expressed a great potential for change and reform.

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