Monday, December 28, 2009

Beyond Little Women

Louisa May Alcott has always been a favorite author of mine. I have read a few biographies(years ago with the exception of Little Women Abroad, Alcott in Her Own Time) about her life and have read all of her books. So when this new biography came up I was interested but I wondered if anything knew could be written about the author that everyone seems to forget.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. As others have said it is an easy read, not weighed down with academic writing that makes one want to fall asleep. Yet it is obvious that the author has done her research.

The book starts out with a history of Abigail and Bronson's family history, how they meet and their early marriage. This sets the stage for the childhood that Louisa and her sisters will experience. The interesting thing about this book is that it describes Bronson's life but I found out more about Mrs. Alcott than I ever knew. Everyone neglects her and always focuses on Bronson which is a crime since she was the one who worked the hardest. For instance I was unaware that she had been left for long periods of time with the children while Bronson went off trying to make money. Nor did I know that she had so many miscarriages and nearly died as a result. Another thing that was interesting to me is that Louisa seemed more like her mother yet most biographers continue to say that Louisa was like her father.

The Real Louisa May Alcott is brought out in this book. The author does not sugarcoat things, she does not try to make Louisa into some Victorian model of womanhood(if that was even possible). What the author tries to do is explain who Louisa was faults and all. Those faults do not make Louisa bad, just human, like the rest of us.

Louisa was a rash, naughty child who was spanked for not sitting down properly at the dinner table. She would often hit her older sister and when Elizabeth was born she hated her. Louisa often confused her father with her outbursts and her rage. Abigail felt a kinship with her daughter because she shared the same faults. Yet despite her flaws Louisa was determined to make something of herself. She saw how her mother toiled, how her father lacked common sense, and she wanted to help her family. Louisa longed for nice things as everyone else and she wanted to erase the family debt.

The biography trails Louisa's life, her trials and her victories. While I have read all this before the author gave me new information. I have read about the Fruitlands experience but I cannot recall anyone mentioning Abigail's distrust or Mr. Lane. I remember descriptions of what happened but not the amount of detail that Ms. Reisen provides.

The book covers every aspect of Louisa's life. Her stint as a Civil War nurse, her trip abroad, the success of Little Women and so much more.

Yet even when she gained success she still wasn't happy. Louisa hid from her admirers and didn't seem to like them much. Louisa complained that her family seemed eager to take her money and she wondered when she would enjoy it. There are also some quotes from Lulu, May's daughter, which are insightful. Louisa seems to have showered Lulu with expensive dresses and toys(things she never received).

I enjoyed this book very much and I highly recommend it. I hope that with this book and the new documentary that Louisa May Alcott will be rediscovered for the amazing talent she was. She will no longer be remembered as just a childrens author who is constantly swept under the rug so authors like Dickens and Austen can be praised.

Don't forget tonight on PBS American Masters will feature LMA.

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