Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888) is best known as the author of Little Women and its sequels, including Little Men, though the scope of her work goes far beyond these beloved books. She also wrote essays, poems, and pseudonymous thrillers. Alcott was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and was raised in Concord, Massachusetts.

Alcott conducted her career as a professional determined to profit from her pen. Financial need stoked her drive as she became the primary breadwinner in her family at a young age. Inspiration was all around her, as she grew up in the midst of the Transcendentalists. Her father, Bronson Alcott, was one of its most passionate and radical proponents.

She credited hard work rather than talent for her success. Though Alcott claimed that her greatest reward was the esteem of the “young folks” who were her readers, she was never modest in her demands to be paid what she felt she was worth, and lived to see her work earn a fortune. Alcott looked up to Charlotte Brontë and longed to gain recognition for her work, as Brontë had.

Jo March, Alcott’s most iconic character, was her idealized alter ego. She was the aspiring writer among the sisters portrayed in her best-known and most autobiographical work, Little Women, published in 1868. What’s less well-known and more surprising is that Alcott cranked out a large body of thrillers, gothics, and sensational tales under various pseudonyms, allowing her to support her family while searching for her literary voice. Contrary as they seemed to her own life and values, she seemed to take some perverse pleasure in dark themes, returning to them even after financial need no longer compelled her to do this sort of formula writing.

Louisa May Alcott was always a staunch feminist, promoting women’s rights and campaigning for women’s suffrage. Her views were espoused by her lead characters, strong young women who wanted more from life than to get married and have babies. Alcott herself never married nor had children.

Alarmingly naïve about the nature of her sexuality, Alcott confessed in an 1883 interview: “I am more than half-persuaded that I am a man’s soul, put by some freak of nature into a woman’s body … because I have fallen in love in my life with so many pretty girls and never once the least bit with any man.” Perhaps unknowingly, the repressed nature of her sexuality helped her avoid the circumscribed path of marriage and motherhood, and allowed her to view the institution dispassionately.

Alcott got to have a brief experience with motherhood, though she remained single all her life. Her youngest sister May, while training as an artist in Europe (subsidized by Alcott’s earnings), had married and had a daughter.  She died within a year of giving birth. Alcott wanted to raise the child, and earned the father’s family’s consent do so. Adopted at the age of two, the little girl was her Aunt Louisa’s namesake (and nicknamed Lulu);  from all accounts, the nine years they spent together before Alcott’s death were happy ones.

Louisa May Alcott was 55 years old when she died of a stroke in Boston in 1888. Her death came just two days after her father’s. She had long suffered from chronic illness, thought to have been caused by the mercury-laced medicine she took as a cure for the typhoid fever she suffered while serving as a nurse during the civil war. However, modern scholars believe that she may have had an autoimmune disease, perhaps lupus.

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Louisa May Alcott Quotes

Louisa May Alcott“Good books, like good friends, are few and chosen; the more select, the more enjoyable.”

“Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will be delightful, old age will bring few regrets, and life will become a beautiful success.” (Little Women, 1868)

“Do the things you know, and you shall learn the truth you need to know.”

“I like to help women help themselves, as that is, in my opinion, the best way to settle the woman question. Whatever we can do and do well we have a right to, and I don’t think any one will deny us.”

“Painful as it may be, a significant emotional event can be the catalyst for choosing a direction that serves us – and those around us – more effectively. Look for the learning.”

“Women have been called queens for a long time, but the kingdom given them isn’t worth ruling.” (An Old-Fashioned Girl, 1870)

“I can only say to you as I do to the many young writers who ask for advice — There is no easy road to successful authorship; it has to be earned by long and patient labor, many disappointments, uncertainties and trials. Success is often a lucky accident, coming to those who may not deserve it, while others who do have to wait & hope till they have earned it. This is the best sort and the most enduring.” (From a letter to a reader, 1878)

“Read Charlotte Brontë’s life. A very interesting, but sad one. So full of talent; and after working long, just as success, love, and happiness come, she dies. Wonder if I shall ever be famous for people to care to read my story and struggles. I can’t be a C.B., but I may do a little something yet.” (From her journal, entry dated June, 1857)

“We all have our own life to pursue, Our own kind of dream to be weaving … And we all have the power To make wishes come true, As long as we keep believing.”

“Life is my college. May I graduate well, and earn some honors.”

“We’ve got minds and souls as well as hearts; ambition and talents as well as beauty and accomplishments; and we want to live and learn as well as love and be loved. I’m sick of being told that is all a woman is fit for! I won’t have anything to do with love until I prove that I am something beside a housekeeper and a baby-tender!” (Rose in Bloom, 1876)

“My head is my study, & there I keep the various plans of stories for years some times, letting them grow as they will till I am ready to put them on paper. Then it is quick work, as chapters go down word for word as they stand in my mind & need no alteration.” (From a letter to journalist Frank Carpenter, 1887)

“He who believes is strong; he who doubts is weak. Strong convictions precede great actions.”

“She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.” (Work: A Story of Experience, 1873)

“…the love, respect, and confidence of my children was the sweetest reward I could receive for my efforts to be the woman I would have them copy.” (Little Women, 1868)

“I want to do something splendid…something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it and mean to astonish you all someday.” (Little Women, 1868)

“Nothing is impossible to a determined woman.” (Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers Of Louisa May Alcott, 1866)

“The emerging woman … will be strong-minded, strong-hearted, strong-souled, and strong-bodied…strength and beauty must go together.” (An Old-Fashioned Girl, 1870)

Louisa May Alcott“Keep good company, read good books, love good things and cultivate soul and body as faithfully as you can.” (Rose In Bloom, 1876)

“It’s amazing how lovely common things become, if one only knows how to look at them.” (Marjorie’s Three Gifts, 1899)

“I shall keep my book on the table here, and read a little every morning as soon as I wake, for I know it will do me good, and help me through the day.”

“Human minds are more full of mysteries than any written book and more changeable than the cloud shapes in the air.” (Abbot’s Ghost: A Christmas Story, 1867)

“It takes people a long time to learn the difference between talent and genius, especially ambitious young men and women.” (Little Women, 1868)

“Some books are so familiar that reading them is like being home again.”

“Self-abnegation is a noble thing but I think there is a limit to it, & though in a few rare cases it may work well yet half the misery of the world seems to come from unmated pairs trying to live their lie decorously to the end, & bringing children into the world to inherit the unhappiness & discord out of which they were born.” (From a letter to a friend, 1865) 


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