Alcott, Louisa May

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888) 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 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. 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.

On the surface, she was Jo March, her alter ego among the sisters portrayed in her best-known and most autobiographical work, Little Women. 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.

Fascinating Facts

  • Louisa and her older sister, Anna taught and ran a neighborhood in their family parlor.

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Louisa May Alcott Quotes

“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. I never copy, since I find by experience that the work I spend the least time upon is best liked by critics & readers…While a story is under way I lie in it, see the people, more plainly than the real ones, round me, hear them talk, & am much interested, surprised, or provoked at their actions, for I seem to have no power to rule them, & can simply record their experiences & performances.” (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)

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

“Woman work a great many miracles.” (Little Women, 1868)

“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.”

“…proved that woman isn’t a half but a whole human being, and can stand alone.” (Jo’s Boys, 1886)

“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) 

“Mr. N. wants a girl’s story and I begin “Little Women.” Marmee, Anna, and May all approve my plan. So I plod away, though I don’t enjoy this sort of thing. Never liked girls or knew many, except my sisters; but our queer plays and experiences may prove interesting, though I doubt it.” (From her journal, May 1868)

“Proof of whole book [Little Women] came. It reads better than I expected. Not a bit sensational, but simple and true, for we really lived most of it; and if it succeeds that will be the reason of it. Mr. N. likes it better now and says some girls who have read the manuscript say it is “splendid”! As it is for them, they are the best critics, so I should be satisfied.” (From her journal, August 26, 1868)  

“When I had the youth I had no money; now I have the money I have no time; and when I get the time, if I ever do, I shall have no health to enjoy life. I suppose it’s the discipline I need; but it’s rather hard to love the things I do and see them go by because duty chains me to my gallery.” (From her journal, January 1874) 

“The past year has brought us the first death and betrothal, –two events that change my life. I can see that these experiences have taken a deep hold, and changed or developed me….I feel as if I could write better now, –more truly of things I have felt and therefore know. I hope I shall yet do my great book, for that seems to be my work, and I am growing up to it.” (From her journal, on her 26th birthday, November 29, 1858; ten years before she wrote Little Women)

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