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.
More about Louisa May Alcott on this site
- A Visit to Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House
- Sweet Success at Last for Louisa May Alcott
- 10 Life Lessons from Louisa May Alcott
- A Feminist Manifesto — Work: A Story of Experience
- A Posthumous Interview with Louisa May Alcott
- Tracing the Steps of Little Women
- When You Don’t Have Enough Time to Write
- The Boundless Hearts of Mothers
- Comfort and Guidance in Little Women
- My Head is My Study
- “March” by Geraldine Brooks: A Review
- Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott
- Louisa May Alcott’s Obituary, March 1888
- Inspiration: There is No Easy Road to Success
- Inspiration: My Head is My Study
- Dear Literary Ladies: Any Quick Tips for Plot and Character Development?
- Dear Literary Ladies: How Can a Writer Improve Her Craft?
- Dear Literary Ladies: Isn’t There an Easy Road to Writing Success?
- Little Women
- Jo’s Boys
- Little Men
- Rose in Bloom
- Eight Cousins
- Hospital Sketches
- An Old-Fashioned Girl
- Under the Lilacs
- Work: A Story of Experience
- A Long Fatal Love Chase
Biographies About Louisa May Alcott
- Louisa May Alcott: A Biography by Madeline B. Stern
- The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen
- Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson
- Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott by Yonda Zeldis McDonough
- Louisa May Alcott on Wikipedia
- The Woman Behind Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
- Reader discussion of Louisa May Alcott’s books on Goodreads
- Louisa May Alcott page on Amazon.com
Film and TV adaptations of Louisa May Alcott Works
- Little Women (1933)
- Little Women (1949)
- Little Women (1994)
- Little Men (1935)
- Little Men (1941)
- Little Men (1998)
- The Inheritance (1997)
- The Inheritance (2003)
- An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving (2008)
Articles, News, Etc.
- Discovering Louisa May Alcott’s Jewish History on Portuguese Tour
- 12 Genuinely Great Books About May-December Romances
- Anna Alcott Pratt: The Quiet Little Woman
- Susan Cheever on Louisa May Alcott
- Annie Leibovitz Gives a Boost to the Louisa May Alcott House
Visit Louisa May Alcott’s Home
Louisa May Alcott quotes
- Follow this link for a selection of Louisa May Alcott quotes
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