Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”

BLOG #22, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #41
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT’S LITTLE WOMEN
June 3, 2015

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Louisa May Alcott (1832 – 1888), was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and ended her days in Boston, Massachusetts. Her mother, Abigail [Abba] May, was born into one of America’s most famous families, in direct line from Samuel Sewall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts. Her father, Col. Joseph May, was one of Boston’s leading merchants. Between the Sewalls and the Mays, Abba was related to almost anybody who was anybody in the state—including the Greeles, the Frothinghams, and the Quincys; in fact, her great aunt, Dorothy Quincy Scott, had been John Hancock’s wife. And then there was that mystical improvident visionary named Bronson Alcott who, in terms of educational philosophy, was way ahead of his time, choosing to rule his students by love rather than by punishments. Not surprisingly life with him was one long financial struggle for Abba (in 28 years, they’d move 27 times). Yet she loved him, and would marry no other.

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Out of that union came eight children, four who survived into adulthood. The oldest was Anna; Louisa May, second; Elizabeth Sewall, third; and Abba May, fourth. Bronson homeschooled them all. Each of his children was expected to spread her wings, dare to fly with the eagles.

Always, Louisa had wanted to be a writer. She wrote Flower Fables (1854-55) when she was only sixteen. She would write prolifically all her life; she felt she had to because making a living was not her father’s strong suit. For some time, almost in desperation, she wrote melodramatic trash in order to bring in money. Her first successful book was Hospital Sketches (1863) about her experiences as a nurse during the Civil War. While serving in Washington, D.C., under horrendous conditions, she contracted typhoid, and suffered after-effects from it for the rest of her life.

The books she is most remembered for, however, are the following: Moods (1865), Little Women (1868-1869), An Old-Fashioned Girl (1870), Little Men (1871), Eight Cousins (1875), Rose in Bloom (1876), Under the Lilacs (1878), Jack and Jill (1881), and Jo’s Boys (1886).

But the masterpiece, of course, was Little Women

THE CONTINUING APPEAL OF LITTLE WOMEN.

All my life, I have loved the book Little Women. As a child, I was captivated by the tale itself. Like millions of readers everywhere, I fell in love with the March family—especially Jo—to such an extent that long before I realized it, the Marches had become almost as much a part of me as my own flesh and blood.

Years later, I read the book again, with more than a little apprehension, for so many books we first read as children end up disappointing us when we come back to them as adults. Not to worry! Little Women is a seemingly bottomless well, and the older one gets, and the more times one rereads it, the deeper and more profound the story becomes.

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Why that is so has puzzled me for many years. Each year that I assigned Little Women to undergraduates in my American Literature classes, I’d wonder: Will it hold up this time? Will this new class, a century and a quarter after the story was written, find it irrelevant or passé? Will the men turn up their collective noses at it? In this age of women’s lib, will the women find it too simplistic and stereotypical?

But each year, it was the same: I’d walk into the classroom the next class period after my exhaustive who-said-what-to-whom-about-whom tests (the only Cliffs Notes-proof tests I’ve ever devised), seat myself in the circle (all my classes are circles), and look around at the faces. It never failed—once class began, the room crackled! So intense were the discussions that sometimes it seemed like everyone in the room was talking at once, male as well as female. Needless to say, nothing would ratchet up the intensity level more than the relationship between Jo and Laurie—especially, whether or not Jo should have married Laurie instead of Mr. Bhaer.
–From my Introduction to Little Women (Focus on the Family/Tyndale, 1997).

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You can find it anywhere for it is undoubtedly one of the most-loved and most-read books ever published in America. But naturally, I hope you’ll consider securing one of mine. I wrote a modest biography of Alcott at the front, a bibliography of all her writings at the back, and also Discussion Questions at the back as well. But our edition has something else: I was able to track down Frank T. Merrill’s stunning 203 woodcuts for the 1880 edition. Merrill actually read the book before he created each one! I know, for I’ve seen Louisa May Alcott’s personal inscriptions on the backs! That 1880 edition is one of the rarest of all Alcott books–I’ve seen only two in my lifetime. And all 203 Merriill woodcuts are in my edition. Which, of course, makes our Focus/Tyndale edition a rarity too.

As well as a number of shorter works, including many story anthologies and pessimistic last books.

My edition: Large trade paper – $16.99; the large hardback – $19.99, plus shipping of $6.00. And add 5% tax if you live in Colorado.

Send me an email at: mountainauthor@gmail.com; or write me at P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.

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