Friday, September 30, 2011

Louisa May Alcott

“Cleaned up and drew one load of wheat this morning and cleaned up the balance before and after dinner. (28 bags) 16 for market and 12 for J. H. Haskins to exchange for flour.”

Louisa May Alcott at about age 25
Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888) was an American novelist. She is best known for the novel Little Women and its sequels Little Men and Jo's Boys. Little Women was set in the Alcott family home, Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, and published in 1868. This novel is loosely based on her childhood experiences with her three sisters.
Alcott was the daughter of noted transcendentalist and educator Amos Bronson Alcott and Abigail May Alcott.  She was the second of four daughters: Anna Bronson Alcott was the eldest; Elizabeth Sewall Alcott and Abigail May Alcott were the two youngest. The family moved to Boston in 1834, After the family moved to Massachusetts, Alcott's father established an experimental school and joined the Transcendental Club with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
Alcott's early education included lessons from the naturalist Henry David Thoreau. She received the majority of her schooling from her father. She received some instruction also from writers and educators such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller, who were all family friends.
As an adult, Alcott was an abolitionist and a feminist. In 1847, the family housed a fugitive slave for one week. In 1848, Alcott read and admired the "Declaration of Sentiments" published by the Seneca Falls Convention on women's rights.
Poverty made it necessary for Alcott to go to work at an early age as an occasional teacher, seamstress, governess, domestic helper, and writer. Her first book was Flower Fables (1849), a selection of tales originally written for Ellen Emerson, daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1860, Alcott began writing for the Atlantic Monthly. When the American Civil War broke out, she served as a nurse in the Union Hospital at Georgetown, D.C., for six weeks in 1862-1863.
She also wrote passionate, fiery novels and sensational stories under the nom de plume A. M. Barnard. Among these are A Long Fatal Love Chase and Pauline's Passion and Punishment. Her protagonists for these tales are willful and relentless in their pursuit of their own aims, which often include revenge on those who have humiliated or thwarted them. Written in a style that was wildly popular at the time, these works achieved immediate commercial success.
Alcott produced wholesome stories for children also, and after their positive reception, she did not generally return to creating works for adults. Adult-oriented exceptions include the anonymous novelette A Modern Mephistopheles (1875), which attracted suspicion that it was written by Julian Hawthorne; and the semi-autobiographical tale Work (1873).
Alcott's literary success arrived with the publication by the Roberts Brothers of the first part of Little Women: or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, (1868) a semi-autobiographical account of her childhood with her sisters in Concord, Massachusetts. Part two, or Part Second, also known as Good Wives, (1869) followed the March sisters into adulthood and their respective marriages. Little Men (1871) detailed Jo's life at the Plumfield School that she founded with her husband Professor Bhaer at the conclusion of Part Two of Little Women. Jo's Boys (1886) completed the "March Family Saga".
In Little Women, Alcott based her heroine "Jo" on herself. But whereas Jo marries at the end of the story, Alcott remained single throughout her life. She explained her "spinsterhood" in an interview with Louise Chandler Moulton, "because I have fallen in love with so many pretty girls and never once the least bit with any man." However, Alcott's romance while in Europe with Ladislas Wisniewski, "Laddie", was detailed in her journals but then deleted by Alcott herself before her death. Alcott identified Laddie as the model for Laurie in Little Women, and there is strong evidence this was the significant emotional relationship of her life.
Alcott, who continued to write until her death, suffered chronic health problems in her later years.  She and her earliest biographers  attributed her illness and death to mercury poisoning: during her American Civil War service, Alcott contracted typhoid fever and was treated with a compound containing mercury.  Recent analysis of Alcott's illness suggests that mercury poisoning was not the culprit. Alcott's chronic health problems may be associated with an autoimmune disease, not acute mercury exposure. Moreover, a late portrait of Alcott shows on her cheeks rashes characteristic of lupus.  Alcott died of a stroke in Boston, on March 6, 1888, at age 55, two days after her father's death. Her last words were "Is it not meningitis?"
Leesah

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