What would May’s life as a wife, mother and artist have been like had she lived? Jo’s Boys gives us a hint.

Jo’s Boys is tinged with sadness. And wistfulness. Louisa worked on Jo’s Boys for seven years beginning in 1879, the year her youngest sister May died six weeks after bearing her daughter Lulu. Abba, known as “Marmee” had died in 1877.

Laurie and Amy’s idyllic life

Chapter Two, “Parnassus” has us visiting the palatial home of Laurie, Amy and Bess, built on the grounds of Plumfield. Louisa goes to great pains to remind the reader that although wealthy, Laurie and Amy put their money to good use. They were “earnest, useful and rich in the beautiful benevolence which can do so much when wealth and wisdom go hand in hand with charity.” (Jo’s Boys, page 26).

Tributes to the family

The home was “full of unostentatious beauty and comfort” which included busts of John Pratt and Beth (lovingly created by Amy) and portraits of Mr. Laurence and Aunt March. A memorial to Marmee consisting of a portrait surrounded by green garland was in the place of honor. Undoubtedly Louisa was writing about Abba with these lines:

little women with marmee“The three sisters stood a moment looking up at the beloved picture with eyes full of tender reverence and the longing that never left them; for this noble mother had been so much to them that no one could ever fill her place. Only two years since she had gone away to live and love anew, leaving such a sweet memory behind her that was both an inspiration and a comforter to all the household.” (Ibid, page 33)

The March sisters versus the Alcott sisters

anna and meg, louisa and joThe March sisters are shadows of the real women upon which they were based. Meg is Anna without Anna’s angst and secret creative urges. Beth is Lizzie without the profound suffering she endured in her death. Jo is Louisa, tamed. Amy is May without the physical energy, ambition, independence and high spirits.

May and Amy

lizzie and beth, may and amyAmy started out like May but like Jo, was tamed. She became a wife and mother, laying aside her ambitions as a professional artist. Like May she was tall and gracious, giving off the impression of beauty even if her features were a bit irregular (remember the nose). Amy however returned from Europe with Laurie while May remained in Europe, pursuing her art with committed passion, eventually knowing success with two paintings put on display in the Paris Salon.

What if …

May married a much younger man and they had a child, Lulu. Tragically, May died six weeks later. We were never to know how this modern, independent, career-minded woman would have blended her work with marriage and mothering.

Louisa gives us a clue of her wish for May in Jo’s Boys.

Louisa’s dream

Amy lived out her dream as an artist by mentoring younger artists. Her own Bess was a committed to art and mother and daughter were devoted to each other and their art. Bess at fifteen resembled Amy with her “Diana-like figure, blue eyes, fair skin, and golden hair, tied up in the same classic knot of curls. Also,–ah! Never-ending source of joy to Amy,–she had her father’s handsome nose and mouth, cast in a feminine mould.” (Ibid, page 28)

Would mother and daughter have gotten along?

may and luluAmy and Bess were much alike: gracious, feminine yet fiercely devoted to their passion. There was a peaceful harmony between them. In real life May and Lulu were also alike both in appearance and personality. Their similarities, however, might not have produced the harmony that Louisa dreamed up for Amy and Bess. Lulu was described by Louisa as willful, physical and spoiled, much like the Amy (and May) of childhood.

May as a mother and artist

All this bring about tantalizing thoughts: how would May have dealt with a younger version of herself? I’m guessing the battles could have been epic and the love fierce and loyal. Nothing was said about Lulu having the artistic ability of her mother so we will never know if they would have shared that passion as Amy and Bess did. It would have been a lot of fun to witness their relationship.

May’s legacy

It’s hard to know whether May died before or after chapter two was written. The poignancy of Louisa’s loss, however, is there in any case. She gives May her happily ever after with her daughter in the guise of Amy with Bess.

How do you think May and Lulu would have gotten along? Could May have juggled career with motherhood?

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Tracing the steps of Little Women: Madeleine B. Stern’s brilliant analysis, part four: The All-American Novel makes a cherished dream come true

COVERLittle did Louisa May Alcott know that when she wrote Little Women, her classic book based upon her own family life and their “queer” adventures, she was writing the story that was on the heart of all Americans.

Universal family

It was time when American yearned for its own literature, its own family. The March family was quintessential New England and yet their story transcended New England, having, as Madeleine Stern put it, “a more universal reality than that of a single village.”

The emerging adolescent

Jessie Wilcox Smith Little WOmenCharacters were composites, real people sprinkled with fiction. For the first time teenaged readers met themselves: adolescent characters navigating through the daily trials and triumphs, emerging into adulthood.

Four different journeys

Meg begins her own family with John. Jo strikes out on her own as a working woman and writer, living far away from home New York City. Amy evolves into a woman of grace, leaving behind selfish impulses and eventually leading Laurie to his better self. Beth was not destined to enter the world of adults but left behind an example and a spirit that guided her sister Jo to a place where she could reconcile her ambitions with her love of family.

Universal home

The Wayside, then known as Hillside, drawn by Bronson Alcott in 1845.

The Wayside, then known as Hillside, drawn by Bronson Alcott in 1845.

Stern writes, “Then the families of the nation might open the door of Hillside to find not the Marches, but themselves waiting within. Under the roof of one New England home, they would see all the homes of America.”

Surviving manuscript

Writing at astonishing speed (completing one chapter each day), Louisa filled the lined blue papers with a story “that knew no bounds of geography, no limits of time.” Some of this manuscript survives, ready for viewing in the Special Collections room at the Concord Library.

Determined spinster

Louisa_May_AlcottPart two of Little Women, dubbed Good Wives, was written not at Orchard House but in Boston on Brookline Street. The demands of readers were great, such was the price of success, a success she had dreamed of since being a teenager herself. Yes, the girls would marry even though she wished that Jo could have remained like herself, a “literary spinster.” It was not from lack of suitors. George Bartlett, a fellow actor in the local theatricals, offered his help in reading the proofs of the first part of the book and his help was gratefully accepted. His attentions upon the “chronic old maid,” however were politely rebuffed.

A fancy hotel and a simple story

FileHotelBellevue-Boston-BlueBook1905.pngMoving with May into the new Bellevue Hotel on Beacon Street, Louisa continue work on the second half of the book while receiving her first royalties totally three hundred dollars for three thousand copies sold. Here she relived the pain of Lizzie’s death, brought Amy and Laurie together in a boat they would pull together and had Professor Bhaer serenade Jo with the song Louisa herself had sung for Mr. Emerson.

Dream come true

Stern writes, “Devoutly Louisa hoped that the new year of 1869 would bring to the Orchard House a happy harvesting from the tears and laughter she had sowed in the book where she had found her style at last.” It would come to pass with a harvest pressed down, shaken together, and running over, as it says in the scriptures. “The long-standing hurts were healed, the reception of the March family into the hearts of New England proved a timely restorative to one who had created that family.”

Dreams do come true (just ask any Red Sox fan!).

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A visit with fans from abroad gets us the “wonk” tour: Did you know these tidbits about Orchard House?

You never know what a house can tell you! No matter how many times I visit Orchard House, I always learn something new.

Last Friday I had the privilege of meeting longtime email friends from Paris, France. Charline Bourdin, the author of the first French biography of Louisa May Alcott and the webmaster of a French Louisa May Alcott blog is visiting the United States for the first time. Accompanied by her friend Pierre (who is fluent in English), their purpose was to make a pilgrimage to various Alcott-related sites. First stop: Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House.

Lizzie’s melodeon

Seraphine or Melodeon? You decide ... from http://www.dejean.com/maynard-workshop/concord/index.html

Seraphine or Melodeon? You decide … from http://www.dejean.com/maynard-workshop/concord/index.html

Our tour guide was an elderly woman with a deep knowledge of the family. For example, I learned that Lizzie’s melodeon in the dining room was the one given to her at age 20 by Dr. Henry Whitney Bellows when the family was living in Walpole, NH. Harriet Reisen had mentioned this story in Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women and I always wondered if the instrument survived. Eve LaPlante’s book, Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother had mentioned the acquisition of a seraphine which is similar in appearance to a melodeon (see previous post). It gave me a special thrill to know that I could see the melodeon that inspired the story of Mr. Laurence’s gift of a piano to Beth. It’s one of my favorite parts of Little Women.

Nieriker-Pratt-Alcott connection

ernst and lulu

Did you know that descendants of Lulu Nieriker are still in touch with Anna Alcott Pratt’s descendants? Reisen had mentioned some trouble between the families because May’s husband Ernst had wanted a larger piece of Louisa’s inheritance. Lulu mentioned in an interview with Madelon Bedell (see The Alcotts: Biography of a Family) that she felt closest to Anna so undoubtedly it was her efforts that maintained the connection.

Direct connection to May Alcott Nieriker

Jan Turnquist, Executive Director of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House met us at the end of the tour, eager to meet the French couple who had traveled so far to tour the house. Jan has established an International Circle of Little Women fans and was delighted to know that Charline and Pierre came from Meudon, a town just outside of Paris where May lived and studied art, eventually getting one of her paintings into the prestigious Paris Salon.

The New Castle at Meudon

The New Castle at Meudon

An Orchard House tour guide, Karen Goodno, had a chance to visit Meudon in search of May’s residence and we got to see her photos. She believes she found the house where May and Ernst lived. Charline and Pierre knew the area well and were very excited.

Jan was thrilled at the offer from Charline and Pierre to begin forging a relationship between Orchard House and the town of Meudon not unlike the sister city relationship Orchard House already enjoys with Nanae Town in Japan. They will stay in contact and work on this.

The “wonk” tour

orchard house in winterAfter a lively conversation Jan gave us the “wonk” tour. See if you knew these interesting facts (and no fair if you worked at Orchard House!):

  • We saw the attic with the secret finished room, the split chimney (done by Bronson) that had been tearing the house apart, the bug-ridden beams (now replaced), and the entrance to the attic over the tenant house addition. Jan noted that that attic still contains nails in the beams showing evidence of fur where dead animals had been hung.
  • I was unaware of the tenant house addition (which had been a separate house on the property that Bronson moved over with logs underneath and attached to the main house – rooms include the gift shop, kitchen, May’s art studio and May’s bedroom). Bronson certainly had a habit of doing that considering he had done the same at Hillside. A portion of a crucial support beam on the second floor by May’s room had been removed to make room for the addition. Jan opened a small door in the ceiling to reveal a steel reinforcement beam shaped in a curve to reconnect the two portions of the beam, running behind the wall.
  • I was also unaware that the foyer had been expanded though upon learning that, I was not surprised. I had always thought it unusual that the foyer was so generous in size. That expansion created the split chimney. The front door was originally much closer to the staircase, and the stairs were to the left of their current position. The chimney had been behind the stairs so Bronson split the chimney so he could move the staircase. He then expanded the foyer so that his wife could have a grand entrance for the family home.
    We smiled at the thought. Bronson was no engineer but he knew how to aesthetically please.
  • The second floor hallway is sporting new wallpaper. The original print was found and samples still existed. It had a unique semi-gloss sheen that was no longer made, except at one wallpaper factory in France! They publicized their partnership with Orchard House in supplying the wallpaper.

The tour was dreamy and I was on air, never expecting so many delights. Charline taught me a very important lesson that day: it’s okay to ask! Most likely the answer will be “yes!”

We were then off to Fruitlands for a lovely lunch at the Café and a tour of the Fruitlands house. More on that in the next post.

Where is Anna Alcott Pratt’s grave?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACharline posed an interesting question over lunch: Is Anna buried in the Alcott family plot or is she buried in the Pratt plot? Both are at Sleepy Hollow. She couldn’t find the stone and I can’t remember. Comment if you know the answer.

I miss my dear French friend already! I hope we can see each other again soon.

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Answers to the Little Women quiz; information needed on a late 19th-century British version of Little Women

Results of True/False Quiz

beth playing pianoI see some of you tried the True/False quiz of what was real and what was made up in Little Women. No one got 100% but you were very close! Here are the answers:

  1. Hannah the servant FALSE – The Alcotts could not afford any servants in those days
  2. The Christmas play (“The Witches’ Curse, an Operatic Tragedy) TRUE – this play is actually a composite of actual plays written and performed by Louisa and Anna.
  3. Amy burns Jo’s manuscript FALSE
  4. Marmee’s temper TRUE
  5. Amy falling through the ice FALSE
  6. Jo pinching Meg’s papered locks before the ball FALSE
  7. Meg being dressed up as a doll at Annie Moffat’s FALSE
  8. Amy bewailing her pickled limes TRUE
  9. Beth receiving the piano from Mr. Lawrence TRUE – in Harriet Reisen’s book Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women, Lizzie received a piano as a gift in Walpole, NH when she was twenty from Dr. Henry Whitney Bellows (see chapter 9 in the book)
  10. Mr. March’s illness FALSE – Louisa was writing about her own illness her Civil War nursing stint
  11. Jo sells her hair. FALSE but it was based on something true, that Louisa had all her hair cut off during her illness after the Civil War
  12. Beth wasted away and died peacefully. FALSE Lizzie (aka Beth) did waste away but she was in tremendous pain, was often quite anxious, and even went through a spell where she rejected her family and wanted to be left alone (Anna said in a letter that Lizzie had called her “horrid.”)
  13. Jo published her first story, “The Rival Painters.” TRUE
  14. Amy writes her own will. TRUE? Not sure on this one (I know, I shouldn’t have included it if I didn’t know the answer!)
  15. Jo rejects Laurie’s love. FALSE

LIttle Women, British volume, 1898

Here are some pictures from an exquisite British version of Little Women which even includes the dedication to the reader on a lovely sticker.  The only thing I can be sure of is that the illustrations are done by Frank T. Merrill, who illustrated the American version,  copyright of 1880 and renewed by Louisa’s adopted son John Pratt in 1896. Note that the text had been edited for this version, leaving out some of the slang and smoothing out some of the language.

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Continuing to trace the steps of Little Women: Madeleine B. Stern’s brilliant analysis, part three: Can you tell what’s real and what is made up?

Little Women  has been called autobiographical because Louisa May Alcott used so many episodes from her own childhood and that of her family to create the story. But where does fact end and fiction begin? Or does it even work like that?

Stern says, “Fact was embedded in fiction, and a domestic novel begun in which the local and the universal were married, in which adolescents were clothed in flesh and blood.”

True or False?

play and amy and joLet’s have a little quiz, True or False – is the following a real episode or fiction? Warning: the answer isn’t always black and white so pick True if it’s more black than white and False if the opposite.

Copy the entire list and then put TRUE or FALSE after the statement and we’ll compare notes.

  1. Hannah the servant
  2. The Christmas play (“The Witches’ Curse, an Operatic Tragedy)
  3. Amy burns Jo’s manuscript
  4. Marmee’s temper
  5. Amy falling through the ice
  6. Jo pinching Meg’s papered locks before the ball
  7. Meg being dressed up as a doll at Annie Moffat’s
  8. Amy bewailing her pickled limes
  9. Beth receiving the piano from Mr. Lawrence
  10. Mr. March’s illness
  11. Jo sells her hair.
  12. Beth wasted away and died peacefully.
  13. Jo published her first story, “The Rival Painters.”
  14. Amy writes her own will.
  15. Jo rejects Laurie’s love.

Answers in the next post. Good luck!

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Unpublished Alcott Letters: Lizzie to her family from Swampscott, August 16, 1857 (and a cosmic coincidence)

Concord is not the only place where you can take a Little Women pilgrimage.

Last week Sylvia (a friend I met through the Summer Conversational Series) and I visited Swampscott, a small community on the North Shore next to the city of Lynn. It was here in August of 1857 that Abigail took Elizabeth for a summer sojourn in the vain hope that Lizzie would revive.

Louisa immortalized that visit in Little Women, chapter 36, “Beth’s Secret.”

560 rocks nearby4

Cosmic coincidences

Our visit took place on August 16. It turns out I have a letter, transcribed, from Lizzie dated exactly August 16, 1857! We were where Abba and Lizzie were, exactly 156 years later! I felt very strong emotions coming to Swampscott that day but not just because of Lizzie but also because my mother’s family, the Breeds, is one of the oldest families in Lynn and Swampscott. My mother grew up in Swampscott.

Here you can see what kinds of activities Lizzie enjoyed during her stay. I can see why she rallied but it was not to last. The weather unfortunately turned cold and rainy and the gains she had made when it was pleasant were lost.

560 earliest photo of swampscott circa 1868

Note regarding Swampscott and Lynn

Although Abba’s letters keep mentioning the city of Lynn, Lizzie and her mother were in fact in Swampscott, staying with relatives and also Wendell Phillips and his family (see Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother by Eve LaPlante, pg. 214, ebook). Sylvia, a former Swampscott resident, had corresponded with the local historian who was able to pinpoint exactly where the Phillips home had been.

Swampscott had only been incorporated as a town in 1852 and before then had been a part of Lynn since the 1600s. Lizzie mentions Phillips Beach which is in Swampscott.

The letter comes from the Amos Bronson Alcott Family Letters collection, Houghton Library MS Am 1130.9 (27).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I had had a sick day, but I will write a line to you & give you my journal.

Monday 10. We came to Lynn, T[homas]. Sewall coming with us. Found everything pleasant & comfortable, I felt pleased with my quarters. Mrs. Phillips devoured Abbie’s picture & thought I was the image of her, & hugged me every few minutes. Took a cup of tea and salt fish for tea . In the evening Jessie hearing Abbie Alcott had come, came in to call, but was crushed. He is a quite a tidy bashful lad, & seemed greatly taken aback.

Tuesday 11. Rode out shopping with mother. Had a delightful ride into the town. Afternoon, worked on canvass with the girls a while, rested myself, & Katie & Joe came over. Had a restless night.

The Phillips School, built on land the Phillips family owned. It's likely Abba and Lizzie stayed in the Phillips home on this land in the summer of 1857.

The Phillips School, built on land the Phillips family owned. It’s likely Abba and Lizzie stayed in the Phillips home on this land in the summer of 1857.

Wednesday 13. At eleven, glorious tide, took a bath, and had a grand time; much refreshed; laid down awhile. Auntie and Mr. Bond called a minute, thought me looking much better; walked on the Beach with Sara, & got some shells; lovely air, enjoyed myself.

560 plover

Common ringed plover. These birds along with sandpipers would run along the shoreline, peeping, something Beth described with delight in Little Women.

Thursday 14. Rained, we sewed and read loud, quiet morning.  Afternoon took a walk to Aunt Connie’s – Good day. Callers in evening.

Friday 15. Worked some, trimmed my hat, walked out; ate little. In the evening had a glorious sail on the water to Red  Point, round Phillips Beach, sloop named “I tell ye. ”  Got home and lay down. Sick night. Up and down.

560 view from rocks nearby2

Saturday 16. Sat idle all day; we moved into the chambers upstairs, airy and delightful; looks upon the water. Afternoon rode into town & back. Had a pretty good night.

Sunday 17. Lovely day, but sick & blue all day till evening. Saw Dr. Newall [Dr. Newhall] – new prescriptions, felt better. Began milk and magnesia. Lovely evening. They go to a lecture; mother & I … alone. Aunt Connie calls. I [made] a cap for Fred to smoke in. My first lesson in crochet – learning makes stitches. Mrs. Adams & Lydia (?) are here, pass of time. George & Willie are here, have not come yet. I have a lovely hat & I like the girls very much – Sara the best – Cady rigid & busy – I eat fish, & like it, chicken, mutton, milk & tea, am now stronger. Can enjoy walking some. The boat sales will be delightful, a good a time – air cool & fresh, blew in my lungs, & easily, it was glorious, whole family can go in the Dory.  He is a fine charmer; much riding all the time, horseback, & vehicle, much going on, diverting for me & pleasant.

560 rocks nearby2

Can write no more, my eyes give out – Thanks for nice letters and lines all round. Goodbye, Lizzie.

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Greetings from the Beyond

You may recall the last post I wrote about Work: A Story of Experience where I reiterated the religious importance of this autobiographical novel by Louisa May Alcott.  I was moved by the consolation Christie Devon received as described in chapter 19, “Little Hearts-Ease.” She heard husband David’s “voice” as the breeze blew near his flute.

From the collection at the Concord Free Public Library www.concordlibrary.org

From the collection at the Concord Free Public Library http://www.concordlibrary.org

I wrote about similar experiences when my mother passed away.

Today, April 22 marks the third year anniversary of my mother’s passing. God gifted me with the most exquisite greeting from my mother today, a greeting that I believe Louisa would have greatly appreciated.

I had mentioned my mother’s affiliation with Wellesley College, first as a Botany major, and then as a laboratory assistant in the  Botany department. As a child she picked wild flowers in the woods with her older sister Meredith. Her father maintained a splendid English garden at the old homestead, a beautiful Tudor in Swampscott, MA (ironically, one of the places where Abigail took Lizzie hoping the sea air would improve her health; Louisa imagined the scene in Little Women with Jo accompanying Beth to the shore).

littlewomen00alcoiala_0421

I took my lunch hour walk today, finding myself over at the college even though I had not planned on going there. It was like I was directed to go. When I got there, I was greeted with most beautiful scene straight out of my mother’s heart:

640 lake and flowers2

The entire hillside was covered with the smiling faces of yellow and white daffodils:

640 college with flowers

The tears welled up as I felt the presence of my mother so deeply within. I knew just how Christie Devon must have felt. I imagine Louisa must have had similar experiences remembering her sister Lizzie, her “spiritual guide.”

The visit was short and sweet but it greatly lifted my spirits. God indeed is everywhere inside us, around us and if, as Louisa did, we have that interior vision to see, we will be consoled.

Here’s the complete set of pictures I took during that extraordinary walk.

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Here’s a tease.

The Governor Winthrop Fleet

The Governor Winthrop Fleet

I’ve mentioned before possible family connections with the Alcotts with the discovery that the first secretary of the Louisa May Alcott Association sported my maiden name of Hoyle (Carrie Hoyle); I saw a note she wrote to John Pratt inviting him to the opening of Orchard House (see previous post). I also know that Abba and Lizzie spent time in Lynn and Swampscott; Lynn is where the Breed family settled in the 1630s, supposedly coming over on the Governor Winthrop Fleet, the same fleet from which Bronson’s ancestors came (one Thomas Alcocke; Bronson’s father was known as Joseph Alcox and Bronson changed the name to Alcott). Unfortunately  the manifest is incomplete so the Breed Family Association cannot prove it.

I have since discovered the name of one of the doctors consulted by Abba during her stay on the North Shore that may possibly be connected to the Breed family. This would be the closest tie yet and a most exciting one to boot!

I’m researching this possibility and will let you know how it turns out. A direct connection would be sweet. :-)

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New book: Little Women An Annotated Edition, edited by Daniel Shealy: it’s gorgeous!

I just received my copy of Little Women An Annotated Edition, edited by Daniel Shealy and I was stunned by the beauty of the book!

LW Shealy1 combined

Don’t be fooled by the cover -
it doesn’t begin to tell the story.

This is a gorgeous oversized edition (9.6 x 9.3 x 2 inches) with an elegant choice of typefaces. It is filled with color plates, letters written by Louisa and her publisher Thomas Niles and commentary on each page which enhances the reading experience.

Informative essays

Shealy introduces the book with an interesting essay about the extensive revisions made to the text between its original publication in 1868 and the revised version in the 1880s. In many respects the revisions were a response to negative criticism about the slang Alcott used throughout the book being a poor example for children! Fortunately Shealy uses the original text which is more vibrant and real.

Life turned into classic fiction

A second essay includes photos of each of the main players from the Alcott family. Alcott drew from the deep well of her personal life to bring Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, Marmee and Laurie to life. Shealy includes analysis of the era, fascinating anecdotes and great trivia.

Here is a summary from Amazon about the book:

LW Shealy2Little Women has delighted and instructed readers for generations. For many, it is a favorite book first encountered in childhood or adolescence. Championed by Gertrude Stein, Simone de Beauvoir, Theodore Roosevelt, and J. K. Rowling, it is however much more than the “girls’ book” intended by Alcott’s first publisher. In this richly annotated, illustrated edition, Daniel Shealy illuminates the novel’s deep engagement with issues such as social equality, reform movements, the Civil War, friendship, love, loss, and of course the passage into adulthood.

The editor provides running commentary on biographical contexts (Did Alcott, like Jo, have a “mood pillow”?), social and historical contexts (When may a lady properly decline a gentleman’s invitation to dance?), literary allusions (Who is Mrs. Malaprop?), and words likely to cause difficulty to modern readers (What is a velvet snood? A pickled lime?). With Shealy as a guide, we appreciate anew the confusions and difficulties that beset the March sisters as they overcome their burdens and journey toward maturity and adulthood: beautiful, domestic-minded Meg, doomed and forever childlike Beth, selfish Amy, and irrepressible Jo. This edition examines the novel’s central question: How does one grow up well?

Little Women An Annotated Edition offers something for everyone. It will delight both new and returning readers, young and old, male and female alike, who will want to own and treasure this beautiful edition full of color illustrations and photographs.

I am hoping to get permission to show you some of the inside of this book. Stay tuned …

If you love Little Women, you will want this edition as a keepsake to pass down to future generations.

Click to Tweet & ShareNew book: Little Women An Annotated Edition, edited by Daniel Shealy: it’s gorgeous! http://wp.me/p125Rp-1s1

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susanwbailey:

Love this blog – Louisa May Alcatt – feminism in the form of a torti cat (the cat with the most ‘tude!). Here the author shares the anniversary of Lizzie’s death with a lovely tribute.

Originally posted on Suffragette Kitty:

Elizabeth Alcatt

Elizabeth Alcatt

Today, March 14, is the 155th anniversary of the death of my sister Lizzie. Many of you are familiar with her gentle character, Beth, from my book, Little Women.

My sweet little sister died young, at the age of 23, just a few months before our family moved into the Orchard House. I don’t want to focus too much on death here, so let’s celebrate her life.

The antithesis of me, Lizzie was relatively quiet and very content. She loved music and played the piano often for our family and guests. She also loved kittens! It was so like Lizzie to provide a home to a stray cat wandering around Concord or our native Pennsylvania. So, I am sure she is thrilled that we are now the Alcatts. I’d also like to think that Lizzie’s acts of kindness then paid forward today and helped me find the…

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Do Louisa May Alcott’s didactic tales of fantasy have a place in children’s reading today?

2004 Orchard House edition

2004 Orchard House edition

Last December I had the opportunity to tour Orchard House during the Christmas season (see previous post, “A lovely holiday visit to Orchard House, capped off by some great finds!”). The theme of the period decorations was Louisa May Alcott’s “first born,” Flower Fables. To properly prepare for the tour, I decided to read this book.

Learning about a fairy tale pioneer

I had misgivings about reading it at first as I am not a big fan of fantasy tales. I recalled, however, a presentation by Daniel Shealy at the American Library Association workshop on their Louisa May Alcott initiative back in 2011 (see previous post, “The American Library Association Louisa May Alcott Project: A DVD and Book Start a Movement”). Dr. Shealy had stated that Louisa was an often overlooked pioneer of American fantasy and fairy tales. Intrigued by this notion, I dug in.

Tales told to a friend

flower fables from concord libraryLouisa was fifteen when she originally crafted and told these tales to a young Ellen Emerson. Ellen was so taken with them that she demanded they be written down. Louisa complied; the charming little books, handwritten and bound with ribbon can be seen at the Concord Free Public Library in their Special Collections. It gave me a special thrill to actually touch and read them (see previous post, “The field trip of a lifetime).

A safe haven

Yes, the tales are overly sweet. Yes, they are preachy. Yes, they are dated. I read the book, however, very soon after the mind-numbing shooting of scores of school children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. I found Louisa’s “preaching” be a safe haven where I could retreat, to a time of more wholesome thoughts and feelings.

Time to revive these stories?

As I read I began to feel an urge to share these tales with children. It reminded me of how I felt after reading some of Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag and the urge I had then to ask my local library if I could read some of these stories to children. Many lend themselves to terrific creative activities.

Louisa had a fertile imagination that never lost its childish innocence even as she continued writing such stories in her fifties as she suffered through her illness. The lessons that she imparts may be considered “old-fashioned,” but I found them quite timely.

Fairies and elves in a romantic backdrop

Flower Fables is unique in that it is Louisa’s first published book, written when she was a dreamy teenager. Her exposure to the outdoors through the likes of her father and Henry David Thoreau provide a natural and romantic backdrop rich in detail. She knew her flowers, trees and birds and it was here that she set her tales of fairies, elves and children.

Flower Fables, original printing 1855, from the Concord Free Public Library Special Collections; used with permission

Flower Fables, original printing 1855, from the Concord Free Public Library Special Collections; used with permission

Here are a few highlights.

Nature and fantasy become one

From “Eva’s Visit to Fairy Land,” pg. 40, Flower Fables, Orchard House edition

“… soon through the rippling water came a strange little boat.

It was a lily of the valley, whose tall stem formed the master, while the broad leaves that rose from the roots, and drooped again till they reached the water, were filled with gay little Elves, who danced to the music of the silver lilybells above, that rang a merry peal, and filled the air with their fragrant breath.”

male fairy with mushroomsLouisa’s familiarity with nature was woven effortlessly into the fantasy so that the real world of plants and animals and the imaginary world of elves and fairies became one. It was once said that Thoreau showed her a cobweb and declared that it was a fairy’s handkerchief. His instinctive understanding of the flight of fancy and its relationship to reality nurtured Louisa’s mind and heart. He connected with the child, sparking her desire and feeding her imagination and she was able to share that with countless other children.

A song to God

Continuing from “Eva’s Visit to Fairy Land,” pg. 43

“When the sun rose the Fairies, and, with Eva, hastened away to the fountain, whose cool waters were soon filled with little forms, and the air ringing with happy voice, as the Elves floated in the blue waves among the fair white lilies, or sat on the green moss, smoothing their bright locks, and wearing fresh garlands of dewy flowers. At length the Queen came forth, and her subjects gathered round her, and while the flowers bowed their heads, and the trees hushed their rustling, the Fairies sang their morning hymn to the Father of birds and blossoms, who made the earth so fair a home for them.”

It’s easy here to see the transcendental influence on the author. Louisa effortlessly blends in a gentle religious lesson of praise to God, free from denominational identification, theology, rules, etc. It’s just a simple faith from the heart. The transcendental quality, of course, is the connection with nature.

Moral lessons

One more passage from “Eva’s Visit to Fairy Land,” pgs. 45-46

2girlfairy“They passed on, and Eva saw beside each bed a Fairy, who with gentle hands and loving words soothed the suffering insects. … Then said the Fairy, while she bathed the broken wing — “Love-Blossom, you should not murmur. We may find happiness in seeking to be patient even while we suffer. You are not forgotten or uncared for, but others need our care more than you, and to those who take cheerfully the pain and sorrow sent, do we most gladly give our help. You need not be idle, even though lying here in darkness and sorrow; you can be taking from your heart all sad and discontented feelings, and if love and patience blossom there, you will be better for the lonely hours spent here. Look on the bed beside you; this little dove has suffered far greater pain than you, and all our care can never ease it; yet through the long days he hath lain here, not an unkind word or a repining sigh hath he uttered. Ah, Love-Blossom, the gentle bird can teach a lesson you will be wiser and better for.”

This is a pretty sophisticated lesson! I am in my mid-50s and only just learned it the last time I was sick (because I have a sterling example in a woman I visit each week who suffers from a debilitating disease of the middle ear which causes severe vertigo resulting in dizziness, nausea, headaches and difficulty walking.) Louisa and her sisters “acted out” these lessons with dolls and stuffed toys as shown in Little Women (especially Beth with her invalid and headless doll, Joanna).

Is Beth March out of fashion?

Jo and Beth; illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith

Jo and Beth; illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith

The heart of the moral lessons in Flower Fables is self-sacrificial love and patient suffering. Both of these are characteristic of Beth in Little Woman and considered “out of fashion” in today’s society. How many times have I heard that “nobody wants to be Beth.” And yet, I keep meeting people, young and old, male and female, who do. Why do people dismiss the Beths of this world when there are many quiet souls who give of themselves because they want to?

Why are these stories still remembered?

This is what I find so compelling about Louisa’s didactic stories. I realize writing of this type was common in the 19th century. The question is what made Louisa’s way of conveying it unique such that her stories are still remembered today?

Stories like these (and the play that ensues) connects people to one another and fosters care of one another. Video games do the exact opposite.

Guess I’m the one who is preaching now!

This is a small taste of what is offered in Flower Fables. In in the next post, I will share a conversation I had with Dr. Shealy about Louisa’s fantasy tales plus highlights from an essay he wrote about this aspect of her work.

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Are you passionate about Louisa May Alcott too?
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Susan’s ebook, “Game Changer” is now available From the Garret – download for free!