Yet another big announcement, and you can be a part of it!

I’ve been sitting on some pretty exciting news.

Along with the release of River of Grace this October, I also have another book in the works, commissioned by a different publisher. And this one is all about Louisa May Alcott! The book will be launched in January of 2016.

louisa cover

The publisher is ACTA; this book is part of a series known as the Literary Portals to Prayer. The idea is to feature passages from the classics and pair them with bible verses which will then stimulate prayer and meditation. The bible verses come from a modern translation of the bible known as The Message. Authors such as Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, William Shakespeare, Hans Christian Anderson, Jane Austen and Elizabeth McGaskell will be featured, along with Louisa May Alcott.

The invitation to write this book came directly as a result of Louisa May Alcott is My Passion. YOU made this possible and I am so grateful.

I am presently combing through Louisa May Alcott’s books and journals to find the perfect fifty passages to complete my volume in this series.

And this is where you come in.

Many of you know Louisa’s canon far better than I do. I am making inroads but we all know how prolific Louisa was!

I could really use your help!

I would eagerly welcome your suggestions on passages for use in the Louisa May Alcott Literary Portal to Prayer.

Please post your suggestion through your comment, or send me an email at louisamayalcottismypassion@gmail.com with your passage(s).

If I use your passage, I will credit and thank you by name in the introduction I will write for the book!

The rules are simple:

  • The passage must contain between 73 and 275 words; poetry is definitely welcome and cannot exceed 30 lines.
  • The passage must contain some kind of spiritual theme, i.e. love of God, welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, personal growth, a personal revelation, etc. The religious nature of the passage does not have to be overt; we want the passage to stimulate thought and inspire ponderance.
  • Cite the the name of the work and chapter number and name, and cut and paste the passage into your comment or email.
  • Deadline for submission is Monday, August 31. Post your passage(s) through your comment, or send me an email at louisamayalcottismypassion@gmail.com with your passage(s).
  • First come, first serve. If duplicate passages are suggested, the first person who suggests it will be the owner of that passage.

I would particularly welcome passages from Louisa’s short stories from Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag, Lulu’s Library, other compilations, or any stories published in St. Nicholas magazine. I don’t have the time to go through all of her short stories but should it be a specialty of yours, I would welcome your submissions.

Thinking about reading this weekend or over your vacation? Find some passages and send them along. I am eager to see your suggestions!

Please share this around with your friends on Facebook and Twitter:

All submissions are welcome. Cut and paste this into your Facebook page or click to tweet & share:

Know of a quote from #LouisaMayAlcott relating to spirituality? Help out @susanbailey and be part of a new book. http://wp.me/p125Rp-1T1

And thank you again for your support of this blog which has resulted in this opportunity.

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Thoughts on Little Women the second time around–seeing Jo in a new light

I have just finished my second reading of Little Women. Both times I have listened to the free audio book on Librivox.com. The first time around wasn’t too bad until I got into the crux of Jo’s relationship with Professor Bhaer in chapter 46. The reader unfortunately had such a loud and grating voice that it totally ruined that chapter for me.

A dramatic reading

This time around I found a dramatic reading of the book which was done almost to perfection. The narrator (who also took on the role of Jo) was superior in every way. All the main parts were done well although it took awhile to accept Laurie’s voice.

Never fails to please

It is amazing how much this book yields in multiple readings! It’s a different book each time. But then you long-time fans know that already, don’t you? For some of you, it’s a yearly habit. I can certainly see why.

Changing view of Jo—her rite of passage

WinonaJoMarchThe first time I read Little Women I was put off by Jo and favored Amy. Jo was frankly rude, obnoxious and self-absorbed at times (part of being a teenager) and because I had spent so much time with her real life counterpart, Jo seemed a shadow of Louisa.

From this second reading I have a much better sense of Jo. Her rite of passage from the awkward teenager who never wanted to grow up to the mature and more sober woman of twenty-five moved me. Louisa did an outstanding job of tracing Jo’s journey to maturity and revealing some of herself in the process. Her grief over the loss of Beth and how she carried on in the aftermath transformed her heart, making it ready to love someone beyond her immediate family.

A perfect match

jo marchMany readers see her capitulating to marriage but I don’t see it that way. I still maintain that Professor Bhaer was the perfect match for her (and I’ve often entertained the idea that he was Louisa’s ideal for a husband who for her, did not exist in real life). Jo grew to be a better writer for having grown within herself, writing from that true place in her heart. (Oh, and by the way, Jo mentioned a few times that Laurie disapproved of her writing).

A quiet revolution

jo and professor bhaerShe and Fritz lived the companionate marriage that Louisa dreamed of and wrote about in Work A Story of Experience. Jo and Fritz shared everything, from meaningful work to family life. This in and of itself was a quiet revolution, illustrating a marriage between equals. I had missed the fact in my first reading that Jo actually was the one to plant the first kiss! Loved that. How like our Jo!

Ever present spiritual guide

jo and bethLittle Women began to shed light on a burning question I have entertained since I got interested in Elizabeth Alcott. Louisa often mentioned that her late sister Lizzie was her “spiritual guide” but she never detailed any of that in her journals or letters. I wondered then how that idea manifested itself in her life. Of course her books provide the answer. From chapter 40 on when Beth dies, I began see how real life Lizzie influenced her older sister. And I intend to go over those chapters carefully (especially 40 and 42) to find out more.

A treasure trove

little women in the garretThere is so much treasure to unearth between the lines of this book. And many universal themes, themes that do apply to today if you work at it a little bit. Thank goodness for places like Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House where the spirit of Little Women is kept alive for generations to come.

Speaking to you and me

little women 190I am late to Little Women, very late. Most of you are probably saying, “Of course! Duh!” This book has spoken to you throughout your lives. In my late fifties, it is now speaking to me.

That’s the mark of a true classic. Little Women is no mere “children’s” book. It’s a book for every age.

Your thoughts?

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Remember this painting of The Wayside where the Little Women actually grew up? Artist Joyce Pyka sends us an update

You may recall an artist’s rendition of The Wayside, originally named Hillside by Bronson Alcott after the home was purchased with Abba Alcott’s inheritance.

Although Orchard House is the physical setting for Little Women, artist Joyce Pyka, like many of us Alcott fans, knows that many of the childhood stories of the girls took place at Hillside.

Pyka has been revealing her envisioning of The Wayside with Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy and Laurie in various stages:

Little Women 10 26 2014 fixed by Joyce Pyka

dog

detail laurie

Here’s the latest version:

640-wayside clearer 3 31 2015

Pyka reports that the painting should be done by summer and yes, prints will be available for sale. Sign me up!

Here are previous blog posts on the painting.

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My first visit to Orchard House in 1963, captured on film!

first visit to Orchard House (web)

My family visited Orchard House back when I was a little girl (I’m the one with the pig tails – my brother is to my left and sister to my right). The family with us are my aunt, uncle and cousin. My uncle took hours and hours of home movies and made a short one of our family’s visit to Concord including Orchard House, Minuteman National Park and The Old Manse.

While it’s just a glimpse, I am thrilled to have this record of my first visit to Orchard House! Who would have ever guessed it would be the beginning of a lifelong love affair with the Alcotts!

Have you visited Orchard House? How old were you? Have you gone back for a return visit? (I’ve gone back too many times to count!)

Click to Tweet & ShareMy first visit to Orchard House in 1963, captured on film! http://wp.me/p125Rp-1E6

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An Old-Fashioned Louisa May Alcott Thanksgiving

susanwbailey:

This ran in 2011 and captures Thanksgiving perfectly. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Originally posted on Louisa May Alcott is My Passion:

From Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag comes “An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving,” one of many charming short stories Louisa May Alcott wrote after the success of
Little Women.

Story summary

It’s a simple story of a time long ago and far away (very early 19th century), starring a country family in New Hampshire, “poor in money, but rich in land and love …” Familiar themes but I never grow tired of them, especially when the world today is so full of uncertainty and misery.

Takes you to another time

I never was a fan of descriptive writing, wishing instead for the plot line to simply proceed. This story’s descriptions however, folded me into its time and place such that the Bassett farmhouse was a home I truly wanted to visit and live in, even for a short time:

“The big kitchen was a jolly place just now, for in the great fireplace roared…

View original 434 more words

Dr. Daniel Shealy’s take on Louisa May Alcott’s fantasy stories

louisa may alcott's fairy tales and fantasy storiesI had a lovely phone conversation with Daniel Shealy who has written essays on Louisa’s pioneering efforts as a fairy tale and fantasy writer. He has edited a volume known as Louisa May Alcott’s Fairy Tales and Fantasy Stories, which is a complete collection.

I asked him the following questions; the answers are paraphrased but accurately reflect what he thinks.

1. In Louisa’s time, how common it was for children to read about and pretend to be fairies and elves?

While there weren’t any strictly American stories about elves and fairies, there were European stories that made their way over written by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. Louisa refers to Anderson a couple of times in Little Women (and also in “The Skipping Shoes” from Lulu’s Library). Because there are no manuscripts of Louisa’s journals until the 1860s, (except for pages found at Fruitlands), we can only go by what Ednah Dow Cheney chose to reveal.

It was common for children of that time to imagine they were fairies.

2. What influence did Abigail have on Louisa with regards to stories of fairies and elves?

Again, we don’t know specifically what fantasy books Louisa read as a child (except for the reference to The Neverending Story) but Lydia Marie Child was one of Abba’s best friends and she wrote fantasy. Surely Louisa would have been exposed to that.

3. How much of a role did transcendentalism play in Louisa’s fantasy stories?

Professor Daniel Shealy lays out his case about the extensive range of Louisa May Alcott's writing.

Professor Daniel Shealy lays out his case about the extensive range of Louisa May Alcott’s writing.

Transcendentalism definitely played a role, perhaps in the way Louisa’s imagination worked. The Alcott children were greatly encouraged to read and use their imaginations. It was totally accepted in their family for the children to imagine themselves as characters (and later on this played out in their theatricals). Louisa’s Fruitlands diary makes reference to pretending to be fairies while at Fruitlands.
5. Did the weaving in of the natural world make her fantasy stories unique? 

The detail of description and the naming of the flowers and plants perhaps made it unique. Daniel described Louisa as a pioneer. She didn’t invent the genre of fantasy tales in America but she was one of the first to produce a book of American fairy tales.

Brief overview of children’s literature

Dr. Shealy’s essay furthers the argument. Tracing the history of children’s literature in America, he notes the total lack of books which stimulated the imagination of the child before the 1850s (recalling that Flower Fables was published in 1855). Puritan society frowned on fiction as “lies,” believing that realistic, didactic stories were best. Works such as The New England Primer, John Cotton’s Spiritual Milk for Babes and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress were commonly found in the home.

Impact of Pilgrim’s Progress

pilgrim's progressBronson Alcott counted Bunyan’s book as his all-time favorite and made sure his daughters were equally immersed in it. Results of that immersion are clearly seen in Little Women, right down to the chapter titles (“Jo Meets Apollyon,” Meg Goes to Vanity Fare,” “Castles in the Air,” etc.).

Old World influence

Interest in the growth of children’s literature began to emerge in the 1820s as America sought to better educate their young whom they saw as the future of the nation. Books were still didactic but were more informative in nature. Yet, fantasy literature was beginning to seep in. It had to come over from Europe.

Feeding the New World imagination

mother gooseMother Goose, tales of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson’s stories became great favorites, soon prompting the writing of American tales. Old habits die hard, thus the heavy emphasis on morals and education permeated these stories. Samuel Goodrich, who published Parley’s Book of Fables in 1836, condemned the European fairy tales, calling them “monstrosities.”

What did Louisa read?

Louisa was most likely exposed to fantasy through Lydia Maria Child, one of her mother’s dearest friends. She produced Rainbows for Children in 1848, keeping in line with the moral and educational emphases. Louisa would have been in her teens at the time. There is evidence of exposure to European tales as well with mentions of Hans Christian Anderson in some of her juvenile works.

Beginning of a new tradition

Wonder-Book-for-Girls-Boys-by-HawthorneMost scholars agree that Nathaniel Hawthorne (who ironically ended up purchasing the Alcott homestead of Hillside in Concord where Louisa lived as a teenager) officially began the tradition of American fairy tales with his two works, A Wonder Book in 1851 and Tanglewood Tales in 1853. Louisa would publish Flower Fables one year later.

The writing of the era

Having grown up in the era of moral fiction and being an avid reader (especially of Charles Dickens), Louisa’s stories reflected her influences. Home schooled by her transcendentalist father whose instruction and philosophy stressed morality, Louisa sought to work out her salvation, so to speak, and earn her father’s approval which was hard to come by in her early years. The deep impression made by those experiences is felt in her juvenile works and fantasy tales.

Parallel tales

Lydia Maria Childs

Lydia Maria Childs

Dr. Shealy points out a clear parallel between the stories in Flower Fables and the work of Lydia Maria Child. In 1844, Child published the first volume of Flowers for Children which included a story titled “The Indolent Fairy.” In the story, Papillon the fairy, not known for her hard work or patience, is ordered by the fairy queen to remain in a cavern until work was completed on “a purer and more brilliant diamond than had ever rested on the brow of moral or fairy.” Papillon learns to appreciate work and enjoy the satisfaction of accomplishment.

Shealy writes, “The use of nature and the emphasis on reform clearly parallel Alcott’s own work. In fact, it is quite possible that Alcott herself had read this tale since her journal indicates her familiarity with Child’s work …”

From voice to paper

512 louisa and thoreau in the woods

illustration by Flora Smith from The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard

Flower Fables grew out of an oral tradition. In 1848 while living at Hillside, Louisa taught the neighborhood children including Ralph Waldo Emerson’s daughter Ellen who was so enthralled that she regularly demanded more stories. Shealy writes, “Influenced by her woodland walks with her friend and neighbor Henry David Thoreau, her visits to his cabin at Walden Pond, and her readings in books such as The Story Without an End, Alcott fashioned a fairy world of her own.”

Handmade volumes

Louisa wrote down those stories creating two handmade books, “The Frost King” (the first story in Flower Fables) and “The Fairy Dell.” Shealy describes a green notebook for the former and a manuscript covered with gray marbled paper and bound together with pink ribbon for the latter. Both of these volumes are available for viewing at The Concord Free Public Library in their Special Collections room. In a previous post I wrote, “It was all neatly handwritten by the teenaged Louisa on unlined paper, each line perfectly straight and perfectly spaced. And it was signed “Louy.” Occasionally there was a small edit (a scratched out word). She had hand bound the stories in a pretty folder …”

Community effort

ralph waldo emersonFlower Fables came to print through the help of family and friends. Bronson recorded in his journal in November of 1854, “Today see Briggs, the publisher concerning Louisa’s book Flower Fables which she is printing as a child’s Christmas gift.” Shealy notes that Madeleine Stern suggests that Emerson, through a connection with the publisher’s relative, interceded on Louisa’s behalf. A Miss Wealthy Stevens paid for the book; Louisa had done sewing for her in 1852.

To the most important person of all

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

Louisa dedicated the book to Ellen Emerson, writing: “Hoping that age has not lessened your love for the Fairy folk I have ventured to place your name in my little book …” Louisa was not happy with the illustrations, continuing, “I hope if the fairies tell me any more stories, they will let an Elfin artist illustrate them.”

Where to find out more

Shealy has much more to say about Flower Fables and you can read about it by purchasing his essay from Book Rags or by ordering Louisa May Alcott’s Fairy Tales and Fantasy Stories on Amazon; he edited the book and wrote the preface.

Louisa’s fantasy tales are an important part of her canon, revealing a rich imagination. Despite illness and work demands (and demands she placed on herself), she never lost site of the child within her.

Click to Tweet & ShareDr. Daniel Shealy’s take on Louisa May Alcott’s fantasy stories http://wp.me/p125Rp-1qA

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Sowing Wild Oats, the Transcendental Kind. Serious humor. Guest post by Aniko Eva

transcendental-wild-oats-louisa-alcott-paperback-cover-artAniko Eva, a contributor to Open Salon, was kind enough to reblog my previous post on the unknown members of the Fruitlands community. I, in turn, am happy to reblog her excellent post on Transcendental Wild Oats, Louisa’s satirical response to her experience at Fruitlands.

sairey gamp in front of houseSometimes the only thing you can do in the midst of chaos and despair is to laugh. Louisa’s keen sense of humor served her well throughout her life, oftentimes making her the center of attention at the informal and regular open houses held at Orchard House. Llewellyn Frederick Willis, in his  memoir recalls fondly the rollicking stories she would tell (see previous post).

Louisa loved taking on characters such as Sairey Gamp from the Charles Dickens book Martin Chuzzlewit and entertained the soldiers she cared for during her stint as a Civil War nurse.

Again, another time when all you could do sometimes is just laugh.

I invite you to read this wonderful account of Transcendental Wild Oats.

book space holder

I didn’t expect to call it hilarious when I picked this book up,  that but it’s true:  Louisa May Alcott’s short satirical ribbing of her father’s ‘commune’, Transcendental Wild Oats, is hilarious. All those times you read books with a humorous hippie holdover from the ’70s or watched Dharma’s parents clash with Greg’s, you probably never knew that poor Louisa went through the experience first and for real.

And, while there are probably many ways one could approach this work, one thing that flies off the page when reading this story is the oppressive patriarchal dynamic that existed and, unfortunately, too often still exists. I’d suggest we not be too sensitive about the idea that stubborn male brains have often caused family pain. We all know some people lord their power over others in their circles; the Y-chromosome has just historically made it easier for some members of the human race to do this. Beware: many times it comes from good and honorable intentions. It just doesn’t work, and a husband-wife checks-and-balances system, had it been in place, may have. Even, if it only happens rarely, it hurts when it does. Most of us have some sort of experience with it.

And that’s what hit me when reading this surprisingly funny, sharp, readable story and the supporting material in Transcendental Wild Oats and Excerpts from the Fruitlands Diary, published by the Harvard Common Press.

Click to finish the article.

Click to Tweet & ShareSowing Wild Oats, the Transcendental Kind. Serious humor. Guest post by Aniko Eva http://wp.me/p125Rp-1nD

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