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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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Click to Tweet & ShareAnswers to the Little Women quiz; information needed on a late 19th-century British version of Little Women

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Looking for new blogs and sites to visit? Here’s some that I can heartily recommend

It’s been quite a while since I shared with you different blogs and webpages of interest. Lately I’ve come across several that I’d like to share with you:

mark twain partyLight, Bright and Sparkling: This is author Diana Birchall’s blog. She has a fascinating post with lots of pictures on Mark Twain’s 70th birthday. Her grandmother is one of the guests!

Her Book Self – Lisa’s Literary Life: this blog covers a wide range of books from a true read-a-holic.

Musings of a Bookworm: several great posts about our favorite author on this blog.

Yet Another Journal: an interesting potpourri of “Nostalgia, DVDs, old movies, television, OTR, fandom, good news and bad, picks, pans, cute budgie stories, cute terrier stories, and anything else I can think of.” The budgie stories I’d like to see!

Women, Words, and Wisdom Powerful truths in women’s voices: a blog dedicate to women writers

Reading, Writing, Working, Playing: wonderful literary blog

A Life Reading: this one’s in French but Google Chrome will translate it into English. Great pictures!

catsSilver Threads: Books, Silver, Slide Shows: This blogger reads a lot and offers very intelligent commentary on what she reads. Here’s what she wrote on Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters, and Journals, edited by Ednah D. Cheney

Finally, I was invited to try out and agreed to write something about the site, something I am glad to do. This is a wonderful site for public domain books. You might say, “Sure, I can find these books on Google Books or” but you won’t find them as nicely formatted as these. presents a clean, new edition of the book in various formats supporting the Kindle, Nook and PC (although for the Nook you can only get a PDF version unfortunately). Books can also be read online and you can copy portions of the text for research purposes – you’re just asked to cite the particular book and Forgotten Books. I really like this feature as I cannot do this on my Nook.

forgotten booksThe site is well organized, offering many different book categories. You can keep your own personal library on the site. There is also an image search.

I started my membership by downloading Elegant Affinities by by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe and have been enjoying reading the PDF version on my Nook. The site offers instructions on how to put your books onto your devices.

There are various levels of membership from free (reading the online versions) to paid (downloading up to 10 or 100 books per month).
There’s a lot more to this site that I haven’t looked at yet, but I encourage you to visit if you’re interested in public domain books in a clean, readable format.

This is just a small selection of interesting sites that I list on my Other Sites of Interest page. I invite you to visit it and check out the various blogs and sites.

Click to Tweet & Share: Looking for new blogs and sites to visit? Here’s a bunch that I recommend highly

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Unpublished Alcott letters: Anna to Bronson, Walpole March 16, 1857

Thank you for your enthusiastic responses! I have a handful of letters that I can share with you that I have transcribed as completely as I could. Some words were not readable, mostly because the letters were bound in a volume so that words close to the binding could not be made out. If I could not make out a word, I replaced it with “…” or guessed at the word, surrounding it with brackets and putting a question mark. It is usually possible to make out the meaning despite the missing words. As a rule, I kept the punctuation as I saw it unless it interfered with understanding what was written (and these cases were very rare).

My intention is to present these letters without initial commentary, though I will comment on it after reading yours.

walpole nhThe setting of this first letter is Walpole, NH. It appears that only Anna, Abba and Lizzie are living in the rented house. Lizzie is convalescing after her bout with scarlet fever last year.

This letter comes from the Houghton Library at Harvard University, from the Amos B. Alcott Family Letters, MS Am 1130.9 (27).

Here is how Anna was seeing her life in March of 1857:

Dearest Father,

This being my 26th birthday I … feel cross, old, and miserable, in which … and Christian state of mind I sit down and write to you who never feel either.

The day is dark and dismal and things don’t look very cheering within or without but we are hoping great things from your … which I am sure will cheer mother up more than anything that could happen, and … us all as to the summer plans.

walpole nh squareI rather think it will be decided to stay here in the old house and try another season, tho’ we hope you will bring some new ideas with you to impact this last one which I’m afraid didn’t suit mother, but we can arrange something till you come. A “least said poorest mended” is a wise old proverb.

I found in my journal this little birthday poem from mother

“More to me than jewels rare.
“Are my Anna’s graces fair
“Goodness, Truth and Love.
“All are there my gentle dove.
“If our bark be tempest tost (sic)
“God’s our refuge we’re not lost
“May love be thine
“Firm hope by mine

They are sweet lines and I pray they may come true. I am sure she deserves everything good that can be heaped upon her poor [dear?] woman and I’m sure all will be right sometime.

anna largeI am awfully blue[,] discouraged about myself [&] my future doings but I try to amuse myself and when I get very cross, run on gossip about town to cheer up. It is better than nothing and makes the dull days pass.

Louisa is deep in Theatres, Abby in drawing; both write cheerful funny letters, both [advise?] us to keep still for the present and “want” (?). Lizzy is miserably and tho’ better today out of sorts bodily and thin as a rail, but hoping much from the warm days and sunshine of which we see very little just now.

The young people are all leaving town and everything is quieter and sensible. There are no news I believe and all else I leave mother to tell. We are looking for a letter tonight [&] hope to kiss your “wise” face very very soon. & so goodbye – Annie

I put in my birthday note from Louisa which is a more lovely letter than I believed she could write. Pussy is dead, ain’t you glad.

Click to Tweet & ShareUnpublished Alcott letters: Anna to Bronson, Walpole March 16, 1857

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Finishing up Eight Cousins: Your own worst enemy

Having finally finished Eight Cousins, it amuses me that an overarching theme of this book is that women can be their own worst enemy.

Who comes out well …

eight cousins under the mistletoe rose and uncle alecFor Rose, Uncle Alec is the hero and the boys are her true friends. Anyone who knows anything about Louisa May Alcott knows her penchant for boys (and how she longed to be one herself) so it’s no surprise that the male characters come out smelling sweet.

… and who doesn’t

The female characters do not do as well. Had the aunties had their way, Rose would have been a weak, neurotic, totally trussed-up caricature of a woman, lacking intellectual curiosity (let alone ability), unable to move even a step forward without great effort, either physically or emotionally.

eight cousins annabel bliss and rose chapter 15

And what of female friendship? Louisa’s offering was Annabel Bliss: a shallow, frivolous gossip with a slavish attachment to fashion.

There are always exceptions

eight cousins rose and phebeNow granted, we do have Aunt Peace, Aunt Plenty and Aunt Jessie, the only grown women who show character. They are quiet and unassuming, generous in their love of Rose. But even Aunt Peace and Aunt Plenty misread what Rose needed by introducing her to Annabel.

There is Phebe the maid whose sharp mind and desire to better herself make her and Rose fast friends. And Rose is eager to pass down to Phebe everything she has learned, not from her aunts, but from her uncle.

Rose and Phebe are the only female characters to come out looking good. And it’s mainly because of the influence of Uncle Alec.

Nobody’s perfect

eight cousins the clanThe boys have their faults to be sure. The older ones smoke and the younger ones read trashy books. They are impulsive, boisterous and willful. They tease Rose and pull pranks on her. Charlie (aka the Prince) has a falling out with Archie because he wants to follow a fast crowd of boys; all Archie can do is preach at him. At one point Mac’s thoughtlessness caused Rose to wait in vain for him in the bitter cold and become quite ill as a result.

Faults? Yes. But these characters redeem themselves over and over again because of their buoyant spirits, generous love and their desire to better themselves, often due to Rose’s influence. They are alive, they move, they grow.

The real sin

"Rose and her Aunts", frontispiece illustration to the first edition, Roberts Bros, Boston, 1875 (Wikipedia)

“Rose and her Aunts”, frontispiece illustration to the first edition, Roberts Bros, Boston, 1875 (Wikipedia)

Most of the women, however, are stagnant. There is little to no growth for any of them with the exception of Rose and Phebe. Some not only don’t wish to grow but they want to deny that growth for Rose. They are small-minded, horrified that Alec would teach Rose about her body, deny her the wearing of corsets, allow her to run about outdoors, or wear comfortable clothes that would actually serve a function.

Quite a damning portrait of women. Louisa knew her foes well. Women would never achieve true autonomy on their own. A male element was necessary, whether it be physical, such as Uncle Alec, or simply in the way of thinking.  Since Louisa always thought like a man, it was natural to her that women should be free to be everything they were meant to be. She had little patience for the Aunt Janes and Myras of this world.

Meant for children …

the eight cousinsNow granted, Eight Cousins is a children’s book and the characters are drawn in broad strokes of black and white. In fact, there’s nothing much in this book that is subtle but children are not interested in subtly. Children over the years have loved the warm and fun relationships between Rose and the clan. I certainly enjoyed the special relationship Rose had with Mac, seeing him through his ordeal with his impaired eyesight. There’s tenderness and respect in the relationships between Rose and her cousins.

Knowing Louisa as I do, however, I cannot help reading between the lines and seeing what lurks beneath. Eight Cousins is a stinging indictment of 19th century women. It is also a celebration of enlightened men, many of whom Louisa had the privilege of growing up with.

… yet something for adults too

So times I regret that I never read these books as a child. I would love to read them not knowing what I know about Louisa or as a 50-something woman in the 21st century. I do, however, find comfort in these books as I’m sure many children have over the years. Louisa serves up great comfort food for the soul.

Click to Tweet & ShareFinishing up Eight Cousins: Your own worst enemy

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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

From the collection at the Concord Free Public Library

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).


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. :-)

Click to Tweet & ShareGreetings from the Beyond

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The solace I find in reading, writing and Louisa May Alcott

I rarely devote posts to personal musings but I just had to today.

stephen and meWe just dropped off our twenty-seven year-old son at the bus station as he makes his way back to New York after a week at our home. He was granted an unexpected vacation from his job as a preschool teacher and was longing for some peace and quiet, away from small children, the noisy city and his very busy life.

One of the toughest aspects to me of being a mother are these comings and goings. My husband and I enjoy our quiet life post-children so it’s always an adjustment having them back in the house. It’s worth the adjustment because I love being with both of my grown children, sharing in their lives, talking about their problems and their dreams.

Every sacrifice I ever made as a mother with regards to sleep, my body, my career and my art I would make again in a heartbeat. The love and companionship of a child, even a grown adult child, fills a very special place in my life.

And, after every visit I grieve. The child goes back to his or her life and I go home and have a good cry. It seems that, at least for that moment, nothing will console me.

my heart is boundlessIt is then that I turn to a book, usually about Louisa. This time it was My Heart is Boundless: Writings of Abigail May Alcott, Louisa’s Mother edited by Eve LaPlante. I guess, instinctively, I needed to read about another mother’s love and commitment to her children.

In no time I lost myself in the past, reading letters from Abba to her brother Sam and his wife Lucretia about the birth of Anna Bronson Alcott. The lines she wrote of her euphoria at having a healthy baby girl, and the subsequent letters detailing the joy she felt in being a mother to this child really spoke to this mother’s heart. Soon I felt consoled.

One of the greatest gifts of my life is this newfound love of reading, writing and studying the life of Louisa May Alcott. It began as a means of finding others who also loved Louisa and grew into something far more. It is a source of great joy, deep fulfillment and a means of discovering the validity of my own creative expression.

For the first time in my fifty seven years, I have fully embraced the creative in me. Rather than fight with it or run away from it or even dread it, I now revel in it. It often feels like a long drink of cool water after too much time out in the sun. It is deeply satisfying.

It has taken me eight years to adjust to being an empty nester and I’m sure I will continue to suffer setbacks. But reading, writing and studying Louisa May Alcott fills the void to overflowing.

I shed my tears missing my son. Two hours later I am writing this after enjoying time with one of the world’s great mothers, Abigail May Alcott.

Life is good.

Click to Tweet & ShareThe solace I find in reading, writing and Louisa May Alcott

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Louisa’s poetic tribute to her mother reveals beautiful insights on death

I have long maintained that Louisa’s most poignant writing revolves around death as evidenced in Beth March’s passing in Little Women and John Suhre’s noble death in Hospital Sketches.

Recently I found a blog post on the SevenPonds site that states so eloquently the very thoughts I’ve harbored about Louisa’s insights into death – that it is not a hopeless end but is in fact, a beautiful new beginning.

Here is a teaser from that blog post:

from the cover of Marmee and Louisa by Eve LaPlante

As its name suggests, “Transfiguration,” by Louisa May Alcott, is about change, and specifically change for the better. The poem was written about Alcott’s mother after her death, and it’s filled with so much love and admiration that one can’t help but feel better about death after reading it. The poem shows a sincere reverence for death, viewing it as an improvement on life. The first stanza makes this point perfectly clear:

Mysterious death! who in a single hour
Life’s gold can so refine.
And by thy art divine
Change mortal weakness to immortal power! (1-4)

Click to read the article in its entirety

Click to Tweet & Share: Louisa’s moving poetic tribute to her mother bestows hope, meaning and beauty on the shadow of death

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My 3 days with Louisa May Alcott (part four): connections between Louisa May Alcott and Margaret Fuller

Note: This post is longer than usual. I had considered running it in two installments but thought it would lessen the impact of its message by doing that.

So sit back with a cup of coffee, relax and read. :-)

Two ladies,
same vision

Two New England feminists, both heavily influenced by transcendentalism.

Both in the company of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Bronson Alcott.

Both very reform-minded.

Both would forever change history for women.

Louisa May Alcott and Margaret Fuller were neither friends nor colleagues yet they shared a similar passion for women’s rights, believing it was best for society.

Continuing with the theme of yesterday’s post, Pulitzer prize-winning author John Matteson drew connections between these two women while highlighting their different approaches.

What was Margaret Fuller’s vision for women?

Margaret Fuller, much like Bronson, believed in attaining spiritual perfection. She was the most passionate of the transcendentalists, that passion often spilling over to the individuals themselves.

Much more than a flirt …

Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

It is titillating to read about her intense relationships with Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne (not a transcendentalist, but he did base the heroine of The Scarlett Letter on Margaret – see Wikipedia on Margaret Fuller) but it is also distracting. Margaret may have been a flirt but she was brilliant.

Living her words

A woman’s voice was needed in the Transcendentalist movement and she brought it. While Bronson and Emerson talked a great game regarding the value and worth of women, Margaret lived it, educating women through her writing and her brand of “conversations.”

The vision laid out

Women in the Nineteen Century is Margaret’s tour de force, where she lays out her vision for women.

Matteson laid out Margaret’s demand for full rights for women, well beyond the political and economic; this would include equality spiritually and intellectually.

Bringing virtue to the marketplace

A reformer at heart, she believed that women needed to be in marketplace in order to bring about reform. Taking the traditional role of the wife leading the husband to greater virtue, she extends it out to the greater society: women in business would lead the marketplace (and the men in it) to greater virtue.

Man versus Men, Woman versus Women

Margaret was a philosopher greatly influenced by Transcendentalism. She, like Bronson Alcott, believed in attaining spiritual perfection. Part of that perfection involved gender. Daily reality had placed men and women in narrow roles and neither gender was free because of what she called, “debased living.”

Note that the original title of Women in the Nineteenth Century had been “The Great Lawsuit: Man versus Men, Woman versus Women”; it was originally a series of essays serialized in The Dial, the Transcendentalist magazine that Margaret edited for Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Effects on marriage

The distortion of the genders in turn, warped the institution of marriage Margaret believed that the dependency of women on men had debased marriage and sex. She remained single for several years until she had a child with Italian revolutionary Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, a marquis who had been disinherited by his family. While it is assumed they were married but there is no hard evidence that they did (source: Wikipedia).

Lead by deeds

Placing reform above all else, Margaret felt that women did not necessarily need to rule but to lead by example. In order to do that, it was imperative not to impede the soul. Each man and woman had to be free to realize their full potential, be who they were meant to be.

Benefits to society

This freedom, however, was not meant just to satisfy individual wants. Here Margaret led by example. She denounced not only the treatment of women but African and Native Americans as well. She advocated for reform in prisons, visiting women in Sing Sing in October of 1844 and even staying overnight (source: Wikipedia). She raised concerns for the homeless, especially in New York (Ibid).

On the same page

If you are familiar with Louisa’s beliefs on women and reform, you can see in similarities already between the two women from Matteson’s description of Margaret’s vision.

Louisa’s vision for women and society

Spiritual father …

Louisa came from one of the founders of Transcendentalism, Bronson Alcott. He was all about spirituality, perfection and becoming divine.

… and reformer mother

But she also came from her mother Abba, a pragmatic reformer. Unlike her philosophical husband whose head was in the clouds, Abba practiced her Christianity day to day, often giving to others out of her family’s own want (Bronson practiced this also, believing that God would always provide).

Bronson exuded serenity as he sought to perfect himself. Abba passionately wrestled with life and others to bring forth reform. Her most noteworthy efforts were in Boston in the 1840s as one of the first social workers.

Societal change needed

Coming from such a background, it is no wonder that Louisa felt that society must be reordered. It began with freeing the slaves.

Belief coming from experience

Matteson noted an incident when Louisa was 3 which most likely opened her eyes to African Americans as equals. While living in Boston, she fell into the Frog Pond; she was rescued by a black boy. She notes in her writings that this boy lit the flame of abolition in her heart.

Living out that belief

Throughout her life, Louisa helped her parents shield and transport runaway slaves to Canada; their home in Concord, known then as Hillside, was on the underground railroad.

Illustration by Flora Smith for The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard.

With pride, Louisa notes that she served tea to John Brown’s widow at Orchard House.

An rare open statement

Louisa didn’t usually state her feminist views blatantly in her fiction writing. One exception was Hospital Sketches where she writes, “I’m a woman’s rights woman, and if any man had offered help in the morning, I should have condescendingly refused it, sure that I could do everything as well, if not better, myself.” (from Chapter 1, Hospital Sketches)

Another was a short story, “Happy Women.” This excerpt explains in a nutshell Louisa’s vision for womanly happiness:

This class is composed of superior women who, from various causes, remain single, and devote themselves to some earnest work; espousing philanthropy, art, literature, music, medicine, or whatever task taste, necessity, or chance suggests, and remaining as faithful to and as happy in their choice as married women with husbands and homes.

Subterfuge in her writing

Most of the time she teased out her views in her writing. She would describe the lives of purposeful women who earned their keep and remained independent. Matteson described the importance of work to Louisa saying that life was full of work that needs to be done, and it needs to be done by both sexes.

Becoming the best she can be

Louisa believed as did Margaret that women needed to develop themselves for if a woman developed her talent fully and used it for others, she would be happy. And just as Margaret led by example, so did Louisa, becoming a best-selling author.

Using her bully pulpit

In that position, Louisa could wield a lot of influence and she took every advantage to use it. While Jo March is often cited as the best example of an independent woman, Matteson used the example of Polly from An Old-Fashioned Girl who takes her well-off, bored and disgruntled friend Fanny to visit her sisterhood of working, purpose-filled women. Fanny’s life is changed forever after seeing that life could be so much more than the emptiness of parties and fashion.

Giving your best

Louisa was also greatly valued sacrifice. Like Margaret, a woman’s right to reach her potential was not just for herself; she was to give her best to those around her. This belief plays out again and again in her books.

Duty’s faithful child

Bronson distrusted Louisa’s selfless intentions until she became a nurse. When he saw how she was willing to give up her own life for others by nursing, he wrote his famous sonnet to her, “Duty’s Faithful Child.”

Using her right to vote

Matteson ended his lively presentation with an ironic anecdote. Noting that Louisa was the first woman to register and then to vote in Concord, he quipped that the registrar gave her a literacy test! She also was required to sign her name to prove she could write.

It was the one time in her life that she was in a hurry to pay her taxes so she could qualify. :-)

Click to Tweet & Share: Two ladies who would change the lives of women forever: Louisa May Alcott and Margaret Fuller

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My 3 days with Louisa May Alcott (part two): “Marmee and Louisa:” author Eve LaPlante unveils her important new book

Everyone knows the phrase, “Behind every great man stands a woman.”

In the case of Louisa May Alcott, it’s a “great woman.”

Who was the woman that stood behind her? She is Louisa’s mother, Abigail May Alcott, commonly known as Abba.

An inside look at the life of Abba Alcott

Eve LaPlante, author of Seized, Salem Witch Judge and American Jezebel is uniquely qualified to write on the life that woman: she is the direct descendant of the Reverend Samuel Joseph May, brother and confidant of Abba.

Using newly discovered letters and journals belonging to Abba, Marmee and Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother promises to be a revealing study of a dynamic, highly intelligent woman. Abba’s unwavering faith in and support of Louisa proved to be the inspiration for and strength behind a prolific author and an iconic classic.

Eve LaPlante’s remarks at the Orchard House Summer Conversation Series

I had the privilege of hearing LaPlante speak about and read from her new book at the Orchard House Summer Conversation Series on July 17.

Family records passed down

Before reading, LaPlante shared how her Aunt Charlotte had passed down detailed family records.

From Anne Hutchinson …

From those records LaPlante learned that she was the 11th generation granddaughter of Anne Hutchinson, the Puritan who defied the elders and was expelled as a heretic; this spawned American Jezebel.

… to the Witch Judge …

She also discovered that she was related to Judge Samuel Sewell of the Salem Witch Trials who was the only judge to repent. She told his story in Salem Witch Judge.

… to the Alcotts

Being related to these notable people was just the beginning of the story. As she continued to trace her family history, LaPlante discovered she was directly related to the Reverend Samuel Joseph May, brother of Abba, making her a first cousin of Louisa May Alcott.

Digging deeper

This gave LaPlante unprecedented access to personal papers and letters written by Abba. It was commonly thought that the vast majority of these papers had been destroyed by Louisa at her mother’s request.

Obviously some of those papers did manage to survive. What did they reveal? How do they change the legend of Louisa May Alcott?

Marmee’s significance

Marmee and Louisa confirms what women often suspected – that Abba was Louisa’s rock just as Marmee had been Jo’s. Louisa made it clear in her semi-autobiographical classic; why then has Abba been largely been ignored?

Eve LaPlante is seeking to set the record straight with Marmee and Louisa and its companion volume, My Heart is Boundless featuring the aforementioned journals and letters.

Inside the woman

LaPlante has discovered many papers that reveal Abba’s inner life. She was a highly intelligent, well-educated and ambitious woman whose writing talent surpassed that of her famous daughter.

Abba’s true ambition

Abba’s life was marked with frequent frustration, anger and disappointment. As a woman born in the Victorian era, she had few options and no real right to determine her own destiny.  Feeling stifled in her limited role, she poured herself into her children hoping that they could achieve what she could not – autonomy.

The connection

As Louisa shared her mother’s temperament, the two became soul mates: utterly dependent and totally connected. Quoting LaPlante, “Abba was Louisa’s muse.”

Did other women influence Louisa?

Louisa’s had many intellectual mentors but only the men are usually mentioned: her father Bronson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Rarely mentioned are the female intellectual giants that Louisa was exposed to through her mother: Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Peabody and Lydia Maria Child.

Why has Abba been ignored?

Few of Louisa’s biographers made much mention of Abba’s intelligence and accomplishments. Despite the fact that Louisa confirms Abba as the primary influence in her life as shown in Little Women, scholars instead most often cited Louisa’s father Bronson as her main influence.

A plausible explanation

Jan Turnquist, executive director of Orchard House offered a possible explanation for this discrepancy. Not so long ago it was considered improper for a well-bred woman to be mentioned in public apart from her birth, marriage and death. This is Turnquist’s theory as to why Abba’s memoir, written by Bronson and Louisa, never came out. Instead Louisa wrote about her mother through her stories, thus protecting her mother’s reputation.

Old habits do indeed die hard.

Louisa’s vow

Louisa understood early that her Marmee was the most important person in her life. At the age of ten she vowed in her heart to be Abba’s protector after the Fruitlands debacle, a vow manifested in this tender poem:

Eve LaPlante reads from her book.

To Mother
by Louisa May Alcott

I hope that soon, dear mother,
You and I may be
In the quiet room my fancy
Has so often made for thee,—

The pleasant, sunny chamber,
The cushioned easy-chair,
The book laid for your reading,
The vase of flowers fair;

The desk beside the window
Where the sun shines warm and bright:
And there in ease and quiet
The promised book you write;

While I sit close beside you,
Content at last to see
That you can rest, dear mother,
And I can cherish thee.

LaPlante’s contention is that we cannot understand Louisa apart from Abba. Thanks to Marmee and Louisa, a much fuller revelation of Abba Alcott will be made public at last.

A sneak preview fans the flame

After reading the introduction to the book, LaPlante paused to ask if we’d like to hear more. Every head in that spellbound audience nodded “yes” vigorously.

We only wish she could have read the entire book!

Marmee and Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother will be released this November 6th,

Click to Tweet & ShareMy 3 days w/Louisa May Alcott (part two): “Marmee and Louisa:” author Eve LaPlante unveils her important new book

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