Finishing up May’s Memoir

I am getting close to the end of Caroline Ticknor’s memoir on May and am beginning to dread the end. I think one of the things so captivated me about May’s story was her tragic end. It just seemed so sudden, so random. She was so robust and healthy; her life was pretty much perfect all the way until the last 6 weeks. Then she was gone.

I also find it a big ironic that May so bitterly regretted not being with her mother when she died and yet Louisa hesitated to go to be with May when she was failing. It was hard reading how distraught May was about her mother’s death and how much she missed grieving with kin (even the best of friends don’t replace family). Yet she never went back. Her focus on her art was strong indeed and while there may have been a selfish motive in all of it, I do believe she also thought it would be the best way to honor her mother’s life by doing her best with her vocation.

I love reading about her romance and marriage to Ernest Nieriker, though it is tinged with sadness because of what I found out about him after her death in Harriet Reisen’s book, Louisa May Alcott, the Woman Behind Little Women. May had asked that Louisa raise their child Lulu, but when Louisa died, Ernest wanted her back. Unfortunately the motives for her return were dubious as she was given a large inheritance from her Aunt Louisa. The whole scene got rather ugly.  Greed and disagreements over money can break up the best families.

I’d like to think that Ernest did truly love May when she was alive but it’s too bad it ended up as it did. I’m almost sorry to have learned about those matters.

At any rate I will soon be moving on from May Alcott A Memoir, and will concentrate on books by Louisa, mainly, Little Women and Moods.

3 Replies to “Finishing up May’s Memoir”

  1. I read this book, and enjoyed it, but sometimes I thought that the author used Louisa’s notes and journals instead of May’s. I would have enjoyed May’s better. But you are right, the last part of the book was excellent and the pain she felt when her mother died was touching.

  2. I like to know more about the romance between May and Ernest. She was about 38 years old when they got married? It’s a mistery to me.
    (I’m sorry, I don’t speak english very well…)

    1. No problem. 🙂 I’m delighted you are reading my blog. May was 38 when she met Ernest who was 23. The interesting thing is that Louisa also had a romance where she was in her mid 30s and her suiter was barely in his 20s (I think). In Europe, apparently, this age difference was not so frowned upon as it would have been in the States. May and Ernest were married for about a year and she bore a child, Lulu, but died 6 weeks later from complications (some call it childbed fever). By all accounts, the brief marriage was extremely happy which made her death all the more untimely. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of hard information on Ernest, just that he was a violinist and was deeply in love with May. As the post you read mentioned, after May’s death there was a bit of an ugly battle over the child, possibly because a large inheritance was attached to her. I’ve often thought of how hard it must have been on Ernest to send Lulu overseas to Louisa as she was his last connection to May. It says something about him that May opted to do that. Perhaps she felt he wasn’t mature enough to raise a child or didn’t have the proper maternal instincts. Perhaps it was because he had to make a living and couldn’t be with the child so she’d have to have a nanny. Perhaps it was a traditional belief that a child must have a mother. Who knows, this is just pure speculation on my part. Caroline Ticknor’s book and Daniel Shealy’s Little Women Abroad are the only two books available with information on May but there is a more serious biography in the works which we unfortunately won’t see for a few years. I can’t reveal who is doing it because of a promise I made, but trust me, this bio will be a tour de force.

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