Farewell to May Alcott Nieriker

I have finally finished Caroline Ticknor’s memoir of May (I told you I was a slow reader!) and although it is pretty romanticized, I enjoyed it thoroughly. Being able to blog about it as I read made it far more enjoyable. I will reiterate that May must have been a delight to know and that she was, to me, the epitome of a modern woman. What I appreciated most about May was that she simply lived her life, knew what she wanted, and went after it with a lot of grace. And as career-oriented as she was, she could still long for, and appreciate, the domestic life. I wish she had lived long enough for us to find out if she had been able to juggle motherhood with her career (she had said she would never give up her art). It would have made for a fascinating study.

Even though I knew the end was coming in Ticknor’s book, it still hit me hard. For 293 pages, I was immersed in May’s life, words, and joy of living. I was able to see things through her eyes and appreciate, in a small way, the things she so treasured. I have never known anyone before who appreciated beauty the way she did. At first, I thought she appreciated beauty because she was materialistic and spoiled, but I was soon to learn it was more than that – she had a true artist’s eye. She saw the whole world as various compositions that she wanted to capture. Having just a hint of the artist’s eye myself, I can appreciate that.

It was also a pleasure to read such beautiful letters about her happy marriage. While I’m no expert on the 19th century, it would seem that happy marriages were not so common.

May Alcott Nieriker's stone at Sleepy Hollow Concord, MA
May's stone at Sleepy Hollow is not her final resting place. She was buried near Paris.

But all of a sudden on page 294, she died. Ticknor had so many letters from May about her life, but there was practically nothing about her death. Of course May was too ill to write, but I wish we had had more correspondences shared from others who were there. I think, perhaps, it might have been easier to accept.

I will miss May Alcott Nieriker. I understand there new biographies being written on May and I eagerly await them. In the meantime, I will now plunge headlong into Little Women and learn about her through Amy. And I can always read more from Daniel Shealy’s book, Little Women Abroad, and May’s own book, Studying Art Abroad: and How to Do It Cheaply.

4 Replies to “Farewell to May Alcott Nieriker”

  1. hello ! Very interesting ! I’m writing from Paris, France and I’ve read somewhere that May is buried in Paris, or maybe near Paris. Is it written in the book, do you where exactly she is buried?

    Thank you !

  2. May is buried at Montrouge Cemetery in Paris. I don’t know where the exact site is but you can probably contact the cemetery and find out (I was able to find my grandfather’s grave that way in Lynn, MA).

    Here is a link to the cemetery website

    Here is a map of the cemetery:

    And this is an excerpt from Ednah Dow Cheney’s book, Louisa Ma Alcott: Her Life, Letters and Journals which talks about May’s illness, death and the giving of Lulu to Louisa:

    From Cheney’s book:
    “An American clergyman in Paris took charge of
    the funeral service, which according to May’s ex-
    pressed desire was very simple, and she was laid
    in the tranquil cemetery of Montrouge outside of
    the fortifications.”

    If you get there and get to see May’s grave, could you possibly take a picture and email it to me at louisamayalcottismypassion@gmail.com? I’d love to see it myself.

  3. Thanks for all the information about May. Did you ever get the picture of her grave? If so, would you consider posting it?

    I’ve been LMA fan since first reading “Little Women” as a child. It’s sad how May’s story ended; such a brief marriage, but very happy. One thing I never really liked was “Lulu” being sent to Louisa. I know it was May’s wish, but a spinster aunt in poor health might not have been the best choice. May’s husband was not without family support — a mother and sister — and giving up his child must have been very hard for him. Just my opinion — and he did get Lulu back after LMA’s death.

    1. Here is the post on May’s grave: https://louisamayalcottismypassion.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/in-search-of-may-alcott-nieriker/

      With regards to Louisa getting Lulu, I think of a couple of things. First, May was far away from home and likely, Louisa was writing rosy letters that gave May an overly optimistic view of life back home. Notice how May keeps urging Louisa to come and visit. I don’t think she was aware of how ill Louisa really was.

      Also, I’m guessing that giving the child of a dying mother to sister or other female relative over the father was part of the tradition of the time because it was the job of women to raise children, thus making men unqualified.

      Lulu’s return to her father was sad. She was very attached to Anna. Louisa had been sickly for too long so the little girl didn’t bond to her the way she did to Anna. Harriet Reisen’s book is a must-read for this because she unearthed Madelon Bedell’s papers which included an interview with a then 90+ Lulu! (check it out in the appendix to Louisa May Alcott, The Woman Behind Little Women). Reisen mentions too that Ernest Nieriker wanted Lulu back in part because of Lulu’s inheritance money from Louisa that would be lost to him unless he claimed Lulu. Again, check the appendix to that book

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