I went searching for Christmas stories penned by Louisa and my search led me to Mary Mapes Dodge’s St. Nicholas Magazine, Volume XXX. This link will send you to Google books where you can read the entire volume online or download it as a PDF (777 pages worth!). Google Books is just amazing!
Mary Mapes Dodge wrote Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates and it was a big seller at the time that Louisa wrote Little Women. Harriet Reisen in her book, Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women, she notes that Thomas Niles, who as you know, urged Louisa to write this book along with her father Bronson, hoped that Little Women would be the cash cow that Hans Brinker and other works for children such as Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick series and the “Oliver Optic” series of books had been for rival publishers. (page 213 of Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women).
All I originally was looking for were Christmas stories. Instead I found two charming stories, published after Louisa’s death in November of 1902 and January of 1903. One of them, “Lu Sing” was written for the Lulu’s Library series. Here the young people’s magazine announces these discoveries:
You will notice that Anna’s son Frederick was responsible for presenting the stories for publication and even wrote an introduction to “Lu Sing” which greatly enhances the enjoyment of this story if you are looking for autobiographical references:
“Lu Sing” was such a charming story and I particularly loved the way that Louisa described herself (“Ah Wee”) and sister Anna (“Ah Nah”). Both names were taken from Lulu’s way of pronouncing “Aunt Louisa” and “Aunt Anna.” Louisa’s wry sense of humor was very evident in that portion of the story which you can read beginning on page 128 if you read it in Google Books, or pg. 202 if you download the PDF file and read it there.
Louisa masks the autobiographical elements (including the fact that Lulu was a regular hellion and not academically inclined) behind a clever backdrop of Chinese culture in the latter part of the 19th century. I remember hearing about this story and how baffled I was that Louisa could write a story about a place she had never visited. Obviously she ‘visited’ China in her reading because there were many fascinating details, such as how the Chinese punished their children for bad behavior (placing them in a willow cage in the river with water up to the neck, and keeping the child there until the child agreed to behave), and how they sent up a prayer by flying a kite (so appropriate when I think of Louisa as a young girl, racing in the meadows behind Hillside, flying kites to work off her boundless energy).
The story is richly illustrated. It’s fun seeing “Ah Wee” and “Ah Nah” portrayed as old Chinese women!
The story had the typical ‘moral pap for the young’ theme that Louisa was so well known for but her imagination amazes me, considering the fact that she was old and sick at the time. Writing still provided that escape from the harsh reality that she often lived in.
In my next post I’ll write about the other story called “The Eagle in the Dove’s Nest.” In the meantime, check out this fascinating magazine on Google Books. What a rich treasury it offers in short stories, puzzles, illustrations, letters from readers, science and nature articles, and the like. There are also pages and pages of advertising. It’s such a terrific snapshot of early 20th century offerings for children.
Like I said before, Google Books is awesome!