Why are you obsessed with Louisa? Why am I?

River of Grace is available for pre-order through Amazon.com.

I pondered that question during the two years spent writing my book, River of Grace. Because Louisa was an important part of this book, I had to figure out first, why I was obsessed with her, and second, how she has acted as my grief counselor, and as a result, guiding me back into my creative life.

Early attraction

I knew that as a child I was attracted to tomboy Louy. In River of Grace I wrote,

Louisa had captured my imagination as a girl. I was introduced to her through a story of her life given to me by my aunt. I felt a kindred spirit with the tomboy who put on plays with her sisters in the family barn, struggled with a bad temper, wrote stories in the apple tree, and longed for a room of her own. As an adult I identified with Louisa’s severe mood swings and how she lost herself in her writing, falling into what she called her “vortex.” Having experienced many of these things myself, I found that reading about Louisa helped me to understand myself a bit better. (from Chapter 4 of River of Grace, published by Ave Maria Press)

joan howard story of lma 190That children’s biography was Joan Howard’s The Story of Louisa May Alcott. It was wonderful meeting another little girl who loved to put on plays and write, and had bad temper tantrums, just like me. And she craved time alone, cherishing her sacred spaces, just like me.

Meeting the adult Louisa

cover of Louisa May: A Modern Biography of Louisa May Alcott by Martha Saxon
cover of Louisa May: A Modern Biography of Louisa May Alcott by Martha Saxon

My first adult encounter with Louisa was Martha Saxton’s biography, Louisa May Alcott: A Modern Biography. As much as Saxton has been criticized for her scholarship, that book taught me a lot about depression and its relationship to anger (depression being anger turned inward). The mood swings I experienced in my twenties were epic; at the same time I was at the peak of my musical creativity and songwriting. Knowing there was another young woman who had experienced that made me feel a little less alone in the world,

Going to the source

Louisa May Alcott Her Life, Letters and JournalsReading Louisa’s own words certainly helps in figuring it all out. I am currently going through Ednah Dow Cheney’s book, Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters and Journals. While I don’t care all that much for Cheney’s writing (too disjointed), I am enjoying hearing Louisa speak for herself.

The misery …

I had to smile at this passage from Louisa’s journal:

John Brown’s daughters came to board, and upset my plans of rest and writing when the report and the sewing were done. I had my fit of woe up garret on the fat rag-bag, and then put my papers away, and fell to work at housekeeping. I think disappointment must be good for me, I get so much of it; and the constant thumping Fate gives me may be a mellowing process; so I shall be a ripe and sweet old pippin before I die.

I am not the only one who throws a hissy fit when my creative plans are interrupted. I’ll bet she vented out loud a lot in that garret! And I’m willing to bet she suffered from aggravation as much as I do. No wonder she had headaches (I do too!).

And the pleasure …

This was during her first draft of Moods:

All sorts of fun was going on; but I didn’t care if the world returned to chaos if I and my inkstand only “lit” in the same place.

It was very pleasant and queer while it lasted; but after three weeks of it I found that my mind was too rampant for my body, as my head was dizzy, legs shaky, and no sleep would come.

Oh yeah. Totally get that! Especially the first part.

I’ll continue on this vein in the next post where I will explain how Louisa became my grief counselor.

Why are you obsessed with Louisa?

9 Replies to “Why are you obsessed with Louisa? Why am I?”

  1. While I wouldn’t call myself obsessed with Louisa, I think the picture of her as Jo in Little Women had a beneficial effect on me as a girl and teenager. It was a time when the role of wife, mother, helpmate were emphasized. In Jo/Louisa I found a person who had independence of spirit and wanted to accomplish her own accomplishments, not be limited to supporting someone else.

  2. I can’t wait to read your book… I have so enjoyed your blog… I work in a specialized high school program where all of my students are artists and all of the teachers are artists… the creative mind (as you know) often struggles with mania and depression…. we talk about mood swings and peaks of creativity… thank you for writing this… I can’t wait to share it with the students. D.

    1. Thank you! Wow, that must be some school! It’s great that your students receive the guidance they need to navigate the strong emotions that come with creativity. I actually devote a chapter in my book (in fact, it’s the main thrust of the book) to creativity, equating it to a spiritual act, and how all of us have the ability to create something even if it’s not “artistic.” I also get into how our creativity evolves and how it is kept for save keeping until we’re ready to use it. I trace my own creative history and have practical exercises so that readers can do the same. I found it tremendously helpful to trace my history and see that my late writing vocation did not just come out the blue but had been in my life all along waiting for the right moment to be used.

      My ninth grade art teacher wrote on my report card that I had an artist’s temperament. I remember telling a friend about that several years later; he was a big admirer of my art teacher and thought that was the highest compliment possible. It was cool to hear that but it’s not always easy living with that temperament! 🙂

  3. Thanks for sharing about your “passion” behind the obsession. 🙂 I love learning more about Louisa because I see her as a woman who tried new things, and wasn’t afraid to be bold. She stood up for herself, even in the tough times. I want to be like that!

  4. I discovered Louisa in third grade when I started reading Little Women. I was born into a family of very strong women, and Jo’s life resonated with me. In 6th grade my grandmother gave me a vintage copy of Flower Fables, which started my collection of everything Alcott. I have been a feminist since before I knew the word, and Louisa’s struggles to be an independent woman in a world of patriarchy resonated with me early on. And the more I read about the family behind the stories, the more I love them. – Fawn
    (When can we get your new book? I can hardly wait!)

    1. Cool! How big is your collection and how many vintage books do you have? I started mine late but I have some nice stuff. My book is coming out October 30 but is available for pre-order on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/River-Grace-Creative-Passages-Difficult/dp/1594715726/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1439839905&sr=8-1&keywords=river+of+grace+susan+bailey
      You will see from the description that this book, published by a Catholic publisher, deals with religion and spirituality but there is definitely a lot for those who do not profess the Catholic faith. The transcendentalism of the Concord writers has done a lot to open up my Catholic faith, showing me the treasures that lie within.

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