Julian Hawthorne once speculated about Louisa May Alcott: “Did she ever have a love affair? We never knew; yet how could such a nature so imaginative, romantic, and passionate escape it?”
Choosing the life of a spinster
Louisa made the conscious decision to remain single, preferring to “paddle my own canoe.” Much has been made of her parents’ marriage, at times tumultuous, and how her mother was so burdened with her father’s inability to earn a living (a topic for another day). It was just that burden that Louisa assumed early as evidenced in her first journal writings which coincidentally concurred with the darkest years of Abba and Bronson’s marriage. She became the man of the house.
Yet Louisa was “married …”
It would seem that the care of her family would prevent Louisa from marrying but there was more to it than that. In essence, Louisa was married to her creative self, to her writing. She had a habit of referring to her books as her children, calling both Flower Fables and Moods her “first-born;” the former placed in her mother’s Christmas stocking while the latter was “chopped up ruthlessly” (quoted from Little Women) to please publishers.
A passage from that same chapter of Little Women, “Literary Lessons,” describes the ecstasy of the vortex, Jo’s fit of writing to which she gave in wholeheartedly:
“… when the writing fit came on, she gave herself up to it with entire abandon, and led a blissful life, unconscious of want, care, or bad weather … Sleep forsook her eyes, meals stood untasted, day and night were all too short to enjoy the happiness which blessed her only at such times, and made these hours worth living, even if they bore no other fruit. The divine afflatus usually lasted a week or two, and then she emerged from her “vortex,” hungry, sleepy, cross, or despondent.”
Creativity as an outlet
To borrow the quote from Julian Hawthorne, “such a nature so imaginative, romantic and passionate” did not escape it—Louisa already had her lover.
Shannon Skinner, in her piece, “Harness Your Sexual Energy Into Creative Energy” from the Huffington Post wrote,
“It has been long understood that creativity and sex are linked. Lovers often express their feelings and desires through creative forms, such as poetry, love letters and painting, regardless of whether it is amateur or masterful works.”
There was one time however …
The closest thing to a romance (besides Louisa’s hero worship of Emerson, Thoreau and Rev. Theodore Parker) was with the much younger Ladislas Wisniewski (“Laddie,” one half of Laurie in Little Women—note that the other half was Alf Whitman, an even younger lad).
Harriet Reisen writes in Louisa May Alcott, The Woman Behind Little Women:
“After the November 1865 journal entry that begins, ‘A little romance with Laddie,’ there was something else written in Louisa’s journal. She later scratched it out so forcibly that she tore the paper—the only instance in all her journal manuscripts. Over the tattered area she wrote ‘couldn’t be.’ The entry for May 1866 says, ‘on the 17th reluctantly left for London.’” (pg. 225 ebook)
What went wrong?
What happened? I tend to think Louisa at first thought Laddie was “safe.” After all he was a boy, some thirteen years her junior. At some point it appears this “boy” posed a threat; he became a man with whom she was perhaps falling in love. She could lose herself in him, and that could not be.
She writes in “My Boys” from Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag:
“… I drew down his tall head and kissed him tenderly, feeling that in this world there were no more meetings for us. Then I ran away and buried myself in an empty railway carriage, hugging the little cologne bottle he had given me.”
More than control
As an aside, it is interesting that Louisa could not fathom the idea of a romantic relationship with someone so much younger than her. Along with her desire to retain control over her life, there was the whole matter of propriety—she very much guarded her reputation. May, on the other hand, even as she aspired to be a fine lady, had no problem marrying a man seventeen years her junior (she even lied about her age to Ernest Nieriker, claiming she was thirty-two rather than thirty-seven. So much for propriety!)
Traumas in her young life, most especially at Fruitlands set Louisa on a path that avoided marriage and even love, at all costs. Her sexual energies were channeled into her writing, culminating with the “orgasm” of her vortex.
Next time I will focus on Louisa’s adolescence and the “older men in her life,” and get into some of the history of menses from Women and Health in America.