Did the real-life Amy know Laurie? Apparently so, and they were good friends! How do we know? Through a stash of letters at the Houghton Library from May Alcott to Alfred Whitman.
Who was Laurie based upon?
Alf is one of two boys on whom Laurie from Little Women was based (the other being Louisa’s “Polish boy,” Laddie). Alf and Louisa corresponded for many years long after his departure from Concord despite their age difference of about 10 years (he being 15 and she 25 when they met in Concord in 1857). They acted together in the Concord Dramatic Union (now the Concord Players) and referred to each other in their letters as Dolphus and Sophy, from roles they had played in “Haunted Man.”
You can download the article here:
alf whitman ladies home journal v. 18 1900-1901
Alf Whitman’s other friend
I did not realize that May too had become friendly with Alf – she was only two years older than he. She would refer to him too on occasion as Dolphus. So in fact, the real Amy March did get together with the real Laurie Laurence! (Although they never married).
May’s life as a young adult
These ten letters, covering the years 1858-1861, give interesting details of May’s fairly carefree life at 18, 19 and 20. The letters are upbeat and newsy but surprisingly, lack any mention whatsoever of the tragedy that occurred in the Alcott home with the death of older sister Lizzie. As far as I know, there is only one line in an 1862 journal which May had just taken up again after letting it lag for a good ten years. Here is what she wrote:
A carefree life
May’s letters mostly consist of descriptions of her very active social life consisting of parties, skating, horseback riding, rowing and playing whist. She also bragged of flirting! There is a period where she spent 3 months in Syracuse, at the invitation of Uncle Sam May, to teach piano, singing and art. She was not yet thinking of pursuing art as a career. But she also was not interested in settling down to marry and have children.
Here are links to the 10 letters from Houghton Library. Her handwriting is very easy to read (although it is interesting to note how it changed, the letters becoming bigger and rounder as she grew older).
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