Finding the “prince of patients”—John Matteson discovers the whereabouts of John Suhre from Hospital Sketches

friends of sleepy hollow how nurse alcott earned her starOn Saturday, April 2 many of us had the distinct pleasure of hearing Pulitzer-prize-winning author John Matteson speak at the Colonial Inn in Concord for the Friends of Sleepy Hollow’s annual breakfast. His talk was titled “How Nurse Alcott Earned Her Star: The Author of Little Women and the Civil War.”

He was referring to the marker on Alcott’s grave which indicates her war veteran status due to her service as a nurse in the Civil War.

A story of transformation

It was a wonderful entry point into a compelling story of a writer’s transformation after a scant six weeks of service and the soldier that played a major role in that transformation. From his paper Matteson writes,

“Alcott would not have written Little Women or any of the other books for which she is chiefly remembered, were it not for the metamorphosis that she underwent as an army nurse. It was this time, Alcott later wrote, that enabled her discover her true writing style – an observation that I think means something more than just the way she put words together.”

Continue reading

Louisa May Alcott as grief counselor (on the fifth anniversary of this blog)

My obsession with Louisa played out in a rather odd way. Never a big reader until a few years ago, I’d find myself reading a biographical account of Louisa’s life (rather than read her own words) every few years. This began after reading Martha Saxton’s biography. After the reading (usually done during the autumn months) I would make a pilgrimage to Orchard House. That would satisfy my urge for a year or two, and then I’d repeat the process.

No longer a casual interest

lost summer 190My review of the latest biography on Louisa May AlcottAfter my mother’s passing in 2010, that passion for Louisa was ramped up in a big way. My dear husband had given me copies of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O’Connor McNees and Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen months before my mother died but it was impossible to read them while she was ill. A couple of weeks after she was gone, I was ready for something new  and started reading. Coincidentally the PBS documentary of the same title by Reisen and Nancy Porter came out at the same time.

Getting to Louisa’s writing

From an 1897 edition of Alcott's "Hospital Sketches" historicaldigression.com

From an 1897 edition of Alcott’s “Hospital Sketches”
historicaldigression.com

Reisen’s love of Louisa’s canon finally got me to read Louisa’s books for the first time. In River of Grace I write,

It began not with Little Women, but with Hospital Sketches, a thinly veiled memoir of [Louisa’s] experience as a Civil War nurse. Her moving description of the death of a virtuous soldier named John Suhre and how she had nursed him acted as a soothing balm on my grief. She described death as noble, and her belief in the afterlife was unmistakable. Where once I had felt a kinship with Louisa because of our mutually shared mood swings, deep tempers, and passions for our art; now I identified with the woman who found sacredness and hope in death just as I had. While Louisa wrote mainly to support her family, it seemed that the act of creating helped her to work through her own grief after the tragic passing of her younger sister Elizabeth whom she called her “conscience” and “spiritual guide.” (from Chapter 4 of River of Grace, published by Ave Maria Press)

This time I determined that my little reading binge would end with reading books and visiting Louisa’s home. I had to find other people as obsessed as I was with Louisa. It was just too much fun discussing my passion (which I did for an hour on the phone with Harriet Reisen; God bless her for indulging a total stranger!).

The seed was planted and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion was born on this day, August 18, in 2010.

Little did I know as I plunged deeper in to my passion that Louisa was acting as my guide through my grief. I had not been able cry over my mother because I was numb inside. I could not even remember anything about her except as she had been during the last few months: sick, ravaged, terrified and demented. I had been in battle mode for the last two years and that feeling continued for another year after she died.

Remembering Mommy

My mother at eighteen, just before entering Wellesley College in 1938

My mother at eighteen, just before entering Wellesley College in 1938

Louisa helped to draw me close to my mother again especially as I thumbed through her own copies of Little Women and Aunt Jo’s Scrapbag (Vol. 5) with her signed name plate. Slowly I recalled the vibrant, intelligent woman with “pizzaz” (as my brother-in-law called it). Mommy was curious and loved to learn. She poured over books and audited classes at her alma mater, Wellesley College. She was funny, animated (with a voice like a parrot), thoughtful and kind, and always interesting.

Beyond consolation

But more was happening as I read about and then wrote about Louisa: this passion was resurrecting my then-dormant creative life. Louisa’s own grief journey, beginning with the death of Lizzie, the marriage of Anna, and then continuing with the soldiers she had nursed (especially John Suhre), and how it had transformed her life and writing, helped me to understand what was happening:

I believe that the caring for and losing her sister acted as a catalyst to Louisa May Alcott’s transformation as an artist and a woman. The creative gifts of storytelling, play acting, and humor that she had used to minister to Lizzie were subsequently shared with countless soldiers, helping them to while away their lonely hours of pain. Letters sent home to family told the stories of the wounded. These stories, laced with humor and told with urgent realism and heart, compiled Hospital Sketches, a book which resonated with thousands of readers anxious for those first-hand accounts. Louisa’s creative gifts were honed and perfected through her painful journey. This nineteenth century author now was helping me to understand my own grief. She, like me, seemed to find an energy in grief and took action to work through it. We shared a common spirituality even though our religious backgrounds were quite different (I being Catholic, she influenced by her father’s Transcendentalism). To her, God was a loving Father and faithful Friend who revealed himself in nature and in everyday life. I too related to God in this fashion, seeing him in the natural world and in people around me, feeling him through the love of family and friends, tasting and being nourished by him in the sacred bread and the wine, and discerning him through prayer, the scriptures and reflection. (from Chapter 4 of River of Grace, published by Ave Maria Press)

One thing leads to another

Before I knew it, I was feeling the urge to learn more about writing. This led to dreams of crafting a book … and the rest, as they say, is history.

Has Louisa acted as a grief counselor for you? What do you think of her writing on death? Does it strike a chord with you?

To all of you

THANK YOU for your readership and especially for your friendship over these past 5 years. I have had to pleasure of meeting many of you in person and yes, we gabbed about Louisa and will continue to do so. 🙂 This passion never grows old but only grows deeper, thanks to all of you!

Seems appropriate on this, the fifth anniversary of this blog, to share this video one more time with you where I express in music and images my love of the Alcott family and my gratitude to Louisa for being my grief counselor and writing guide:

louisa may alcott for widget00 cover smallAre you passionate about
Louisa May Alcott too?
Subscribe to the email list and
never miss a post!

Keep up with news and free giveaways on Susan’s book, River of Grace!

Facebook Louisa May Alcott is My Passion
More About Louisa on Twitter

Places that are redemptive, and damning: Monday presentation by Stephen Burby at the Summer Conversational Series

Note: Mr. Burby kindly gave me his presentation (handwritten notes and all) in lieu of the fact that I was unable to attend the Monday session of the Summer Conversational Series. I thank him for doing so.

This is a longer post than usual as I found his presentation to be quite thought-provoking.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Before attending this series, I was woefully ignorant of the concept of “place. ” Intuitively I understand about the need to create sacred spaces, whether it be places for prayer and contemplation, or rooms where I can create writing and music. I go to great lengths to create these spaces, considering every last physical detail such that entering these spaces immediately puts me into the “zone” where I can accomplish what I wish to do. Inhabiting such spaces brings me a great sense of happiness, peace and accomplishment.

A wider concept

I never understood however, the wider concept of place and sacred spaces; the speakers at last week’s Conversational Series have opened up a new world for me, a fresh lens from which to contemplate what I read in books and see around me.

3schoolpath

 

Louisa and place

560 steve burby1Mr. Burby’s presentation, “Out into the World:” Louisa May Alcott’s Sense of the World Beyond Concord.” continues to prime that pump. He begins by citing two classics by which he frames his discussion: Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space and Mircea Eliade’s The Sacred and the Profane. He maintains that Louisa’s writing,

“frequently deals with the transfer of the sacredness from good individuals, most often in the form of the sacred feminine, to the spaces they come to inhabit.”

The place of home

Bachelard states that

“All really inhabited space bears the essence of the notion of home …”

Little Women Dramatic Reading on Librivox

Little Women Dramatic Reading on Librivox

We see this time and again in Louisa’s works, particularly in Little Women, where the home is central to the development of the characters. Bachelard points out the positives (“We shall see the imagination build ‘walls’ of impalpable shadows, comfort itself with the illusion of protection…) as well as the negatives (“tremble behind thick walls, mistrust the stanchest ramparts.”). He also writes, “the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.” This is played out to perfection in Little Women.

Burby illustrates both sides of Bachelard’s notion of home, first through Hospital Sketches and My Contraband, and then through A Long Fatal Love-Chase.

Redemptive spaces

In Hospital Sketches and My Contraband, Burby shows how Louisa uses the Eternal Feminine (in the forms of nurses Tribulation Periwinkle and Faith Dane), to transform space from profane to sacred by injecting goodness, mercy, empathy, kindness and understanding.

hospital sketchesA woman’s influence

Burby cites Louisa’s description of the hospital in Hospital Sketches where she describes the “vilest odors” and chaotic atmosphere. Nurse Periwinkle seeks to transform that space:

“After bathing and dressing wounds for a number of them [the wounded soldiers], the scene is partially transformed.”

When she takes over the night shift, Nurse Periwinkle is given greater control over her environment, thus completing the transformation:

“By eleven, the last labor of love was done; the last ‘good night’ spoken; and, if any needed a reward for that day’s work, they surely received it, in the silent eloquence of those long lines of faces, showing pale and peaceful glances that lighted us to bed, where Rest, the sweetest, made our pillows soft, while Night and Nature took our places, filling that great house of pain with a healing miracles of Sleep, and his diviner brother, Death.”

Dual vocations

hospital sketches illustrationIf I might digress for a moment: in reading Burby’s citations and his analysis of Louisa’s transformation of space, it made me wonder about about Louisa. We know she had a vocation as a writer, but she also sensed a vocation for nursing. She was aware of her talent in both areas. She had had the opportunity to live each out, by nursing her sister Elizabeth which led to her ability to serve as a Civil War nurse, and by writing about such experiences and more. Both vocations served others well, one by healing and the other by providing.

As a nurse …

In each case Louisa could play out the role of Savior, a role both satisfying and burdensome to her. Yet which vocation was the most satisfying and which the more burdensome? Nursing brought her face to face with life at its core: brutally authentic, vulnerable and poignant. She could see the immediate consequence of her ministrations, whether it was to bring healing, comfort, consolation or just her presence as Death loomed. It was Lizzie who told Louisa how much that presence brought her strength as she faced her own painful end.

… and as a writer

Louisa_May_AlcottSuch life experiences were then expressed through Louisa’s writing, especially in Hospital Sketches and Little Women. Those of us who are writers know how cathartic, even exhilarating it can be to process feelings and get them down on paper, sometimes in poetic prose if we’re lucky. Writing brought its benefits to Louisa, relieving the chronic poverty and bringing material comfort and security at last to the “Pathetic Family.”

The costs

Both vocations exacted their costs. Nursing brought on the typhoid pneumonia which robbed Louisa of her good health for a life time. It sobered her greatly with memories that could never be forgotten.

Writing stole away Louisa’s cherished privacy and free creative expression, while too exacting a cost on her health.

So which vocation most satisfied Louisa? Which one was more worth the cost? Likely both were equally important and worked in tandem with each other. But these were questions that came to my mind as I read Mr. Burby’s presentation. There is no doubt that some of Louisa’s finest writing comes from her nursing experience.

Transformation of space brings redemption

civil war mulattoIn My Contraband, Burby shows how that same chaotic and dark space, the hospital, is transformed by presence of Nurse Faith Dane. Yet in this case, it is more about the transformation of persons within that space: Bob, the recently freed and wronged slave and his vicious white half brother who had killed Bob’s lover. While the half brother is not redeemed, Bob turns away from doing his brother harm thanks to the efforts of Nurse Dane. Burby writes,

“And it is here that the protagonist is able to assert her influence in the most positive way possible, turning the man–her contraband [to whom she was deeply attracted], the former slave, Bob–away from tragic revenge.”

The transformation is complete when Bob consummates their relationship in a symbolic and spiritual way, taking on her last name as his own; he would now be known as Robert Dane.

A place of damnation

long fatal love chase2Burby then turns to A Long Fatal Love-Chase to demonstrate how a beautiful space does not always denote goodness. He notes in particular a long description of the setting of Valrosa, Tempest’s villa in Nice. Burby believes that since Louisa had visited Nice during her first trip to Europe, it was likely she was describing a real place. He goes on to write,

“The description of Valrosa … suggests that is the finest setting for Rosamond, the protagonist … She is unconsciously the fairest and most striking ‘object’ in the setting.”

He points out that the beauty of the setting was illusory as Rosamond’s lover Tempest turns out to be her Mephistopheles.

Evil dominating

In this case, despite the presence of a female protagonist, Valrosa changed from a sacred to a profane place because of the domineering power of Tempest and the false premise upon which the space was based. Rosamond could not turn him.

Triumph of the Eternal Feminine

Thus Burby demonstrates Louisa’s realism yet again: life does not always turn out right. Goodness does not always prevail. In Louisa’s thrillers, goodness rarely prevails.

Yet the writing of hers that survives through the ages in the imaginations of many are the ones where the Eternal Feminine does in fact, triumph.

louisa may alcott for widget00 cover smallAre you passionate about
Louisa May Alcott too?
Subscribe to the email list and
never miss a post!

Keep up with news and free giveaways on Susan’s book, River of Grace!

Facebook Louisa May Alcott is My Passion
More About Louisa on Twitter

Like Louisa May Alcott, many women served as Civil War nurses in various capacities

I recently reviewed an interactive book-on-app called Civil War Truce for a Catholic website (see review). It was developed by the 5-woman team of Davis Studio. Civil War Truce tells the fascinating story of a young nun, Sr. Mary Lucy Dosh, whose lovely singing and tender care impacted the lives of countless Civil War soldiers.

Similarities to another famous Civil War nurse

I saw many parallels between Sr. Lucy’s selfless and passionate commitment to the soldiers, and Louisa May Alcott’s. While Louisa ministered to the soldiers with her humor, storytelling (especially by becoming Dickens’ Sairey Gamp) and natural maternal instinct, Sr. Lucy quietly sang to her “boys” while caring for their needs.

Devotion trumps fear

Civil-War-NurseEach woman was fearless in her devotion to the men; each witnessed countless amputations, endured filthy hospital conditions and saw death on a daily basis. Each risked her life by exposing herself to infectious diseases.

While Alcott’s service took place in Washington, D.C., Sr. Lucy and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth served in Kentucky. To Alcott and Sr. Lucy, it mattered not whether the soldiers were Confederate or Union.

Called to something greater

Sr. Lucy was originally known as Barbara Dosh. Her original goal in life was to be “admired, to have money and pleasure, and enjoy myself in the world.” She attracted admirers with her gracious singing and was eventually adopted by the wealthy Stout family who granted her every wish. Barbara had spent several years at St. Vincent’s Academy before being adopted by the Stouts and felt homesick for her companions, the sisters. This helped to instill in her the call to the religious life.

Called to serve and to suffer

From there she and the other sisters were called to serve as nurses during the Civil War. Like Alcott, Sr. Lucy contracted typhoid but unlike Alcott, did not survive. Both women however, impacted the lives of the soldiers in such a degree that they were honored by them: soldiers who had been attended to by Sr. Lucy stood by her body round the clock until a memorial service could be held. In Alcott’s case, the Concord regiment stopped in front of her home at Orchard House (where she had been sent due to the typhoid, and pneumonia) and gave her a salute.

Alcott’s lasting legacy of course was Hospital Sketches.

Lincoln’s commendation

Abraham Lincoln praised the sisters in “all forms of benevolence and charity;” their devotion to the soldiers and their efficiency in their work—his full statement can be read in the accompanying graphic.

 

Civil War Truce offers the fascinating and well-researched story of courage, compassion and charity shown by women the religious life in service to our soldiers.

You can find out more about Civil War Truce at www.civilwartruce.com. You can download it to your Apple on Android device; the cost is $2.99. As previously mentioned, the app is an interactive book with animation, sound effects, old films and vintage photographs. The layout is attractive and reminiscent of the Civil War era. Exhaustive notes and a bibliography are provided. I recommend viewing it on a tablet as the type is quite small.

Alcott Immersion Warning: the wondrous things that can happen when you study too much!

After four years of constant reading, study, writing and pondering on one family, I think I understand now how actors prepare for their roles, and the subsequent consequences of their immersion into their characters.

Taking on the Louisa persona

I’m acquainted with a couple of people (Jan Turnquist and Marianne Donnelly) who, as actresses, take on the role of Louisa May Alcott to share with school children and adults alike in various educational venues. They dress like Louisa, walk as she might have walked, speak like they imagine she would have spoken. They share her stories, her feelings, her passions, her humor, her pathos and every audience is treated to a living, breathing Louisa.

jan turnquist-horz

Jan Turnquist (L) and Marianne Donnelly as Louisa May Alcott

It makes me wonder just how much of Louisa they have integrated into themselves. I’ve emailed them to ask and will share their answers with you as they come.

Who is your literary heroine?

Are you immersed in Louisa? Or perhaps Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson or Charlotte or Emily Bronte? How about Margaret Mitchell? Do you find yourself becoming like your literary heroine?

jane-austen-horz-horz

Jane, Charlotte, Emily B., Emily D. and Margaret

While I am no actor, I certainly know now what it is like to immerse yourself into a character and to have that character become a part of you. For me it is not only Louisa but Lizzie as well.

Channeling Lizzie Alcott

I’ve read Lizzie’s letters (some of which I have shared with you, see previous posts) and I’ve read family letters about Lizzie. I know of her suffering and struggles. I know how much her family and friends loved her and why. And I find myself wishing to emulate her.

lizzie alcott2Lizzie as comforter

Recently I had to go into the hospital for a minor surgical procedure (which ended well). With each person that I encountered, from the nurses to the anesthesiologist to the surgeon himself, I found myself channeling Lizzie, working to be as kind as I imagined she had been. I tried to be of good cheer, using humor to diffuse fear as I imagined she might have done. It came as naturally as breathing. I found her presence inside of me to be a great comfort.

This was not the first time I had channeled Lizzie while in the hospital. Last year after a car crash I found myself in the ER, doing the same thing.

Now I find I am inadvertently channeling Louisa as well, in my writing.

Loss, grief, transformation … and Louisa

The book I am working on to be published sometime in late 2015 or early 2016 is on loss, grief and transformation. As this has been the story of my life since my mother passed away four years ago, I find easy to write about the subject. I do not fear loss or grief and know that transformation is life-giving and empowering, filling my heart with joy and gratitude.

Louisa’s mostmemorable writing

From an 1897 edition of Alcott's "Hospital Sketches" historicaldigression.com

From an 1897 edition of Alcott’s “Hospital Sketches”
historicaldigression.com

I always found Louisa’s writing on this same subject to be her most brilliant. Poignant, hopeful, gritty, honest and moving, her work has resonated with me and consoled me. Some of her most memorable writing is about noble John Suhre’s death in Hospital Sketches. Generations of girls and women have wept openly over the death of good Beth March in Little Women. I found great comfort in Christie Devon’s experience of her dead husband David in Work A Story of Experience when a breeze blew past his flute, creating music and a sense of his presence in the room.

Grieving through reading and writing

I only recently realized that I write about loss, grief and transformation as a way of grieving over my mother. I never cried at length over losing her, never felt despair, never felt lost. I always wondered what was wrong with me that I didn’t grieve in the usual way much as I loved her. I now know that I am working through my grief in my writing.

Louisa_May_AlcottThe art inherent in grief

Louisa did the same when she lost Lizzie. She was intimately involved in Lizzie’s care, staying up all night to give her sister the strength she needed to endure her suffering. When Lizzie died Louisa was relieved that her sister was “well at last,” past her pain into a new and glorious eternal existence. After an initial spell of despair, Louisa admitted that she didn’t miss Lizzie as much as she thought she would indicating that her sister helped her spiritually. Louisa worked through her grief in her writing. She as much as admits it in Hospital Sketches (get quote). There is no doubt that Beth March is in fact, the perfected Lizzie.

My expert guide

Louisa worked through her grief in her writing and she is teaching me how to do the same. I am channeling the writing I admire most from my literary heroine and it gives me shivers to recognize that connection. My own humble work is a mere shadow of Louisa’s but it is comforting to know that I am following an expert guide.

  • What literary figure do you admire?
  • How have you immersed yourself in her life (or his)?
  • What traits have you inadvertently taken on?

louisa may alcott for widgetAre you passionate about Louisa May Alcott too?
Subscribe to our email list and never miss a post!
Facebook Louisa May Alcott is My Passion
More About Louisa on Twitter

Holiday programs at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the wonderful holiday programs at Orchard House! Here are their offerings:

1

annual open house

PLEASE NOTE THIS EVENT IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY.

Interact with Living History portrayers in the festively decorated house, enjoy seasonal refreshments and music,
catch up with old friends — or make new ones — and shop our Museum Store for great gifts!

 Please click to send an e-mail RSVP now or
phone 978.369.4118 x104 by December 10th 

Parking available one short block from Orchard House,
off of Hawthorne Lane 
Click for a map

Don’t miss the Annual Holiday Program!

6

A New England Soldier’s Christmas honoring the sesquicentennial publication of Hospital Sketches
Weekends through December 22nd. Click for details or phone 978.369.4118 x106 for reservations.

7

To order this or any other “Scrabble,” please click here to download and print an order form,
phone 978.369.4118 x107, or fax a credit card order to 978.369.9611

 8

Please click on May Alcott’s drawing above to read more about
this year’s Annual Appeal, or, click to donate securely on-line now

Your generous gift and its match
will make a tremendous difference!

 ~ Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House
thanks you for your continued support ~
(Orchard House suffered revenue loss during their busiest month in October due to the government shutdown even though they are a private organization. That revenue needs to be recovered; your donations are especially helpful. Editor)

Click to Tweet & ShareHoliday programs at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House http://wp.me/p125Rp-1C1

Are you passionate about Louisa May Alcott too?
Send an email to louisamayalcottismypassion@gmail.com
to subscribe, and never miss a post!
Facebook Louisa May Alcott is My Passion
More About Louisa on Twitter

Susan’s ebook, “Game Changer” is now available From the Garret – download for free!

On vacation with Louisa May Alcott: Last Day of the Summer Conversational Series – Being and Doing: Louisa explores herself and her beliefs through her writing (Part One)

DAY 4 jayne 560Note: I missed Day 3 of the series because of my trip into Harvard’s Houghton Library. For any of you who follow me on Facebook, you’ll know that I scored big on this trip. I photographed a total of twenty-five letters, five of which come from Lizzie (and they are lengthy). It will take a while to sort through them all but I will share things with you in the coming days.

Day four began with a lively presentation by Jayne Gordon of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Titled “’First Live, then Write:’” Louisa May Alcott and Hospital Sketches, Gordon shared her depth of knowledge of the Civil War, citing letters from Concord soldiers (of which there are many; Louisa knew of these soldiers from childhood). As they marched off to war Louisa felt a burning desire to join them. It was not enough to sit at home with the women sewing. She wanted to do something and there was something she could do: be a nurse.

Nursing opens to women

The nursing profession had been previously closed to women but with so many men going off to fight, that restriction had to be changed. Dorothea Dix was appointed by the government to set up hospitals and find nurses. In order to be accepted you had to be thirty or over, plain and simply dressed, and have good moral character. Louisa would turn thirty on November 29, 1862 and was off to Washington DC’s Union Hotel Hospital on December 11.

Seeking adventure

According to Gordon, many women go off to war not only to offer their help but to seek adventure. Certainly in Louisa’s day there were few options for women outside of the home. Louisa, a sheltered spinster, longed to experience life in all its glory and with all its raw energy. She truly had no idea what she was getting herself into but she dove in without question.

DAY 4 audience 560

Setting aside Victorian propriety

One of the first major hurtles she had to overcome was a delicate one: the Victorian propriety with regards to women and men. Her first duty upon arrival was to bathe the soldiers. Louisa had not seen a naked man before and found it difficult at first to perform her duty. Famed Civil War nurse Clara Barton had also confessed to this problem. Propriety however did not apply in this situation and both women were able to perform their duties.

Life in the military

Gordon mentioned another interesting problem that vexed Louisa and the other nurses: the peculiarity of being ordered around by the doctors as if they themselves were soldiers. Hannah Stevenson, a colleague of Louisa’s wrote that the work of nursing would be “easy” if not for the military aspect.

Tasting real life

Despite the difficult adjustment to a completely different way of life, Louisa enjoyed her first taste of this raw life. She soaked in her surroundings, the good and the bad, and wrote passionately about them in letters home to the family.

Illness prematurely ends nursing career

From an 1897 edition of Alcott's "Hospital Sketches" historicaldigression.com

From an 1897 edition of Alcott’s “Hospital Sketches”
historicaldigression.com

Louisa’s personality (game for anything) and experience with nursing (she nursed Elizabeth through her long illness) made her an excellent nurse but her career was short-lived. Only six weeks after arriving in Washington she caught typhoid and became alarmingly ill. Her father had to be sent for and he brought her home to Concord where she suffered from a high fever and delirium for weeks and convalesced for months afterwards.

Service transforms writing

Her service had not ended however. Letters sent home to the family chronicling her experience were serialized in The Commonwealth newspaper and eventually became Hospital Sketches in August of 1863. It was the book where Louisa found her voice. She wrote with great humor and pathos, describing the chaos of traveling to Washington, the nightmare of receiving the wounded from the Battle of Fredericksburg only days after arriving, and the sorrow of losing one special soldier, John Suhre. Hospital Sketches was the first of many books chronicling Civil War experiences and the public, hungry for any word, eagerly received Louisa’s book. As she would do throughout her professional writing career, she gave the public what they wanted.

Tomorrow I will fill you in on two other outstanding presentations for the Summer Conversational Series, by Cathlin Davis and John Matteson.

Click to Tweet & ShareLast Day Summer Conversational Series – Being and Doing: Louisa explores herself  (Part One) http://wp.me/p125Rp-1we

Are you passionate about Louisa May Alcott too?
Send an email to louisamayalcottismypassion@gmail.com
to subscribe, and never miss a post!
Facebook Louisa May Alcott is My Passion
More About Louisa on Twitter

Susan’s ebook, “Game Changer” is now available From the Garret – download for free!