If you didn’t look at her year of birth, you could tell the story of Louisa May Alcott as the story of a present-day author: Before her Little Women success, Alcott produced numerous melodramatic works of fiction, many of which were turned into plays (works with titles like Pauline’s Passion and Punishment).
She didn’t particularly like what she had written – she did it strictly for the money. When Alcott’s Little Women was published, she built on its commercial and critical acclaim by turning into a series (Little Men and Jo’s Boys).
Sometimes, Alcott fictionalized her real life experiences in her writings. Hospital Sketches was based on her experiences as a volunteer nurse during the American Civil War. Little Women was based on her immediate family. Her works showed that women – even little ones – were capable, independent, interesting, resilient human beings.
On one of my mother’s and my jaunts to Doubleday Bookstore (it no longer exists; I wrote about the store here), she bought me Little Women. My mom gave me a choice between two or three novels, but the paper jacket of LW sported a beautiful pastel drawing of Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy March – so that was a no-brainer. It was a thick book, full of merriment, sisterly rivalries (I’m an only child so this was particularly fascinating to me), one of the girls getting published (Jo, of course), one of the girls going to Paris to study art (despite the family’s poverty), the girls staging little plays in their home (I did that with my friends), falling in love and spurning advances, the backdrop of the Civil War, parties, and personal service to others. I devoured it.
Thank you, Louisa May Alcott, and Happy 184th Birthday!