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Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832 - March 6, 1888) was an American novelist.
She was the daughter of Amos Bronson Alcott and, though of New England parentage and residence, was born in Germantown, now part of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She began work at an early age as an occasional teacher and as a writer -- her first book was Flower Fables (1854), tales originally written for Ellen, daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1860 she began writing for the Atlantic Monthly, and she was nurse in the Union Hospital at Georgetown, D.C., for six weeks in 1862-1863. Her letters home, revised and published in the Commonwealth and collected as Hospital Sketches (1863, republished with additions in 1869), displayed some power of observation and record, and Moods, a novel (1864), despite its uncertainty of method and of touch, gave considerable promise.

A lesser-known part of her work are the passionate, fiery novels and stories she wrote, usually under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard. These works, such as A Long Fatal Love Chase and Pauline's Passion and Punishment, are of the type referred to in Little Women as "dangerous for little minds". Their protagonists are willful and relentless in their pursuit of their own aims, which often include revenge on those who have humiliated or thwarted them. These well-written works with an uncommon point of view achieved immediate commercial success and are highly readable today.

She also produced moralistic and wholesome stories for girls, and, with the exception of the cheery tale entitled Work (1873), and the anonymous novelette A Modern Mephistopheles (1877), which attracted little notice, she did not return to the more ambitious fields of the novelist.

Her success dated from the appearance of the first series of Little Women: or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy (1868), in which, with unfailing humour, freshness and lifelikeness, she put into story form many of the sayings and doings of herself and sisters. Little Men (1871) similarly treated the character and ways of her nephews in the Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, in which Alcott's industry had now established her parents and other members of the Alcott family. But most of her later volumes, An Old-Fashioned Girl (1870), Aunt Jo's Scrap Bag (6 vols., 1871-1879), Rose in Bloom (1876), and others, followed in the line of Little Women, of which the author's large and loyal public never wearied.

Her natural love of labor, her wide-reaching generosity, her quick perception, and her fondness for sharing with her many readers that cheery humor that radiated from her personality and her books, led her to produce stories of diminishing value, and at last she succumbed to overwork, dying in Boston on March 6, 1888, two days after the death of her father in the same city.

Alcott's early education had included lessons from the naturalist Henry David Thoreau but had chiefly been in the hands of her father, and in her girlhood and early womanhood she had fully shared the trials and poverty incident to the life of a peripatetic idealist.

In a newspaper sketch entitled "Transcendental Wild Oats", afterwards reprinted in the volume Silver Pitchers (1876), she narrated, with a delicate humour, which showed what her literary powers might have been if freed from drudgery, the experiences of her family during an experiment towards communistic "plain living and high thinking" at "Fruitlands", in the town of Harvard, Massachusetts, in 1843.

The story of her career has been fully and frankly told in Ednah D. Cheney's Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters and Journals (Boston, 1889).

Left: Louisa May Alcott's grave in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (not the famous Sleepy Hollow Cemetery) in Concord, Massachusetts.

External Links e-texts of some of Louisa May Alcott's works:

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