Louisa May Alcott was an American novelist, widely appreciated for the timeless classic novel ‘Little Women’. She was a free spirited girl in her childhood who wanted to become a successful actress and travel the world but her family responsibilities kept her engaged throughout her life. In her early days, she vowed to “be rich, famous and happy before she dies” and undoubtedly achieved every bit of it. Her father was an abolitionist who was unable to provide well for the family which made poverty her greatest enemy. She worked as a housemaid, teacher and nurse to support her family before she started writing. It was the publication of her book, ‘Little Women’, which gained her popularity and fame in the society. It was inspired by her own experiences, relationship with her sisters and their journey from childhood to womanhood together. Earlier, she wrote some short stories for young adults but none of them brought her the enriching money or glorified fame that ‘Little Women’ did. Although she was rich and famous after it, problems in her family never seemed to fade out completely; her personal wishes were always overshadowed by her family’s emotional and monetary needs. Writing had been her passion since childhood and she eventually became a literary genius through her novels.
Childhood & Early Years
She was born on November 29, 1832 in Germantown to Amos Bronson Alcott, a transcendentalist and educator, and Abby May, a social worker.
She was second in the family of four sisters; the eldest being Anna Bronson Alcott and two younger ones, Elizabeth Sewall Alcott and Abigail May Alcott.
Her father was unable to support the family because of his impractical nature. Her father was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodore Parker and Henry David Thoreau who helped her in developing a sense of humor.
Her family lived for some time in the Utopian Fruitlands, an agrarian commune founded by her after in Massachusetts. She received most of her early education from her father and also from her father’s influential friends.
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She started working quite early in her life to fulfill the needs of her family. She worked as a governess, teacher, domestic helper, seamstress and a writer.
In 1860, she served as a nurse during the Civil War but due to unsanitary conditions, she contracted typhoid and was sent home. Upon her return, she wrote her first bestseller ‘Hospital Sketches’, letters in the form of book, depicting her encounters and experiences in the hospital.
She also wrote some passionate novels for the young adults such as ‘Moods’ (1865), ‘A Long Fatal Chase’ (1866) and ’Behind the Mask’ (1866) under the pen name ‘A.M. Bernard’ but was unable to gain popularity through them.
In 1868, she wrote the novel ‘Little Women’. It was a fictionalized depiction of her childhood which became an instant success. The novel was widely appreciated for its realism and freshness.
In 1871, she wrote her second novel ‘Little Men’, as the second installment in the unofficial trilogy of which ‘Little Women’ was the first. It was inspired by the death of her brother-in-law, Anna’s husband.
She wrote many other novels including ‘An Old-Fashioned Girl’ (1870), ‘Eight Cousins’ (1875) and ‘Rose in Bloom’ (1876) which were widely accepted and appreciated.
In 1873, she wrote a short story, "Transcendental Wild Oats", sharing the experiences of her family during an experiment towards Utopian "plain living and high thinking" at ’Fruitlands’ in the town of Harvard, Massachusetts.
She was also a feminist and raised her voice for the women’s right to vote in 1879, advocating the women’s suffrage and demanding their equality in the society.
She completed the trilogy in 1886 with ‘Jo’s Boys’, narrating the lives of Jo’s children, who were introduced in the previous book ‘Little Men’. It is the only Alcott novel that has no movie adaptation.
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Her 1868 novel, ‘Little Women’ was her greatest masterpiece, earning her the fame and fortune of a lifetime which she dreamt of in her childhood. Inspired from her own childhood, this compelling story of four sisters ‘Meg’, ‘Jo’, ‘Beth’ and ‘Amy’ and their journey through life’s obstacles appealed to a large section of society therreby establishing her identity as a novelist.
Her 1871 novel, ‘Little Men’, was also a critical as well as commercial success. It was the second book in a trilogy.
In 1879, she became the first woman to cast a vote in a school board election in Concord, Massachusetts.
Awards & Achievements
The 1994 movie ‘Little Women’, based on her eponymous novel of the same name became a big critical and commercial success and was nominated for three Academy Awards.
Personal Life & Legacy
As an individual, her dreams of becoming an actress were shattered because of her father’s inability to earn a living and she started working at an early age.
She never got married as her love life never blossomed; she described herself as a woman whose romantic lover never appeared. Her entire life was devoted to her family and in catering to their needs.
She was very close to her sisters and dedicated her life in fulfilling her responsibilities towards them. Tragedy struck when one of her sisters died at an early age. She provided financial support to the children of a widowed sister and took care of the child of a sister who died shortly after giving birth.
She died of a stroke on March 6, 1888 in Boston, just two days after her father passed away. She was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord on a hillside known as ‘Author’s Ridge’.