Louisa May Alcott never intended to write Little Women. She had dismissed her publisher’s pleas for such a novel. Written out of necessity to support her family, the book had an astounding success that changed her life, a life which turned out very differently from that of her beloved heroine Jo March.
In Louisa May Alcott, Susan Cheever, the acclaimed author of American Bloomsbury, returns to Concord, Massachusetts, to explore the life of one of its most iconic residents. Based on extensive research, journals, and correspondence, Cheever’s biography chronicles all aspects of Alcott’s life, from the fateful meeting of her parents to her death, just two days after that of her father. She details Bronson Alcott’s stalwart educational vision, which led the Alcotts to relocate each time his progressive teaching went sour; her unsuccessful early attempts at serious literature, including Moods, which Henry James panned; her time as a Civil War nurse, when she contracted pneumonia and was treated with mercury-laden calomel, which would affect her health for the rest of her life; and her vibrant intellectual circle of writers and reformers, idealists who led the charge in support of antislavery, temperance, and women’s rights.
Alcott’s independence defied the conventional wisdom, and her personal choices and literary legacy continue to inspire generations of women. A fan of Little Women from the age of twelve, and a distinguished author in her own right, Cheever brings a unique perspective to Louisa May Alcott’s life as a woman, a daughter, and a working writer.
Little Women was the idea of Alcott's publisher, who bullied her into writing it. Louisa may, Cheever speculates, have taken revenge on Bronson Alcott a friend of the great Transcendentalists, but an irresponsible and browbeating father by leaving him out of her semiautobiographical masterpiece. A revolutionary educator whose uncompromising high-mindedness made him a financial failure, Bronson was critical of and often punished the rebellious Louisa. But his close friendships with men like Emerson and Thoreau blessed Louisa with a unique circle of mentors, whom Cheever depicted in American Bloomsbury. Alcott gradually lost everyone dear to her: her beloved sister Lizzie died at 22, and her sister Anna's marriage felt like a betrayal. Struggling so hard for wealth and fame that when it came she was too ill and weary to enjoy it, Louisa never married and died two days after Bronson. Cheever laces this provocative biography with musings on the genesis of genius, and her identification with Jo March when she was a rebellious girl in the throes of puberty. While some may find Cheever's digressions and self-referencing grating, most will savor this work surely a future book club staple as keen, refreshing, and authoritative. 8 pages of b&w photos.