Little Women’s “Marmee” is one of the most recognizable mothers in American literature. But the real woman behind the fiction—Louisa May Alcott’s own mother, Abigail—has for more than a century remained shrouded in mystery. Scholars believed that her papers were burned by her daughter and husband, as they claimed, and that little additional information survived.
Until now. When Abigail’s biographer and great-niece Eve LaPlante found a collection of letters and diaries in an attic trunk and began exploring the Alcott family archives, a window opened onto the life of this woman who has for too long been hiding in plain sight. These discoveries, and others, inform LaPlante’s groundbreaking new dual biography, Marmee & Louisa, a companion volume to My Heart Is Boundless. No self-effacing housewife, Abigail was a passionate writer and thinker, a feminist far ahead of her time. She taught her daughters the importance of supporting themselves and dreamed of a day when a woman, like a man, could enjoy both a family and a career.
Here at last, in her own words, is this extraordinary woman’s story, brought to the public for the first time. Full of wit, charm, and astonishing wisdom, Abigail’s private writings offer a moving, intimate portrait of a mother, a wife, a sister, and a fierce intellect that demands to be heard.
Edited skillfully by LaPlante (a member of Alcott's family tree), this thoroughly engaging collection of Abigail May Alcott's warm and lively writings, primarily drawn from her journals and letters, show her to be a witty, eloquent, thoughtful, and captivating writer and correspondent. Born into a prominent Boston family, thirsty for an education, and engaged by the social topics of her time (including abolition and women's rights), Abigail soon found herself in a troubled marriage to utopian thinker Bronson Alcott. The trials of her married life especially their financial woes make appearances, as does the joy she took in her daughters and extended family, her strength of character, and a glimpse of sly humor ("I wish women displayed more brains and less jewelry"). Most fascinating are the excerpts from Abigail's reports as a welfare worker in Boston; her desire to provide work and just wages for the poor along with relief ring a startlingly contemporary bell. Though one could certainly read this volume on its own, LaPlante's companion biography, Marmee & Louisa (pubbing simultaneously) will undoubtedly help to fill in gaps. And although some of Abigail's correspondence was destroyed or altered by family members, one hopes that further volumes of her extant work might one day be released to shed even further light on this remarkable woman.