While learning about any authors, it is important to learn about their life as well. As their lives and surrounding often influence their work. Louisa May Alcott was one such novelist. Louisa May Alcott is a famous children’s American author with a rebellious spirit and ideas that challenged the societal norms of that time. Her personal experiences influenced her writing more than is typical of most other writers. One of her most famous works, Little Women, was very much inspired by her own family. She was a feminist and abolitionist and never got married.
Louisa May Alcott lived from November 29, 1832, to March 6, 1888. She lived in Germantown, which is currently a part of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her father Amos Bronson Alcott was a transcendentalist and educator, while her mother Abby May worked as a social worker. She was the second of four daughters. Her family moved to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1833. Her father homeschooled her as women attending schools back then wasn’t the norm.
Henry David Thoreau inspired her to write Thoreau’s Flute based on her time at Walden Pond. Writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Julia Ward Howe also played a huge role in her life. Alcott started working early as a teacher and domestic help to support her family. For Alcott, her writing was a creative and emotional outlet.
Her Literary career:
In 1849, she wrote her first book, Flower Fables, for Ellen Emerson. Therefore, in 1852 she published “Sunlight,” her first poem under the alias Flora Fairfield. In 1854, Louisa worked at the Boston Theatre where she wrote The Rival Prima Donna. She later burned the script because of a quarrel between the actresses on who would play what role. In 1866, she started writing for Atlantic Monthly. Her first famous work was Hospital Sketches, published in Boston Commonwealth. They were a collection of letters she wrote home during her time as a nurse. She became the editor of the girls’ magazine, Merry’s Museum, after publishing her first novel, Moods, in 1864.
Little Women Series:
In 1867, she wrote Little Women, her most famous book followed by Good Wives, in 1869. The little woman is partially based on her family and life. Also, it follows the March sisters’ journey from their childhood to adulthood and marriage. The novel focuses on three key topics, love, grief, and sisterhood.
In 1871, Louisa May Alcott published Little Men. It details Jo’s life at the Plumfield School that she founded with her husband at the end of Part Two of Little Women. Moreover, in 1886, Alcott published its sequel, Jo’s Boys completing the “March Family Saga”. Jo’s Boys tell the journey of now grown, Jo’s children, caught up in real-world troubles.
Little Woman has remained a relevant book in English Literature even after almost 150 years. The book’s popularity is still continuing in many films, theatre, and TV adaptations. Little Women portrayed a wholesome but realistic picture of family life with which younger readers could easily identify. It was a natural representation of daily life.
The strong female characters portrayed in her books inspired many girls. It encouraged girls that their role in life is just as important as a boy in society. Therefore, it was well-received, with critics and audiences finding it suitable for different age groups.
She followed Little Women’s success with narratives influenced by her experiences: An Old-Fashioned Girl (1870); Aunt Jo’s Scrap Bag, 6 vol. (1872–82); Eight Cousins (1875); and Rose in Bloom (1876).
Her Impact on Society:
Louisa May Alcott was a feminist and abolitionist. Her family’s belief in social reform influenced Alcott. Her family fought for the abolishment of slavery, even hiding slaves in their home. In 1861, during the civil war, she volunteered as a nurse at a Union Hospital in Georgetown, Washington. She also joined the women’s suffrage movement. She fought for women’s rights and issues.
Her work introduced readers to educated, strong female characters. As a result, her writing immensely impacted American literature. She inspired many female authors like Simone De Beauvoir, Ann Petry, and J K Rowling. In Jo’s Boys, she made many arguments in favor of women’s rights. She said, “I can remember back to the time when anti-slavery was in just the same state that suffrage is now. And I take more pride in the tiny help we, Alcott’s, could give than in all the books I have ever written…”
Alcott, along with her mother, went door to door in their town to encourage women to vote. Also, she became the first woman in Concord, Massachusetts, to vote. Influencing other women to do so as well.
In later years, she suffered from chronic health problems, including vertigo. Therefore, on 6th March 1888, she died of a stroke. They buried her in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, where many other American literary icons rest on a hillside now known as “Authors’ Ridge”.
In 1877, Louisa May Alcott became one of the founding members of the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union in Boston. The Alcott’s’ Concord, MA home, Orchard House has been a historic house museum since 1912. This is where the family lived for 20 years and where Alcott wrote Little Women in 1868. Also, in 1996, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.