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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT, daughter of Amos Bronson and Abigail (May) Alcott, and the second of the four sisters whom she was afterward to make famous in ‘Little Women,’ was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, November 29th, 1832, her father’s thirty-third birthday. On his side, she was descended from good Connecticut stock; and on her mother’s, from the Mays and Quincys of Massachusetts, and from Judge Samuel Sewall, who has left in his diary as graphic a picture of the New England home-life of two hundred years ago, as his granddaughter of the fifth generation did of that of her own time.  1
  At the time of Louisa Alcott’s birth her father had charge of a school in Germantown; but within two years he moved to Boston with his family, and put into practice methods of teaching so far in advance of his time that they were unsuccessful. From 1840, the home of the Alcott family was in Concord, Massachusetts, with the exception of a short time spent in a community on a farm in a neighboring town, and the years from 1848 to 1857 in Boston. At seventeen, Louisa’s struggle with life began. She wrote a play, contributed sensational stories to weekly papers, tried teaching, sewing,—even going out to service,—and would have become an actress but for an accident. What she wrote of her mother is as true of herself, “She always did what came to her in the way of duty or charity, and let pride, taste, and comfort suffer for love’s sake.” Her first book, ‘Flower Fables,’ a collection of fairy tales which she had written at sixteen for the children of Ralph Waldo Emerson, some other little friends, and her younger sisters, was printed in 1855 and was well received. From this time until 1863 she wrote many stories, but few that she afterward thought worthy of being reprinted. Her best work from 1860 to 1863 is in the Atlantic Monthly, indexed under her name; and the most carefully finished of her few poems, ‘Thoreau’s Flute,’ appeared in that magazine in September, 1863. After six weeks’ experience in the winter of 1862–63 as a hospital nurse in Washington, she wrote for the Commonwealth, a Boston weekly paper, a series of letters which soon appeared in book form as ‘Hospital Sketches.’ Miss Alcott says of them, “The ‘Sketches’ never made much money, but showed me ‘my style.’” In 1864 she published a novel, ‘Moods’; and in 1866, after a year abroad as companion to an invalid, she became editor of Merry’s Museum, a magazine for children.  2
  Her ‘Little Women,’ founded on her own family life, was written in 1867–68, in answer to a request from the publishing house of Roberts Brothers for a story for girls, and its success was so great that she soon finished a second part. The two volumes were translated into French, German, and Dutch, and became favorite books in England. While editing Merry’s Museum, she had written the first part of ‘The Old-Fashioned Girl’ as a serial for the magazine. After the success of ‘Little Women,’ she carried the ‘Old-Fashioned Girl’ and her friends forward several years, and ended the story with two happy marriages. In 1870 she went abroad a second time, and from her return the next year until her death in Boston from overwork on March 6th, 1888, the day of her father’s funeral, she published twenty volumes, including two novels: one anonymous, ‘A Modern Mephistopheles,’ in the ‘No Name’ series; the other, ‘Work,’ largely a record of her own experience. She rewrote ‘Moods,’ and changed the sad ending of the first version to a more cheerful one; followed the fortunes of her ‘Little Women’ and their children in ‘Little Men’ and ‘Jo’s Boys,’ and published ten volumes of short stories, many of them reprinted pieces. She wrote also ‘Eight Cousins,’ its sequel ‘Rose in Bloom,’ ‘Under the Lilacs,’ and ‘Jack and Jill.’  3
  The charm of her books lies in their freshness, naturalness, and sympathy with the feelings and pursuits of boys and girls. She says of herself, “I was born with a boy’s spirit under my bib and tucker,” and she never lost it. Her style is often careless, never elegant, for she wrote hurriedly, and never revised or even read over her manuscript; yet her books are full of humor and pathos, and preach the gospel of work and simple, wholesome living. She has been a help and inspiration to many young girls, who have learned from her Jo in ‘Little Women,’ or Polly in the ‘Old-Fashioned Girl,’ or Christie in ‘Work,’ that a woman can support herself and her family without losing caste or self-respect. Her stories of the comradeship of New England boys and girls in school or play have made her a popular author in countries where even brothers and sisters see little of each other. The haste and lack of care in her books are the result of writing under pressure for money to support the family, to whom she gave the best years of her life. As a little girl once said of her in a school essay, “I like all Miss Alcott’s books; but what I like best in them is the author herself.”  4
  The reader is referred to ‘Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters, and Journals,’ edited by Ednah D. Cheney, published in 1889.  5
 
 
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