Having achieved moderate success with Flower Fables , Hospital Sketches , and essays and short stories submitted to juvenile magazines, Alcott's first attempt at children's literature, Little Women , became the work that defined the third phase of Alcott's career. The Little Women books, which were the most successful series of their time, illustrate the struggles between adolescence and maturity, but they also represent a prominent theme in much of Alcott's fiction: the conflict experienced by women who must choose between individuality and the bonds of family responsibilities and social traditions.
The March family is poor and their father is absent, yet on the advice of their mother, the girls resolve to be happy and pattern their lives after Christian from John Bunyan 's Pilgrim's Progress , who must overcome many obstacles on his journey to Heaven. Beth dies of scarlet fever as did Alcott's sister Lizzie , and the other girls mature into women and eventually marry. Jo, the tomboy and individualist in the family—widely believed to be patterned after Alcott herself—marries Dr.
Bhaer, an educator, and the two start their own school for boys in Little Men and its sequel, Jo's Boys. The positive depiction of hard work and simple living abound in the Little Women series as well as in Alcott's other works for children. Although Polly's simple, unsophisticated ways at first amuse the Shaw family, her earnest honesty, humbleness, and hard work ultimately impresses them, and coupled with the Shaws' loss of financial standing, Polly's lessons change their outlook on what is important in life.
In Eight Cousins; or The Aunt-Hill , the protagonist Rose is a fourteen-year-old girl who must move in with relatives after the death of her father. She moves to the Aunt-Hill, where her six aunts live with their families, a total of seven children—all boys. Rose is brought up in a nontraditional style similar to Alcott's own upbringing and the lives of many of her protagonists.
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Rose in Bloom , the sequel to Eight Cousins , focuses on Rose as a young lady and the decisions she must make concerning matrimony and her future. From onward, as her health deteriorated, Alcott primarily produced works of juvenile literature, though none ever reached the international popularity of Little Women.
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During Alcott's lifetime, her stories for children were widely regarded as American classics. The early twentieth century, however, witnessed a decline in the critical assessment of Alcott's works, with some denouncing the moralizing tone of her fiction. What had once been interpreted as the charm and innocence of the March girls, in particular, was later seen as overly sentimental.
For several decades into the twentieth century, the sentimentality of Alcott's work was assessed by scholars as her support for the prevailing ideology of separate spheres of social activity for men and women. With the rise of feminist criticism and women's studies, however, Alcott's works for both children and adults have been the subject of critical reexamination, with much discussion surrounding the nature of her views on the role of women in the family and society. Part of the challenge of interpreting Little Women and other stories in Alcott's oeuvre is their status as childhood classics; several academics have attempted to analyze the stories' enduring popularity and resonance.
Scholars have argued that Little Women affects critics emotionally because of their adolescent connection to the story, thus coloring scholarly interpretations of the work. In exploring the depth and nature of Alcott's feminist views, critics have turned to her early thrillers, which were not collected until For years, commentators have assumed that the thrillers, published pseudonymously, were written solely for financial gain and represented Alcott's compromising of her artistic principles.
More recently, however, some feminist scholars have suggested that the thrillers reveal a repressed rage and possibly a truer representation of Alcott's strong feelings about the unjust status of women than may be present in her children's works.
Cheney] correspondence and journals Stern] novels Stern] juvenile short stories Alternative Alcott [edited by Elaine Showalter] short stories, novellas, and essays Graves] journal Louisa May Alcott in the twentieth century may remind one of the Energizer bunny: she keeps going and going—and going. Spurred on by the collections of Alcott's sensation fiction uncovered and published under the direction of Madeleine Stern beginning in a new "omnibus" volume containing all the recently uncovered short stories, Louisa May Alcott Unmasked, was published by Northeastern University Press in , interest in what else the author of Little Women wrote continues more than a hundred years after her death in Two adult novels, Work and Moods, were reprinted in and , respectively, after being out of print for decades.
Neither popular nor scholarly interest in Alcott's work shows any signs of abating; although Little Women remains Alcott's one true masterpiece for most scholars, several newly available works demonstrate anew her considerable talent and her wide-ranging interests, providing ever more glosses on her classic novel and her phenomenal career. Considering the newest publications first demonstrates just how many ways there are of looking at Louisa May Alcott.
The New York Public Library uses An Intimate Anthology to showcase some of its fascinating collection of photographs, illustrations, and manuscripts featuring Alcott, her work, and her Concord home. The volume reprints some generally available materials, such as Hospital Sketches , "Transcendental Wild Oats," letters, journal entries, and two sensation stories, but also some much less accessible materials, including five poems and several recollections of Alcott from around the turn of the century.
The many photographs, manuscripts, and illustrations in this handsome volume tantalize enough to make one consider a trip to New York to view the collection in person. Sarah Elbert's intriguing Louisa May Alcott on Race, Sex, and Slavery draws together four of Alcott's Civil War stories and an article from the Commonwealth in which Alcott discusses letters from "several members of one of the colored regiments" 41 who had been taught rudimentary literacy by female volunteers while they were encamped at Readville.
She frames the letters with her own commentary on the soldiers' courage and more particularly on their eagerness for education: she praises their courage in entering "the double battle they must fight against treason and ignorance" The volume concludes with a chapter from the United States Sanitary Commission report, also published in , delineating conditions among the freed men and women in what were essentially Civil War refugee camps. As Elbert demonstrates, Alcott drew liberally from such reports for her own Civil War stories.
That the collection includes a children's story, "Nelly's Hospital," testifies to the fact that critics increasingly are looking at the larger context of Alcott's whole career and the interconnections between her works in several genres for several audiences—a concept for which Elizabeth Keyser's Whispers in the Dark must be acknowledged as a ground-breaking model. Because two of the stories, "M. Issues of "race, sex, and slavery" come together most forcefully around considerations of miscegenation or "amalgamation"; Elbert convincingly demonstrates the threat that public fear of sexually mixing the races posed to the abolitionist movement and how that fear was used against abolitionists.
Her application of the "gendered bodies" work of critics such as Lora Romero and Nancy Bentley to the stories in the collection several of which do have cross-racial sexual implications makes for fascinating reading, as does the less controversial but equally interesting examination of Alcott's propensity for using her fiction as a social project. Two works of Alcott juvenilia have surfaced or resurfaced in recent years, the first thanks to Juliet McMaster and her students in a course called "Classics of Children's Literature," the second due to a fortunate find by Joel Myerson and Daniel Shealy at Harvard's Houghton Library.www.ucgequities.com/wp-content/gps-telefon/guly-iphone-iin.php
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Norna; or, The Witch's Curse is a melodrama written by Alcott with at least some contributions from her sister Anna at about age fifteen and immortalized as the Christmas theatrical in Little Women. Norna is a story of disguise, murder, and vengeance, the latter with the assistance of the title character, a witch.
Alcott's interest in the Gothic romance is the "castle of Rodolpho" a take-off on Radcliffe's Udolpho? Norna herself, a witch working to bring a remorseless murderer to justice, may foreshadow Alcott's lifelong interest in powerful female characters, at least one of whom, Jean Muir of Behind a Mask, is repeatedly referred to as a witch. Also of interest here are the collaborative nature of the playwriting, although there is only Anna's word on what she wrote "the love part,"  , and the commentary on the intricacies of performing the plays, particularly when only Louisa and Anna could be depended upon, and the other two sisters only occasionally prevailed upon, to perform.
No doubt McMasters's series is an exciting and worthwhile enterprise for burgeoning scholars, but sometimes the scholars' inexperience works against them. The introduction, for example, paints a picture of Alcott's life with only the broadest strokes, makes factual errors, and does not seem to be aware of Alcott's immersion in sensation fiction during the s. The two illustrators do not seem to have been able to decide whether the play is a lush melodrama or a cartoon; in their art, it wavers back and forth between the two.
The endnotes repeatedly refer to parallels to Marlowe's Dr. Faustus when one of the great obsessions of Alcott's literary life was not Marlowe's but Goethe's version of the tale. It seems that many of these limitations could have been avoided by a stronger editorial hand, possibly one with more background in Alcott studies than the students could be expected to have. Why, for example, did someone not notice that this is a work of Alcott "at about fifteen" in the preface and at sixteen on the last page? Notable for the high quality of their contributions to the volume are Erika Rothwell, whose essay connects Norna to Alcott's other works in some fine and insightful ways, and Michael Londry for his textual history, a well-researched and informative appendix.
Alcott scholars may find little new here, especially since the larger volume from which the play is taken, Comic Tragedies, is generally accessible though out of print, but the project itself is certainly a worthy undertaking. The media hype about the book was and is off-putting: Dutton's dust cover recounts an incident from Little Women that is clearly a fictionalized reference to Moods, her first published novel, but says "Here at last [ The Inheritance ] is the book 'Jo' wrote"; the television movie broadcast when the book first appeared Americanizes the tale and ultimately bears little resemblance to Alcott's text beyond the title.
Once one gets past these annoyances, however, the book itself is an interesting piece of juvenilia. The plot concerns a young woman who functions as a governess to the youngest daughter of a wealthy English family, a beautiful but proud rival for an older lord's affections, revealing tableaux along the way and an inheritance that comes along just in time to turn all the tables at the end.
Perhaps Alcott was reading Wuthering Heights as well: Edith Adelon's "status incongruence" Peterson 15 results from the fact that she was originally picked up as an orphan in Italy and brought to the family "as a playmate" 10 by the now-deceased Lord Hamilton; when the novel opens, she is neither quite a member of the family nor a servant.
Alcott may have been a democrat, but she was also a New Englander. Finally, although the language of the text is heavily melodramatic and sentimental, advertising its author's immaturity, the character of Edith intrigues the reader as an early version of the active Alcott heroine. She is noble, self-sacrificing, and self-effacing, and she sings like an angel rumor has it that her mother was an Italian opera singer , but it is she who climbs over a cliff to rescue her charge, Amy, when she falls while the Hamiltons and their friend Lord Percy are on an outing.
In another episode, she proves a formidable horsewoman when the jealous Ida whips her horse, sending it racing wildly toward a stone wall. In some respects, Edith seems to be Jo and Beth March combined, a telling characterization in view of those two sisters' closeness in Little Women but a bit odd when combined into one character as it is here. Alcott apparently never tried to publish The Inheritance, which even a cursory reading would pronounce a wise choice, but the fact that she preserved the manuscript probably indicates a lasting affection for her "firstborn," an affection that the modern reader, if not expecting too much of a seventeen-year-old, can share.
Certainly, and not unexpectedly, the most complex and best written of the new Alcott novels is the most mature work, A Long Fatal Love Chase, another manuscript that sat gathering dust for years at the Houghton Library before being offered on the rare books market and purchased by the New Hampshire educator and collector Kent Bicknell.
Alcott wrote Love Chase after returning from her first trip to Europe in , probably intending it for anonymous publication, but "[publisher James R. Manuscript markings and another manuscript at the Houghton entitled "Fair Rosamond" indicate that Alcott attempted to revise the story, but it was never published until Alcott used its original title "A Modern Mephistopheles" for another work in The Love Chase is certainly long, covering nearly all of Europe that Alcott had seen on her journey, and it is certainly sensational—in a twentieth-century, as well as a nineteenth-century, sense.
The far-ranging plot features gambling, attempted bigamy, a custody battle, an obsessed stalker, the imprisonment of our heroine in a madhouse, and struggles with priestly celibacy. Alcott proves herself a master of intertextuality in this work, playing with references to "Fair Rosamond," The Tempest, Faust , and Jane Eyre , among others. The book begins with eighteen-year-old Rosamond Vivian, who lives alone with her invalid grandfather on an island off the coast of England, lamenting from her window seat, "I'd gladly sell my soul to Satan for a year of freedom" 3.
Almost immediately, Philip Tempest, who looks a great deal like a picture of Mephistopheles that the Vivians just happen to have hanging in their hallway, appears at the door, ready to make Rosamond's wish come true. Tempest soon becomes as much Rochester as Satan; perhaps Alcott's point is that they much resemble one another, particularly when it comes to manipulating human hearts—Hawthorne's and to a large extent, Alcott's unpardonable sin. After a month's blissful courtship, Tempest brings Rosamond to tears as he explains to her how he has found her a position as a companion, far away from where he will be, then finally confesses that he wishes her to be his companion—reminiscent of the proposal scene in Jane Eyre.
Tempest "marries" Rosamond with the help of a phony cleric, since he already has a wife though not locked in an attic. It takes Rosamond a year to uncover Tempest's secret, but when she does, she flees, and he pursues her all over Europe. When he inadvertently kills her at the end, he fatally stabs himself over her corpse, declaring, "Mine first—mine last—mine even in the grave! Although first and foremost an unabashed page-turner, Love Chase also encompasses some of Alcott's most pervasive literary themes.
Early on, Rosamond has a plaintive conversation with Tempest delineating the societal limitations on women's self-reliance. When Rosamond later flees from Tempest, she is forced to explore these limited options one by one: she sews, she becomes a nurse-companion for a time, she pretends to be a nun and typical of Alcott, the real actress portrayed in the novel, Madame Honorine, is a kind and helpful character , and she ultimately relies on family—her husband's ex-wife and son, ironically—for support.
The fact that Tempest ultimately destroys her may merely further the sensational plot or it may be one of Alcott's more pessimistic commentaries on women and nineteenth-century culture. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, Rosamond is another active heroine, similar to her only slightly younger "sister" Jo March. She takes daring walks on parapets, climbs across rooftops, cuts her hair and disguises herself as a boy, all to escape her pursuer. When Tempest has her imprisoned in a madhouse, her worst suffering stems from idleness, for all books and writing materials are forbidden to her.
Readers who find Alcott's attitudes toward sexual passion problematic in other works will find this one especially intriguing. Although Rosamond professes to be so in love with her husband that it is difficult to leave him and harder to forget him despite overwhelming evidence that he is both a liar and a murderer, there are no indications of children after a year of marriage and no particular indications of intimacy between them. On the other hand, some of the scenes between Rosamond and Father Ignatius, a priest who befriends her during her stay in the convent, are highly charged with sexual energy.
When Ignatius helps Rosamond to escape Tempest by rowing her across a river to a safe haven, she comments that he should be a knight, not a priest, whereupon he declares that he "will be, for an hour," removes his cassock, and throws it into the bottom of the boat, vehemently ordering it to "Lie there, detested thing! Although Rosamond and Ignatius maintain a chaste relationship even as their love for one another increases, and although Alcott seems to borrow from Faust the idea that, like Faust and Gretchen, they can take joy in knowing they will be reunited after death for eternity, one must wonder at the seething but unfulfilled passion in this novel.
Finally, though it may seem odd, it is also fitting that a "new" Louisa May Alcott novel should briefly appear on the New York Times' best-seller list in , a novel that is at once modern and Victorian, typical of Alcott's serious themes but also an example of the kind of work she threw herself into in the s in order to keep her family solvent. Portions of the proceeds from the book are going to Orchard House, the Alcotts' Concord home, and to the descendants of Fred Pratt, the nephew Alcott adopted before her death in order that he might have the power to retain future rights to her works.
Louisa May Alcott's writing continues to support her home and family, even as it continues to provide intriguing new perspectives for consideration by modern readers and critics. Alcott, Louisa May. The Journals of Louisa May Alcott. Boston: Little, Peterson, Jeanne. Despite my rather bookish tendencies, I don't as a rule expect to see representations of nineteenth-century print texts when I go to the movies.
Consequently, one evening in early , I was caught off guard when an intriguing depiction of a familiar textual object flickered onto the screen in Gillian Arm-strong's film version of Little Women December A fleeting shot in the film makes the current literary status of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women vividly concrete.
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This depiction of Little Women 's "first edition" is a revealing piece of poetic license. Fields was not its publisher; instead, the novel was published by the less distinguished firm Roberts Brothers. Further-more, both publishers operated out of Boston, the most influential Northeastern literary publishing center in nineteenth-century America—not New York City.