Sunday, January 2, 2011

Louisa May Alcott:The Woman Behind Little Women By Harriet Reisen

One of my passions which I have been feeding this past year is reading about subjects and people that I want to learn more about. So far it has been more about people,ranging from Presidents to writers to journalists. I love biographies and autobiographies,especially regarding historical figures. I am not a big fiction fan;the only fiction I find myself loving is the "Outlander"series by Diana Gabaldon,and I am sure it is because of the fact that there is historical events that are mixed in with the story.

I have decided to share my thoughts on the books which I really enjoy. If you have read the book I am discussing,I would love it if you would share your thoughts on it as well. If you haven't read it,maybe what I have to say will inspire you to check it out.

Today's book is an interesting and fascinating read. It's" Louisa May Alcott:The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Riesen".

Last year I was flipping through the channels trying to find something interesting to watch while I was laying in bed,and stumbled across the PBS documentary based on this book. While I only caught the last 45 minutes,what I saw made me want to learn more about this famous author.

I don't know many girls who have not read "Little Women." I think it is a staple of every girl,that and the "Little House" series.If they haven't read the book,then most of them have seen at least one version of the movies ( I have seen four and own two).

The book is full of many details,much of which I did not know. This is not just about Louisa-it is about her whole family.Her father,Bronson Alcott,was a dreamer and very involved in the transcendental movement  in MA. His friends were Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson,who happened to live across the street from them in Concord MA.( In fact,one of Louisa's first crushes was Thoreau,whom she based  characters on in a couple of her stories). Bronson was a teacher who had his own school,but,because of some of the things he taught which were controversial,lost students,which caused the school to fold. He was also an author of several books,but they never gave him fame.He rarely ever worked,thinking he had a higher calling. He tried several ventures,the most notable trying to start a commune.Because he failed to support his family,Louisa felt obligated from an early age to earn money to help buy food,etc. The family,like the Marches in "Little Women" were very poor,but whereas the Marches were the "genteel poor",the Alcotts were just plain poor,living on little food and getting money from family and friends to survive. The book shows the dynamic between Louisa,who from a young age was very willfull and unconventional,and her family,especially her father. One can see from her various short stories and novels how she used events and people in her life in all her stories,"Little Women"being the one most closely associated. In fact,she did not want to write "Little Women,"but if memory serves me her publisher wanted a children's story. It became her best selling and most famous work.

Louisa served as an Army nurse during the Civil War,but became sick,and wound up having to go back home. It was believed that the treatment she received,which involved the intake of mercury,led to her later debilitating physical condition. She sometimes smoked hashish to give herself relief. Severe headaches,pain, and weakness sometimes caused her to retreat to her bed for weeks.( It was also believed that she suffered from depression,like her father and mother)Years after her death,doctors read her symptoms in her journals,and came to the conclusion that she may have suffered from lupus.

She was an abolitionist,like her parents.Her father formed the Preliminary Anti-Slavery Society of Boston in 1830,with such notables as William Lloyd Garrison ( who in 1831 would publish the famous abolitionist paper "The Liberator").She was a feminist as well.

I found her story very interesting and captivating. Harriet Reisen did a wonderful job in painting a mental picture of the kind of woman Lousia was. I couldn't believe how much this woman went through,and how strong her character was. I think you enjoy it immensely and be as surprised as I was at how much you will learn in this very thorough book.


  1. I'm really looking forward to reading this! I saw the Louisa May Alcott story on PBS and found it fascinating.
    One of the changes I'm planning for my blog is talking about books that I read this year. Hopefully I will follow through! :)
    Have a great new year!!

  2. I loved the PBS special too and saved it on my TiVO, and I really enjoyed the book. It inspired me to start a blog on Louisa May Alcott last August. We have a lively community and we'd love to have you all stop over for a visit. The website is