Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Louisa May Alcott: She Was Told To Write A Book For Girls. She Reluctantly Tried. The Rest is History.

Louisa May Alcott was 35 when she wrote the following journal entry - a prelude to the success (and fame) that was to come:
September 1867.
–Niles, partner of Roberts, asked me to write a girls' book. Said I'd try.

Louisa May Alcott (Nov. 29, 1832 - March 6, 1888)
Photograph dated around 1862,
when she was a Civil War nurse, at 30 years old.

My daughter and I just watched the 1994 film adaptation of Little Women for the umpteenth time, and it got me thinking about Louisa May Alcott and her own story...

Writing A Girls' Book
Mr. Niles later repeated his request, this time approaching her father...
May, 1868.
–Father saw Mr. Niles about a fairy book. Mr. N. wants a girls' story, and I begin "Little Women." Marmee, Anna, and May all approve my plan. So I plod away, though I don't enjoy this sort of thing. Never liked girls or knew many, except my sisters; but our queer plays and experiences may prove interesting, though I doubt it.

It only took her two months to write the first half, and Little Women (Part 1) was published in October, 1868.  It was an immediate success.

Like her protagonist Josephine "Jo" March, Louisa May Alcott was a bit of a tomboy, had a fiery temper, lived in poverty during the Civil War, and became a writer to earn money. But unlike Jo and the other March sisters, she never married.

Louisa's Journals and Letters about Little Women, Part II:  The "Wedding Marches"?
Oct. 30 1868.
-Mr. N. wants a second volume for spring. Pleasant notices and letters arrive, and much interest in my little women, who seem to find friends by their truth to life, as I hoped. 

A lot of young readers had their hearts set on Jo marrying Laurie. Read on...

November 1st.
–Began the second part of "Little Women." I can do a chapter a day, and in a month I mean to be done. A little success is so inspiring that I now find my "Marches" sober, nice people, and as I can launch into the future, my fancy has more play. Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only end and aim of a woman's life. I won't marry Jo to Laurie to please any one.

Poor Laurie.
Reading Little Women as a young girl, I remember thinking, How could Jo have let Laurie go!?

I'm reminded of this every time I watch the film with Winona Ryder and Christian Bale.  Their chemistry is perfect, and the proposal scene is heart breaking!

If I'm honest with myself, I've not only never fully gotten over the fact that Laurie didn't end up with Jo, but that he ended up with her youngest sister, Amy.

Amy!  Who wore a clothespin on her nose every night. Who burned Jo's manuscript. Who broke Jo's heart by going off to Paris with Aunt March!

I think I was about eleven years old when I read Little Women for the first time. I just couldn't understand how stodgy Professor Bhaer - so old - was Jo's destiny, not Theodore "Laurie" Laurence, her charming "Teddy".

It seems that Louisa May Alcott created the character of Prof. Bhaer to appease her readers and her publisher.

But Jo's marriage to the Professor did make perfect plot sense with her plan to open a school for boys in the house left to her by Aunt March, something she may not have done if she had married Laurie. (Well you never know...I think they could have done it - after traveling all over Europe, of course!)

Because of the great success of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott quickly finished up Part II.  But what to title it?

I LOVE this archived letter that Louisa wrote to her publisher, Mr. Niles, regarding the title of the second half of her popular book...

Mr Niles,
     I can only think of the following titles. “Little Women Act Second”. “Leaving the Nest. Sequel to Little Women”.
     Either you like.  A jocose friend suggests “Wedding Marches” as there is so much pairing off, but I dont approve.
     Suggestions gratefully received.
yrs truly
L. M. A.

In 1869, the book was eventually published in America simply titled, Little Women Part Second, but in Britain it was given the endearing title, Good Wives.

Beginning in 1880, both parts have since been published as the single volume we know today, Little Women.

Read this interesting article "10 Things You May Not Know About Little Women" here, from MentalFloss; and more about Louisa May Alcott here, on Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute.

You can read the Journals and Letters of Louisa May Alcott,  here, on Project Gutenberg.

And I hope you've seen the 1994 film adaptation.  The music, casting, cinematography, costumes, and set design put you right in Louisa May Alcott's world and book.  The movie is as enjoyable as the novel!


  1. Loved this post!

  2. Louisa May Alcott was my hero, my absolute favorite author as a girl. It was great to read these bits of trivia.

  3. My heart died a little when Jo rejected Laurie 😫