Synopsis

The story follows the lives of the four March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—and details their passage from childhood to womanhood. It is loosely based on the lives of the author and her three sisters

Characters

Mrs March

Adored ‘Marmee’, the girls’ mother, and confidante and friend.

Mr March

Symbol of all that is goo, the absent father. For him, the girls strive to be brave and dutiful.

Meg

Gentle and sensitive, the eldest daughter, who suffers in remembering better times.

Jo

The wild one, of the family – impetus, quick-tempered and passionately loyal.

Beth

The shy darling of the family, whose near death from scarlet fever shocks everyone.

Amy

Full of airs and graces and mispronounced long words, the youngest, wilful ‘little Madam’.

Aunt March

The elderly rich relative who hides her fondness for the girls behind “rules and orders… and long prosy talks”

Laurie

Jo’s friend, the dark-eyed boy next door, prone to idleness but full of fun and mischief.

Mr Laurence

Tall and proud, the neighbour whose reserve is slowly melted by the warmth of the March family.

Hannah

Strict, plain speaking  and loyal, “Hannah is a model servant and guards pretty meg like a dragon”.

The Moffats

“Not particularly cultivated or intelligent people” whose superficial world of parties and fine clothes contrasts sharply with the homely, loving values of the March household.

John Brooke

Laurie’s soft brown eyed tutor who falls in love with and proposes to Meg.

Quotes

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.”

opening line Little Women

I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.

Little Women

I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now.

Little Women

I’ve got the key to my castle in the air, but whether I can unlock the door remains to be seen

Little Women

Your father, Jo. He never loses patience, never doubts or complains, but always hopes, and works and waits so cheerfully that one is ashamed to do otherwise before him.

Little Women

Love Jo all your days, if you choose, but don’t let it spoil you, for it’s wicked to throw away so many good gifts because you can’t have the one you want.

Little Women

Don’t laugh at the spinsters, dear girls, for often very tender, tragic romances are hidden away in the hearts that beat so quietly under the sober gowns, and many silent sacrifices of youth, health, ambition, love itself, make the faded faces beautiful in God’s sight. Even the sad, sour sisters should be kindly dealt with, because they have missed the sweetest part of life, if for no other reason

Little Women

I want to do something splendid…something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it and mean to astonish you all someday.

Little Women

Let us be elegant or die

Little Women

Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will bring few regrets, and life will become a beautiful success.

Little women

She preferred imaginary heroes to real ones, because when tired of them, the former could be shut up in the tin kitchen till called for, and the latter were less manageable.

Little Women

Oh, my girls, however long you may live, I never can wish you a greater happiness than this!

Little Women

About Louisa May Allcott

Louisa May Allcott

Early life

Louisa May Alcott’s father was a transcendentalist and educator  Amos Bronson Alcott and her mother Abby May, was a social worker in Germantown, which is now part of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The second of four daughters the eldest being Anna Bronson with the two younger daughters being Elizabeth Swell and Abigail May. She was born on the 29th November 1832, her fathers 33rd birthday.

When Lousia May Allcott, was  a tomboy, when she was a child who preferred playing boy’s games rather than what was expected of a girl. 

After the family moved to Boston in 1834, her  father established an experimental school and joined the Transcendental Club with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

Her father’s opinions on education and opinions on child-rearing as well as  some moments of mental instability shaped young Alcott’s mind with a desire to achieve perfection.

While her father’s attitude to her independent behavior, combined with the inability to provide for his family, created conflict between Bronson Alcottand the rest of the family. 

Abigail did not like that her husband failed to recognize the  sacrifices she made and related his thoughtlessness to the larger issue of the inequality of sexes.passing this recognition and desire to redress wrongs done to women on to Louisa.

When the school failed in 1840, the Alcott family moved to a cottage on 2 acres of land, along the Sudbury River in Concord, Massachusetts. The three years they spent at the rented Hosmer Cottage were described as idyllic. 

In 1843 the family moved, again this time there were six other members of the Consociate Family, to a Utopian Fruitlands community for a brief interval in 1843–1844.

When the Utopian Fruitlands collapsed the family again  moved, this time to rented rooms and finally, with Abigail May Alcott’s inheritance and financial help from Emerson, they purchased a homestead in Concord. Which they called “Hillside” on April 1, 1845.

However the Allcott’s had  moved on by 1852 when it was sold to Nathaniel Hawthorne called  it The Wayside. With the family moving  22 times in 30 years, with them finally moving  to Concord once again in 1857 and moved into Orchard House, a two-story clapboard farmhouse, in the spring of 1858.

Apart from her fathers as her tutor she was also taught by naturalist Henry David Thoreau as well as from writers and educators Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, and Julia Ward Howe as they were all family friends.

Because of the family finances Alcott went  to work at an early age with jobs from a teacher, seamstress, governess, domestic helper, and writer. Her sisters also supported the family, working as seamstresses, while their mother took on social work among the Irish immigrants. Only the youngest, Abigail, was able to attend public school. 

Writing became a creative and emotional outlet for Alcott because of the family financial pressures. Her first book was Flower Fables (1849), a selection of tales originally written for Ellen Emerson, daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

During 1847 the family served as station masters on the Underground Railroad, when they housed a fugitive slave for one week, they also had discussions with Frederick Douglass. Alcott read and admired the “Declaration of Sentiments”, published by the Seneca Falls Convention on women’s rights, advocating for women’s suffrage and became the first woman to register to vote in Concord,  Massachusetts in a school board election. 

Alcott contemplated suicide, in 1857, as she was filled with despair due to her inability to find work. She also read Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte Brontë and found many parallels to her own life. 

In 1858, both Her younger sister Elizabeth died and Anna the eldest sister married a John Pratt, which felt, to Alcott,  the breaking up of their sisterhood.

Literary success

Allcot was an abolitionist and a feminist and started writing for the Atlantic Monthly. When the American Civil War broke out in 1860. She also served as a nurse in the Union Hospital in Georgetown, DC, for six weeks in 1862–1863. Having meant to only do three months as a nurse, but halfway through she contracted typhoid and became deathly ill.

Though she eventually recovered. Her letters home—revised and published in the Boston anti-slavery paper Commonwealth and collected as Hospital Sketches (1863, republished with additions in 1869)]—brought her first critical recognition for her observations and humor. 

Allcot wrote about the mismanagement of hospitals and the indifference and callousness of some of the surgeons she encountered, and about her own passion for seeing the war first hand. The main character, Tribulation Periwinkle, showed a passage from innocence to maturity and is a “serious and eloquent witness”. Her novel Moods (1864), based on her own experience, was also promising.

A. M. Barnard

Allcott wrote novels and sensational stories similar  to those of English authors Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon under the pen name of A. M. Barnard.

Catherine Ross Nickerson says that Alcott with creating one of the earliest detective fiction stories, second only to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and his other Auguste Dupin stories, with the 1865 thriller “V.V., or Plots and Counterplots.

Louisa May Allcott
Public Domain,

Alcott became even more successful with the first part of Little Women: or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy (1868), a semi-autobiographical account of her childhood with her sisters in Concord, Massachusetts, which was published by the Roberts Brothers. 

In Little Women, Alcott based her heroine “Jo” on herself. But whereas Jo marries at the end of the story, Alcott remained single throughout her life. She explained her “spinsterhood” in an interview with Louise Chandler Moulton, 

“I am more than half-persuaded that I am a man’s soul put by some freak of nature into a woman’s body. … because I have fallen in love with so many pretty girls and never once the least bit with any man.”

Our Famous Women: An Authorized Record of the Lives and Deeds of Distinguished American Women of Our Times. A. D. Worthington & Company. p. 49

However, Alcott’s romance while in Europe with the young Polish man Ladislas “Laddie” Wisniewski was detailed in her journals but then deleted by Alcott herself before her death. .

Along with Elizabeth Stoddard, Rebecca Harding Davis, Anne Moncure Crane, and others, Alcott was part of a group of female authors during the Gilded Age, who addressed women’s issues in a modern and candid manner. Their works were, as one newspaper columnist of the period commented, “among the decided ‘signs of the times'”.

Later years

In 1877 Alcott was one of the founders of the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union in Boston. After her youngest sister May died in 1879, Louisa took over the care of her niece, Lulu, who was named after Louisa. Alcott suffered chronic health problems in her later years, including vertigo. She and her earliest biographers attributed her illness and death to mercury poisoning. During her American Civil War service, Alcott contracted typhoid fever and was treated with a compound containing mercury. Recent analysis of Alcott’s illness suggests that her chronic health problems may have been associated with an autoimmune disease, not mercury exposure. However, mercury is a known trigger for autoimmune diseases as well. An 1870 portrait of Alcott does show her cheeks to be quite flushed, perhaps with the “butterfly rash” across cheeks and nose which is often characteristic of lupus, but there is no conclusive evidence available for a firm diagnosis.

By Midnightdreary
Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Alcott died of a stroke at age 55 in Boston, on March 6, 1888, two days after her father’s death. Louisa’s last known words were, “Is it not meningitis?” She is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, near Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau, on a hillside now known as “Authors’ Ridge”. 

Her niece Lulu was only eight years old when Louisa died. She was cared for by Anna Alcott Pratt, then reunited with her father in Europe and lived abroad until her death in 1976.

Louisa frequently wrote in her journals about going on long walks and runs. She challenged prevailing social norms regarding gender by encouraging her young female readers to run as well.

Bibliography

Little Women Trilogy

TitleDateNotes
Little Women. or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy1868
Good Wives1869afterward published together with Little Women
Little Men: Life at Plumfield with Jo’s Boys1871
Jo’s Boys and How They Turned Out: A Sequel to “Little Men”1886

Other Novels

TitleDate Notes
The Inheritance1849not published till 1997
Moods1865revised 1882
The Mysterious Key and What It Opened1867
An Old Fashioned Girl1870
Will’s Wonder Book1870
Work, A story of Experience1873
Beginning Again, Being a Continuation of Work1875
Eight Cousions or The Aunt-Hill1875
Rose in Bloom1876sequal to Eight cousions
Underthe Lilacs1878
Jack and Jill A Villiage Story1880
Proverb Stories
Other Novels

AS A. M. Barnard

TitleDate Notes
Behind a Mask, or a Womens Power1866
The Abbot’s Ghost, or Mauruice Treherne’s Temptation1867
A Long Fatel Love Chase1866first published 1995

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