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'Little Women' Review

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Little Women

Little Women

Library of America

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In Little Women, Marmee offers moral guidance and unconditional love to her girls: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. In this novel, which was published in two parts from 1868 and 1869, Louisa May Alcott drew from her own childhood experiences to dramatize the joys and sorrows of the March family. The sisters come of age, with the Civil War in the background. And, Marmee is always there for the girls--to oversee their antics, allay their fears, and heal their troubled heart.

 

Influences on Alcott's Life & Work

Louisa May Alcott's mother, Abigail May (Abba) Alcott, was the basis for Marmee in her novel, Little Women. Alcott once wrote of her mother: "A great heart that was home for all." Like Marmee, Abba was passionate and caring, with special attention to women's rights, temperance, and abolition. She also wrote in her journal: "All the philosophy in our house is not in the study; a good deal is in the kitchen, where a fine old lady thinks high thoughts and does kind deeds while she cooks and scrubs."

Besides the influence of her mother on her life and works, Alcott was influenced by writers--who were always around--like Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodore Parker, William Lloyd Garrison, Orestes Brownson, and Margaret Fuller. These were the important person around whom she grew up, and she frequented Ralph Waldo Emerson's library. She read Plutarch, Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, Goethe, Schiller, Bettine Brentano, Mme. de Stael, Emerson, Charlotte Bronte, Carlyle, Margaret Fuller, and George Sand.

Where "Little Women" Came From...

Thomas Niles, her publisher, asked her to write a book for girls. She drew from the experiences of her childhood for the novel: the plays she and her sister acted out as children; the sister who contracted scarlet fever from a poor family (she never fully recovered, and she died two years later); and other incidents from her early years.

Little Women became a success, and Alcott was hailed as a major author. The first part of Little Women sold more than 2,000 copies, while the second part sold 13,000 copies. Based on her financial success from Little Women and its sequels, she was able to pay off all of her family's debts.

Back to Marmee

Louisa May Alcott's first novel Flower Fables was dedicated to her mother. It was her mother who gave her a pencil case at the age of 10, when he interest in writing first became evident. When her mother died in November 1877, Alcott wrote: "I never wish her back, but a great warmth seems gone out of life... She was so loyal, tender, and true, life was hard for her and no one knew all she had to bear but her children."

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