Louisa May Alcott was a celebrated nineteenth century American novelist. She is renowned for her critically acclaimed work Little Women and its sequels. She grew up under the mentoring of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Alcott was born in Germantown, on November 29, 1832. Her father, Amos Bronson Alcott, was a transcendentalist and mother Abby May, a social worker. As a child she was highly influenced by her father’s views on education and upbringing of a child. They moved from places to places due to their financial instability until they bought a homestead in Concord with her mother’s inheritance and Emerson’s support. Alcott was one of those fortunate girls who happened to receive her early education from the naturalist Henry David Thoreau. She also had the opportunity to learn from eminent literary figures like Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
The pressing issue of financial crisis in the family had Alcott set out to work a number of jobs as a seamstress, domestic helper, governess and teacher. Owing to the work pressure, Alcott turned writing into a means to vent her suffocated feelings of frustration. She became an abolitionist and a feminist in her adulthood. Dejected by the financial instability at her home, she contemplated committing suicide once. During that period she stumbled upon Charlotte Brontë’s biography written by Elizabeth Gaskell in which she found various similarities between Brontë and herself.
In 1949, Alcott wrote a collection of fanciful stories for Emerson’s daughter Ellen, titled Flower Fables. Then she started off writing for Atlantic Monthly in 1960. The following years she served as a nurse during American Civil War period. She wrote letters to her home from the Union Hospital which were later revised and published as Hospital Sketches. Alcott had her much awaited break as a writer for her close observation and humour exhibited in those letters. The letters highlight the misconduct and negligence of hospital management and appointed doctors. In 1864, she published another literary work inspired by her personal experiences, entitled Moods, which also received positive reviews.
In the following years Alcott wrote under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard. She produced numerous successful children’s stories. Moreover, she penned several sensational and exciting novels including Pauline’s Passion and Punishment and A Long Fatal Love Chase. Her plots were captivating and feature the protagonists who would go to lengths to achieve their goals even if it takes extreme measures.
The novel series that brought her real success in fiction writing was Little Women: or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy published in 1868. It had strong autobiographical elements which detailed her childhood with her sisters. The sequel, Good Wives (1869), illustrated the lives of March sisters in their adulthood leading up to their marriages. The third book Little Men was about Jo’s experience of establishing a school with her husband. Jo’s Boys (1886) marked the last book in the March Family Saga. The series garnered positive reviews from the critics for the suitability of its content for both young and adult readers.
Unlike her protagonist Jo, whom she had based on herself, Alcott never got married. However, she took care of May’s daughter after her sister’s death from childbed fever. Louisa May Alcott herself had developed chronic health issues in her old age. She had been reported to have suffered from mercury poisoning. Afterwards, she passed away on March 6, 1888 at the age of 55 from a stroke and buried in the same cemetery as her childhood mentors.