Millions of readers have cherished, and been inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women ever since it rolled off the presses in 1868. After its first printing, there was an outcry from readers wanting more of the four March sisters in this beloved story. A second part, Good Wives was added in 1869 completing the book, and making 2019 its sesquicentennial year. While Little Women mirrors the life of Louisa May Alcott, there’s so much more to Alcott’s fascinating life story.
Born in 1832, Pennsylvania, Alcott soon moved to Massachusetts. Although she may have grown up in genteel poverty, she was in excellent company. Some of the country’s most important literary figures were family friends – Ralph Waldo Emmerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Longfellow. Alcott’s botany tutor was Henry David Thoreau. Bravely, her family were also abolitionists and hid fugitives escaping through the Underground Railway in their home.
Alcott’s father, a writer, philosopher and transcendentalist, had a surplus of ideas yet did little to financially support his family. Consequently, Louisa worked as a seamstress, governess, teacher and civil war nurse until diagnosed with typhoid fever. Unfortunately the cure of the time contained high doses of mercury, causing Alcott to suffer from mercury poisoning throughout her life.
In matters of ‘education and children’, women in Concord, Massachusetts were allowed to vote. Not only was Alcott among the first to cast a ballot, she travelled door to door encouraging more women to vote.
When Alcott’s father submitted his manuscript for printing, the publisher made him a deal. If he could convince his daughter Louisa May to write a ‘girls’ story – they would publish his book. Louisa considered this a silly idea, having little interest in girly adventures but decided she could write about her family. So, in 1868 Louisa May Alcott’s wrote her semi-autobiographical story set during the Civil War that details the trials and tribulations of four sisters maturing from young girls to young women. The first 2000 copies sold out in two week, and Little Women has never been out of print since.
Little Women has been inspiration for a ballet, opera, dozens of radio dramatizations, plays, two silent films and 8 feature films starring the likes of Katherine Hepburn, Liz Taylor, and Winona Ryder. This December, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women will feature Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson and Meryl Streep. CPL Public Service Coordinator Nancy Early adds her musical adaptation of Little Women to the Theatre Orangeville season in December 2019 too. To celebrate Little Women, look for Caledon Public Library’s selection of books, graphic novels and DVDs.