My Heart is Boundless: Writings of Abigail May Alcott, Louisa's Mother

Overview

Little Women’s “Marmee” is one of the most recognizable mothers in American literature. But the real woman behind the fiction—Louisa May Alcott’s own mother, Abigail—has for more than a century remained shrouded in mystery. Scholars believed that her papers were burned by her daughter and husband, as they claimed, and that little additional information survived.

Until now. When Abigail’s biographer and great-niece Eve LaPlante found a collection of letters and diaries in an ...

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My Heart is Boundless: Writings of Abigail May Alcott, Louisa's Mother

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Overview

Little Women’s “Marmee” is one of the most recognizable mothers in American literature. But the real woman behind the fiction—Louisa May Alcott’s own mother, Abigail—has for more than a century remained shrouded in mystery. Scholars believed that her papers were burned by her daughter and husband, as they claimed, and that little additional information survived.

Until now. When Abigail’s biographer and great-niece Eve LaPlante found a collection of letters and diaries in an attic trunk and began exploring the Alcott family archives, a window opened onto the life of this woman who has for too long been hiding in plain sight. These discoveries, and others, inform LaPlante’s groundbreaking new dual biography, Marmee & Louisa, a companion volume to My Heart Is Boundless. No self-effacing housewife, Abigail was a passionate writer and thinker, a feminist far ahead of her time. She taught her daughters the importance of supporting themselves and dreamed of a day when a woman, like a man, could enjoy both a family and a career.

Here at last, in her own words, is this extraordinary woman’s story, brought to the public for the first time. Full of wit, charm, and astonishing wisdom, Abigail’s private writings offer a moving, intimate portrait of a mother, a wife, a sister, and a fierce intellect that demands to be heard.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Edited skillfully by LaPlante (a member of Alcott’s family tree), this thoroughly engaging collection of Abigail May Alcott’s warm and lively writings, primarily drawn from her journals and letters, show her to be a witty, eloquent, thoughtful, and captivating writer and correspondent. Born into a prominent Boston family, thirsty for an education, and engaged by the social topics of her time (including abolition and women’s rights), Abigail soon found herself in a troubled marriage to utopian thinker Bronson Alcott. The trials of her married life—especially their financial woes—make appearances, as does the joy she took in her daughters and extended family, her strength of character, and a glimpse of sly humor (“I wish women displayed more brains and less jewelry”). Most fascinating are the excerpts from Abigail’s reports as a welfare worker in Boston; her desire to provide work and just wages for the poor along with relief ring a startlingly contemporary bell. Though one could certainly read this volume on its own, LaPlante’s companion biography, Marmee & Louisa (pubbing simultaneously) will undoubtedly help to fill in gaps. And although some of Abigail’s correspondence was destroyed or altered by family members, one hopes that further volumes of her extant work might one day be released to shed even further light on this remarkable woman. (Nov.)
Booklist
“Eye-opening and vibrant. . . .Abigail is resilient, loyal, ‘theatrical, poignant, passionate, and often satirical,’ devoted to liberty and Louisa’s literary efforts. Sleuth and scholar LaPlante has immeasurably enriched American letters by reclaiming ‘an American writer and thinker who has for too long been ignored.”
The Seattle Times
“Vibrant... Many of [Abigail’s] reflections and worries and prayers ring as sonorously today as when Abigail wrote them nearly two centuries ago: how to find one’s voice, how to live true to one’s ideals, how to engage with life’s problems... and how to raise the next generation.”
NPR Fresh Air
Abigail was a tart observer, especially of gender inequalities... Throughout her journals, Abigail is charmingly blunt, confessing, among other things, her ‘disrelish of cooking’ and her ‘enjoyment’ of her separations from her husband.
Maureen Corrigan
NPR "Fresh Air" - Maureen Corrigan
“Abigail was a tart observer, especially of gender inequalities... Throughout her journals, Abigail is charmingly blunt, confessing, among other things, her ‘disrelish of cooking’ and her ‘enjoyment’ of her separations from her husband.”
From the Publisher
"One of the top 25 books of 2012."

“[A] revealing collection… Abigail’s diaries and letters disclose an intelligent, self-sacrificing, tender woman whose moral conviction and strong character kept her engaged in social issues… A compelling documentary portrait of the real Marmee, whose life provided the impetus for Little Women and who emerges here as a noteworthy woman in her own right.”

“Fascinating... This thoroughly engaging collection of Abigail May Alcott’s warm and lively writings... shows her to be a witty, eloquent, thoughtful, and captivating writer... Her desire to provide work and just wages for the poor... ring[s] a startlingly contemporary bell. Though one could certainly read this volume on its own, LaPlante’s companion biography, Marmee & Louisa, will undoubtedly help to fill in gaps... One hopes that further volumes of [Abigail’s] extant work might one day be released to shed even further light on this remarkable woman.”

“Eye-opening and vibrant. . . .Abigail is resilient, loyal, ‘theatrical, poignant, passionate, and often satirical,’ devoted to liberty and Louisa’s literary efforts. Sleuth and scholar LaPlante has immeasurably enriched American letters by reclaiming ‘an American writer and thinker who has for too long been ignored.”

“Vibrant... Many of [Abigail’s] reflections and worries and prayers ring as sonorously today as when Abigail wrote them nearly two centuries ago: how to find one’s voice, how to live true to one’s ideals, how to engage with life’s problems... and how to raise the next generation.”

“Abigail was a tart observer, especially of gender inequalities... Throughout her journals, Abigail is charmingly blunt, confessing, among other things, her ‘disrelish of cooking’ and her ‘enjoyment’ of her separations from her husband.”

Kirkus Reviews
This revealing collection of Abigail May Alcott's writings provides previously unknown details of the life of a 19th-century daughter, sister, wife and mother who associated with transcendental luminaries, suppressed her own dreams to provide for her family, inspired her famous daughter Louisa, and remained an ardent reformer for abolition and women's rights. Until now, little has been known of Abigail's life, since many of her private papers were destroyed after her death. While writing the dual biography, Marmee & Louisa (2012), LaPlante uncovered surviving, untapped pages of Abigail's journals and letters in archival and private collections, as well as a newly discovered cache of letters detailing May and Alcott family life from the 1830s to the 1870s. In compiling, editing and annotating a sampling of these private letters, poems, journal entries, miscellaneous papers, recipes and remedies, LaPlante, a descendant of the May family, sought to convey the spirit of Abigail's writings. Organized chronologically, the writings are grouped by early years, courtship and marriage, motherhood, early middle life, employment, late middle age and old age. They trace Abigail's evolution from a sickly, youngest child of seven, to a serious young scholar eschewing marriage, to a struggling wife and mother forced to support her family for decades, to a middle-age social worker and early advocate of women's suffrage, to an aging grandmother. Abigail's diaries and letters disclose an intelligent, self-sacrificing, tender woman whose moral conviction and strong character kept her engaged in social issues despite her tragic marriage. Each document includes the date and place of composition as well as footnotes for references unfamiliar to contemporary readers. Helpful annotations and a chronology provide further contextual detail. A compelling documentary portrait of the real Marmee, whose life provided the impetus for Little Women and who emerges here as a noteworthy woman in her own right.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781476702803
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 11/6/2012
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 700,054
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 7.36 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Meet the Author

Eve LaPlante is a great niece and a first cousin of Abigail and Louisa May Alcott. She is the author of Seized, American Jezebel, and Salem Witch Judge, which won the 2008 Massachusetts Book Award for Nonfiction. She is also the editor of My Heart Is Boundless the first collection of Abigail May Alcott’s private papers. She lives with her family in New England.

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Table of Contents

Introduction xi

Early Years 1

Courtship and Marriage 17

Motherhood 37

Early Middle Age 95

Employment 151

Late Middle Age 205

Old Age

Recipes and Remedies 227

Chronology 231

Acknowledgments and Sources 239

Index 243

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