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Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography

Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography

by Susan Cheever

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Louisa May Alcott never intended to write Little Women. She had dismissed her publisher’s pleas for such a novel. Written out of necessity to support her family, the book had an astounding success that changed her life, a life which turned out very differently from that of her beloved heroine Jo March.

In Louisa May Alcott, <


Louisa May Alcott never intended to write Little Women. She had dismissed her publisher’s pleas for such a novel. Written out of necessity to support her family, the book had an astounding success that changed her life, a life which turned out very differently from that of her beloved heroine Jo March.

In Louisa May Alcott, Susan Cheever, the acclaimed author of American Bloomsbury, returns to Concord, Massachusetts, to explore the life of one of its most iconic residents. Based on extensive research, journals, and correspondence, Cheever’s biography chronicles all aspects of Alcott’s life, from the fateful meeting of her parents to her death, just two days after that of her father. She details Bronson Alcott’s stalwart educational vision, which led the Alcotts to relocate each time his progressive teaching went sour; her unsuccessful early attempts at serious literature, including Moods, which Henry James panned; her time as a Civil War nurse, when she contracted pneumonia and was treated with mercury-laden calomel, which would affect her health for the rest of her life; and her vibrant intellectual circle of writers and reformers, idealists who led the charge in support of antislavery, temperance, and women’s rights.

Alcott’s independence defied the conventional wisdom, and her personal choices and literary legacy continue to inspire generations of women. A fan of Little Women from the age of twelve, and a distinguished author in her own right, Cheever brings a unique perspective to Louisa May Alcott’s life as a woman, a daughter, and a working writer.

Editorial Reviews

Elaine Showalter
Cheever writes insightfully about Alcott's evolution as a writer and her struggles as a dutiful literary daughter.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Little Women was the idea of Alcott's publisher, who bullied her into writing it. Louisa may, Cheever speculates, have taken revenge on Bronson Alcott--a friend of the great Transcendentalists, but an irresponsible and browbeating father--by leaving him out of her semiautobiographical masterpiece. A revolutionary educator whose uncompromising high-mindedness made him a financial failure, Bronson was critical of and often punished the rebellious Louisa. But his close friendships with men like Emerson and Thoreau blessed Louisa with a unique circle of mentors, whom Cheever depicted in American Bloomsbury. Alcott gradually lost everyone dear to her: her beloved sister Lizzie died at 22, and her sister Anna's marriage felt like a betrayal. Struggling so hard for wealth and fame that when it came she was too ill and weary to enjoy it, Louisa never married and died two days after Bronson. Cheever laces this provocative biography with musings on the genesis of genius, and her identification with Jo March when she was a rebellious girl in the throes of puberty. While some may find Cheever's digressions and self-referencing grating, most will savor this work--surely a future book club staple--as keen, refreshing, and authoritative. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Nov.)
Library Journal
In this thorough personal biography, Cheever (American Bloomsbury) draws on primary sources along with existing Louisa May Alcott studies to put the American novelist's life into historical context, also sharing some striking revelations, hinting, e.g., that Alcott's father, Bronson, may have sexually abused his daughters. Actress/Audie Award nominee Tavia Gilbert's steady voice tells this tale of hard choices with complexity and feeling. While the work is complete and profound, its proliferation of details and digressions sometimes bogs it down. Further, Cheever devotes nearly half the book to Bronson, essentially casting her book's subject to the sidelines. Recommended for fans of existing Alcott bios as well as for those who liked Kelly O'Connor McNees's historical novel The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott. [The S. & S. hc was "highly recommended" as "an important addition to Alcott scholarship," LJ 9/1/10.—Ed.]—Terry Ann Lawler, Phoenix P.L.
From the Publisher
"Lively and astute." ---Kirkus
Kirkus Reviews

Contextual study of Louisa May Alcott's life (1832–1888) and work, from her childhoodamong such writers as Emerson, Fuller and Hawthorne,to the astounding literary career that afforded her a feminist independence of spirit even as she remained a caregiver to her family.

In this new biography, Cheever (MFA Program/Bennington Coll; Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction, 2008, etc.) presents an insightful narrative of Alcott's life and how her experiences informed, but didn't dictate, her fiction. Raised in the culturally rich and progressive community of Concord, Mass., Alcott was an inquisitive and rebellious child who adored her three sisters and idolized her famous literary neighbors, particularly Emerson, who frequently played the role of benefactor to the often destitute family. Alcott's father was a hopelessly impractical academic and a domineering patriarch; she had a contentious relationship with him for most of her life and famously wrote him out of her classic, Little Women (1868). Despite these hardships,Alcottdreamed ofbecoming a writer. Amid the outbreak of the Civil War and her youngest sister's tragic death, Alcott wrote copious journal entries, poems and stories; at age 19 she published her first poem. Twelve years later, she joined the Union Army as a nurse in Washington, and the grisly, poignantexperience catapulted her into adulthood and was integral to the development of her mature prose. She published a collection of letters she wrote while on duty to great acclaim and returned to Concord a rising literary star. Within five years she would writeLittle Womenand become one of the most celebrated authors of her time, providing young girls with a novel distinguished by relatable story lines and characters, one that armed generations of readers with a sense of what is possible for women. Alcott was able to exemplify her belief that an unmarried woman could be intelligent, successful and, perhaps more importantly, happy. Throughout the narrative, Cheeverallows Alcott's complex humanity to reveal itself slowly, drawing the reader into her iconic life.

Lively and astute.

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
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8.42(w) x 5.56(h) x 0.81(d)

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Lively and astute." —-Kirkus

Meet the Author

Susan Cheever is the author of numerous works, including My Name is Bill, Home Before Dark, and Treetops. She is the director of the Yaddo Corporation. She has received several awards, including the Associated Press Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Susan lives in New York City.

Audie Award finalist Tavia Gilbert is a classical theater and public radio-trained actress who has earned AudioFile Earphones and Parents' Choice awards for her audiobook narrations. Tavia has narrated more than 250 multicast and single-voice audiobooks.

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