Louisa May Alcott grew up surrounded by some of the most influential people in American philosophy and literature, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Elizabeth Peabody, and of course, her father Bronson Alcott. Her mother, Abby May Alcott, of a prominent Bostonian family, worked for emancipation, woman’s suffrage, and other social reforms. Even though she is surrounded by great minds and rich cousins, Louisa grew up in a family with a pretty dire financial situation. Her father owed a number of people money (including neighbors and relatives) and most of his own ventures, including a commune and a number of schools, failed miserably.
In Harriet Reisen’s biography Louisa May Alcott: the woman behind Little Women, we see Louisa strive to move her family out of poverty, pay back the loans, and elevate her family’s situation. The fear of debt pushed Alcott to write, even though a number of editors told her not to bother. But she started making her own money with adventure and romance tales.
In Reisen’s biography, we are provided a glimpse into the life that influenced many of Louisa’s books. To some degree, all of Louisa’s works contained autobiographical content. Some her romance novels contained characters based on people in Concord. Little Women, Work, An Old Fashioned Girl, and Under the Lilacs all contain storylines from her own life. I appreciated Reisen’s connections to Louisa’s works when describing particular situations and people.
It was an interesting read and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys biographies or Alcott’s books.