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e_moon60

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Louisa May Alcott [Dec. 29th, 2009|10:15 am]
e_moon60
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Watched a PBS "American Masters" show on Louisa May Alcott last night.   Humbling, to the 20th and 21st century writer.   The poverty, the kinds of work available to women of that era...laundry, sewing, heavy housework in someone else's house, being a "companion" (if you were lucky.)   The total inability of her father to do anything useful...while still of course eating (and having to be cooked for, clothed, and cleaned up after.)   It's likely she was not getting adequate food for much of her young life, unlike her mother who had been brought up in a stable and well-to-do family.  Her stint as a nurse in a Civil War hospital, and the typhoid fever...a major killer until people finally figured out how to provide safe water supplies. 


She wrote everything by hand, of course.  Not even a typewriter.  All longhand, all in ink.  
Incredible amount of work...true of all writers in that era, of course.   She wrote enough, fast enough, to support her family and even, later, provide them a degree of opulence.  No wonder she had periodic breakdowns and finally died at 56--early for a woman who was never pregnant.  (Pregnancy and childbirth were the main cause of early death in women; childbed fever killed one of her sisters.)   Her mother lived to age 77; her  father lived to be almost 90 (dying just a few days before Louisa did.)   

I remember getting Little Women as a birthday present one year...though at the time I wasn't planning to be a writer, I certainly admired Jo more than the others.   I was already trying to write stories (but didn't think it could ever make a living for me.)    Irony strikes...yes, it can, if you go at it the way Louisa did (and I finally did) with complete concentration and determination.   I spent too much time in those books being furious with the Aunt March sorts of characters and not enough noticing Jo's work habits.  
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[User Picture]From: melissajm
2009-12-29 07:36 pm (UTC)
I've always found LMA fascinating. I'm going to see if I can find that show. Does it say what happened to her niece?
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-29 08:06 pm (UTC)
No, it didn't tell more about Lulu. I was struck by a semi-resemblance to the Bronte family...poverty, isolation, a not-really-competent father figure, sisters thrown on their own resources for amusement. No brother, though, thank goodness. And for whatever reason, Louisa--though a tough old gal--was able to write some things less dismal and depressing than Charlotte.

The timing's all wrong, of course, but I wonder what the Estimable Jane would have made of Louisa...what might have happened if they'd met, if they'd lived near one another...

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[User Picture]From: melissajm
2009-12-29 10:04 pm (UTC)
Although Louisa's situation always seemed less grim to me, maybe because of her own sense of humor about it.
I was shocked when I found out that she really didn't like writing her girl's books all that much, and preferred to write thrillers. The end of "Jo's Boys" felt like. "And that's what happened to everyone. Happy now? Whew, that's done. Could I write something else now, PLEASE?"

I haven't been able to find the show, so I'm listening to the Little Women musical soundtrack as consolation.
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[User Picture]From: filkferengi
2010-01-04 04:35 am (UTC)
Helen Reisen, the author of the book on which the show was based, gave a talk on BookTv on C-Span 2-3 weeks ago, in which she said that Lulu lived to be nearly 90. A previous Alcott biographer had been able to interview Lulu in a nursing home or similar place.
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[User Picture]From: msminlr
2009-12-29 11:22 pm (UTC)
I was more frustrated with the boys in "Little Men" and "Jo's Boys".
No guys that age that *I* knew were that polite!

And that crap about "bad boy Dan" not being worthy to court Amy's daughter...
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From: mmegaera
2009-12-30 01:26 am (UTC)
I watched that last night, too. I am still firmly convinced that there's a dissertation or at least an article in the study of families of girls in literature (the Marches, the Bennetts, the Ingallses, among others). The resemblances are rather astonishing, even compared to my own family (I'm an Amy).

But, yes, her life was incredibly hard, and incredibly hardworking, and tragic in a lot of ways. And she accomplished far more than I'm ever likely to. And I need to reread Little Women, and perhaps find a biography to fill in the gaps the documentary left.
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[User Picture]From: filkferengi
2010-01-04 04:37 am (UTC)
You might try _Invincible Louisa_ by Cornelia Meigs, if you haven't read it already. It's written for YA & is a bit old, but it won the Newbery in its day & is an engaging read.

Also, Helen Reisen wrote a biography based on the PBS film, called _Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women_.
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From: mmegaera
2010-01-04 05:04 am (UTC)
I read Invincible Louisa as a kid [g].

I found Riesen's book at the library and put it on hold (PBS is popular in this neck of the woods -- several other people had beaten me to it).
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From: 6_penny
2009-12-30 03:51 am (UTC)
I got to Fruitlands ( the site of the transcendental commune that Bronson and his fellow philosophers experimented with) a few years ago. A tiny house, at the base of a very long, exceptionally steep hill. In the clothes and shoes that women were imprisoned in in that era that hill must have been sheer misery - in case the philosophizing non farmer males weren't a sufficient burden. And at that time the 'road' downhill to the house had to have been dirt.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-30 04:16 am (UTC)
I wonder if Bronson Alcott hadn't fallen in with whats-his-name the English theorist, if he would have gone quite so far over the edge. According to the program I saw, no one at Fruitlands had farming experience. But maybe it was losing his school.

Emerson and Thoreau both befriended the family (and Louisa); Emerson had a very strong practical streak. I naturally (being female) question why it was Louisa who had to go out and do hard physical work to bring in some money rather than her father. In Little Women, it's Mr. March who goes off to the Civil War...in real life, it was Louisa.
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[User Picture]From: emma_in_oz
2009-12-30 05:21 am (UTC)
Bronson seems to have been a complete loser. After failing to feed his children at Fruitlands he apparently spent the rest of his life in the study producing books taht are now unread while the women in his house did all the work and also churned out the stories which brought int he money.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-30 05:29 am (UTC)
It's certainly true that after Fruitlands he appears to have accomplished damn-all...but before that he wasn't so bad. It's true his school failed when he started teaching the details of reproduction and insisted on including an African-American child...but at least until that point he was working and his school had been succeeding.

In the program I saw, a combination of the failure of the school and the English theorist (whose name escapes me and I'm too lazy to look it up) seems to have made a change in his attitude. The English guy was very anti-family, and tried to get Bronson to aim at a more Shaker approach.



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