Lives of Louisa May Alcott and her family the subject of recent books

  • Posted: Sunday, March 24, 2013 12:01 a.m.

SALISBURY — Children reading about the March family in Louisa May Alcott’s novel “Little Women” are also learning about Louisa’s own Alcott family during the Civil War and life in New England. Older readers can revisit the March/Alcott family in several recently published books focusing on the relationship of Louisa and her parents, and intellectual life in 19th-century America.

Eve LaPlante is the author of “Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother,” and of a companion volume, “My Heart is Boundless: Writings of Abigail May Alcott, Louisa’s Mother.”


LaPlante is a great-niece of Abigail and a first cousin of Louisa. The discovery in a trunk of a cache of letters and journals (supposedly burned) written by Abigail led to a series of discoveries in scattered archival collections, which provided a window into Louisa May Alcott’s portrait of her family.

It seems that Louisa’s childhood was much harsher than that of the March family in “Little Women.” Bronson Alcott was a brilliant, outspoken idealist, but as a husband and father, he fell short. The marriage was marked by conflict, long absences and a refusal to work for money. Divorce was discussed.

Abigail filled in for her absent husband and supported the family by becoming a social worker and an employment agent. She encouraged a very young Louisa to write and shared her own girlhood journals with her daughter. (Abigail had a surprisingly happy life growing up.) Abigail was confidant of her child’s talent; Bronson was troubled by the “darker temperament” Louisa shared with his wife.

LaPlante concludes Louisa incorporated her mother’s younger, happier life into “Little Women,” into the portrait of Jo. Louisa saved her own girlhood troubles for her later, more adult novels.

Two other books focus on Louisa and her father and their close circle of friends. “Eden’s Outcasts,” by John Matteson, tells the story of Bronson Alcott and Louisa, of their father-daughter relationship and as adults, living lives inspired by ideas of writing and reform.

Bronson’s utopian ventures failed but the Alcott family’s living drama was turned into Louisa’s literary success with the publication of “Little Women.” And, to his credit, Bronson finally appreciated his daughter. For her part, she was steadfast through his stroke and life as an invalid.

“The Concord Quartet: Alcott, Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, and the Friendship That Freed the American Mind,” by Samuel A. Schreiner, recreates the drama of the four men’s lives. It’s the story of “friendship in action”: of shared everyday life and a powerful philosophical conviction that “the soul had inherent power to grasp the truth” and that “the truth would make men free.”

Children’s Storytime: Weekly through April 26. For more information. call 704-216-8234.

Headquarters — Tuesdays, 10:30 a.m., Toddler Time (18- to 35-month-olds); Wednesday, 11 a.m., Baby Time (6- to 23-month-olds); Thursday, 10:30 a.m., Preschool Time (3- to 5-year-olds); Thursday, 4 p.m., Noodlehead (4- to 8-years-olds.)

South — Monday, 4 p.m., Noodlehead; Tuesday, 10:30 a.m., Baby Time; 1:30 p.m., Preschool Time; Wednesday, 10:30 a.m., Toddler Time.

East — Monday, 10 a.m., Baby Time; Monday, 11 a.m., Toddler Time; Wednesday, 10:30 a.m., Preschool Time.

Children’s art in the afternoon: Headquarters, Thursdays, 4:30 p.m., grades kindergarten-five. Join Miss Jennifer to learn basic art techniques such as printing, sculpting and painting using various art mediums. Call 704-216-8234 for more information.

Teens tech week: All 5:30-7 p.m. East, Momday; headquarters, Tuesday. Check in at the library and explore digital devices such as Kindles, Nooks and iPads. Open to all middle and high school students. For more information call 704-216-8234.

Book Bites Club: South (only), Tuesday, 6:30 p.m., “Winter Garden” by Kristin Hannah. Book discussion groups for adults and children meet the last Tuesday of each month. The group is open to the public and anyone is free to join at any time. There is a discussion of the book, as well as light refreshments at each meeting. For more information, please call 704-216-8229.

Library closings: March 29-30, all locations closed for Easter. Regular hours resume Monday, April 1.

Displays for March: headquarters, log cabins by North Hills Christian School; South, pen and jewelry by Fred Lorenzo; East, gems and artifacts by Sonia Neville.

Literacy: Call the Rowan County Literacy Council at 704-216-8266 for more information on teaching or receiving literacy tutoring for English speakers or for those for whom English is a second language.

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