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A vivid, energetic account of the life of Louisa May Alcott, whose work has delighted millions of readersLouisa May Alcott portrays a writer as worthy of interest in her own right as her most famous character, Jo March, and addresses all aspects of Alcott’s life: the effect of her father’s self-indulgent utopian schemes; her family’s chronic economic difficulties and frequA vivid, energetic account of the life of Louisa May Alcott, whose work has delighted millions of readersLouisa May Alcott portrays a writer as worthy of interest in her own right as her most famous character, Jo March, and addresses all aspects of Alcott’s life: the effect of her father’s self-indulgent utopian schemes; her family’s chronic economic difficulties and frequent uprootings; her experience as a nurse in the Civil War; the loss of her health and frequent recourse to opiates in search of relief from migraines, insomnia, and symptomatic pain. Stories and details culled from Alcott’s journals; her equally rich letters to family, friends, publishers, and admiring readers; and the correspondence, journals, and recollections of her family, friends, and famous contemporaries provide the basis for this lively account of the author’s classic rags-to-riches tale.Alcott would become the equivalent of a multimillionaire in her lifetime based on the astounding sales of her books, leaving contemporaries like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Henry James in the dust. This biography explores Alcott’s life in the context of her works, all of which are to some extent autobiographical. A fresh, modern take on this remarkable and prolific writer, who secretly authored pulp fiction, harbored radical abolitionist views, and completed heroic service as a Civil War nurse, Louisa May Alcott is in the end also the story of how the all-time beloved American classic Little Women came to be. This revelatory portrait will present the popular author as she was and as she has never been seen before....

Title : Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women
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ISBN : 9780805082999
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 363 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women Reviews

  • Barbara
    2019-03-25 16:34

    Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Woman is a very detailed biography of Louisa May Alcott, in addition to a history of an incredibly interesting time in America.While reading this book I felt as though I was transported back to the New England of the 19th Century. Harriet Reisen's descriptions of LMA, her parents, sisters, and many of their relatives and friends were just fascinating, especially the Alcott family's involvement in the Transcendentalist Movement and abolitionism. Louisa and her family were very good friends with some of the most intellectual men and women of their time, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller, among others. I have always thought of Emerson and Thoreau as "larger than life" figures, and this book has given me a much better understanding of these two great men, and made them more accessible to me. The first 100 pages (or so) of this book were focused on Louisa's parents, Bronson and Abigail, and on Louisa's childhood. Bronson Alcott was never able to provide financial support for his wife and four daughters and they lived in extreme poverty, continually depending on hand-outs from their relatives and friends, until Louisa eventually became the "bread-winner" of the family. Reading about LMA's childhood was quite depressing for me at times. The meals of raw apples, bread, and water, and continuously moving from one broken down home to another was disturbing to read about, although I do understand the tremendous influence her childhood years had on her writing. I personally preferred the latter part of the book which focused on Louisa as an adult.Throughout the book, Ms. Reisen incorporates many, many journal entries and poetry of LMA, which brings LMA very much to life. Prior to reading this biography I was unaware of the tremendous amount of books, stories and poetry written by Louisa May Alcott. I am looking forward to finding and reading copies of Little Men, Moods, and Flower Fables.I have not read Little Women since I was a child, and this book has inspired me pick up a copy and reread it. I was very interested to discover that the German professor whom Jo March marries was somewhat based on Goethe. LMA was very inspired by the writings of Goethe, especially his Correspondence With a Child, which she first discovered in Emerson's library.Louisa's youngest sister, May, was an artist. I enjoyed reading about her time in Europe, and I am very interested in seeing some of her paintings.I thought this was a great biography of an incredibly interesting and important woman. I would recommend this not only to fans of Louisa May Alcott, but to anyone who is interested in learning more about American (and especially New England) life in the 19th Century.I was a Goodreads "First Reads" winner of this book, and I would like to thank the publisher, Picador, for sending this book to me so quickly, and I also would like to thank Goodreads for selecting me as a winner of this great book!! With the holidays coming up, I plan on purchasing this book as a gift for some of my friends!! It's a great read!

  • Jennifer (JC-S)
    2019-03-13 12:14

    ‘The Woman behind Little Women’This is a well written and enjoyable biography of Louisa May Alcott. By providing a chronological account of the lives of the Alcott’s, it is much easier to appreciate both the times in which they lived and the influences that shaped their lives.The first part of the book focuses mainly on Louisa’s parents Abigail May and Bronson Alcott and their friends. As their friends included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne this is both interesting and relevant. The focus on Louisa herself depicts a complex person for whom writing was both a release and a burden. She was the second daughter in a family that suffered economic difficulties as a consequence of her father’s idealistic and utopian schemes. I found this an absorbing read, and I learned a great deal about Louisa May Alcott, her family and her writing. I did not know, until I read this book, that Miss Alcott had written adult novels (thrillers) as well as her children’s fiction. I also did not know that the sales of her books had eclipsed Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Herman Melville.Two things jarred in what was otherwise an excellent and informative book. Firstly, the absence of photographs: I like to see images of those I read about. Secondly, I was thrown by the incorrect allocation of Meg’s twins (Daisy and Demi) to Jo. It has been over forty years since I read ‘Little Women’ and ‘Little Men’ but parentage of the twins is a detail fixed in my mind.Overall, this book is worth reading if you are interested in the life, times and writings of Louisa May Alcott. Jennifer Cameron-Smith

  • Ann
    2019-03-02 14:21

    This is an engaging, easy to read book about Louisa May Alcott. I am not in a position to judge the author's scholarship, but I found it a fascinating entry into the world of not only the Transcendentalists but also Boston's upper crust in the 19th century. I have two critiques of the book.1. No pictures ! Not a single photograph, portrait, reproduction of a letter, nothing! Would it have been so hard to add a copy of George Healy's famous portrait of LMA? There is a reference to this portrait as showing the butterfly rash typical of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, which may have been the cause of LMA's chronic health troubles and fatal stroke. By the way, the cover picture (a truncated back view of a woman in a white gown wearing a red ribbon in her loose ponytail) was a total turnoff for me. It looks like it belongs on the chick lit shelf.2. Not enough exploration of the ideas and philosophies of the 19th century. While I know a great deal more about the domestic upheavals and financial tribulations of the Alcott family, I don't feel better informed about Transcendentalism, Fourierism, the educational theories of Frobel and other great thought movements of the day. I think that a few carefully written paragraphs, or even a succint footnote, inserted whenever one of these philosophies was introduced into the narrative, would made the book stronger. Bottom line : a good introduction to the life of Louisa May Alcott, perhaps a little "biography-lite", but enjoyable nevertheless

  • The Library Lady
    2019-03-16 16:10

    Reisen seems to believe that she has something new to say about Alcott, but aside from a few quotes I haven't read before, there is little her that hasn't been told and told more movingly by other Alcott biographers of recent times.Moreover, if Reisen did so much research for the excellent documentary she did for American Masters and for this book, why does she make so many niggling errors about the books.Here are three whoppers:1)In "Little Men" she says that JO has twins,Daisy and Demi who are Meg's kids. Jo's are Robby and Teddy and there is no mention of them.2)"An Old Fashioned Girl"--Polly is NOT related to the Shaws "they got acquainted while Fanny paid a visit to a friend who lived near Polly" and her surname is Milton NOT Minton!3)"Jack and Jill"--aside from asserting that the story is dark and gloomy--and it's not--she maintains that the book ends with the death of "Ed Devens". Not only is that wrong, wrong, WRONG--the book is nowhere near over at this point--but she has gotten the character's name mixed up with the name of the real boy Alcott based him on--Ellsworth Devens.Reisen's documentary brought Louisa vividly to life. It's a pity her book doesn't do the same, and that there are errors in it that any Alcottophile will catch.

  • Carol
    2019-02-23 15:14

    Just reading about Louisa May Alcott made me tired. I would have to say that she was truly a devoted person to her family, friends, and to herself. With regards to her writing, she set her goals and completely finished them on time. Her father Bronson Alcott, born in Connecticut in 1799, was (to say the least) a self-centered, odd individual. Bronson was raised on a farm, and decided to be a vegan because he believed that animals should not be oppressed, and that killing them for any purpose is an act of violence. He knew that the flesh of dead animals is not fit food for human beings. Vegan foods, especially fruits, were human beings first food, established in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. He was the oldest of 8 children, had little schooling, was allowed to to explore religions, he worked as a traveling peddler until he turned to teaching in Cheshire, CT using a new method of conversation instead of traditional methods. He married Abby May Alcott who came from prominent families (Sewall and Quincy) and was an activist for many causes, and always there for others when help was needed. She was educated at home as a child, and very like Marmee in Little Women. I thought she was an interesting individual, I would love to read a biography on her!She married Bronson for love, but he never really showed his feelings for her. She ran the house and imbued strong values in her four daughters. In the beginning of their marriage, her father loaned them money many times. Bronson never thought twice to repay him. He always relying on "God's Province." Finally her father refused to finance their life which forced Abby to go out and take on odd jobs to get them through. Many times there was no food --their meals consisted of bread, fruit and water. Louisa remembers that in her youth how hungry she was and how she was so filled with rage at times. She was a "tom-boy" and her mother tried to help her control her emotions.I loved reading about their lives and how they persevered during the tough times. I thought it odd that poor Louisa was the one who literally supported her parents and siblings. She was always writing and sometimes overdid to the detriment to her health. She also wrote poems, short stories, thrillers, and juvenile tales under the pen name of A.M. Barnard. Some were even made into plays. But it was her account of her Civil War experiences, Hospital Sketches, that confirmed her desire to be a serious writer. She began to publish stories under her real name in Atlantic Monthly and Lady's Companion, and took a brief trip to Europe in 1865 before becoming editor of a girls' magazine, Merry's Museum. The great success of Little Women gave Louisa financial independence and created a demand for more books. Over the final years of her life, she turned out a steady stream of novels and short stories, mostly for young people and drawn directly from her family life. Her other books include Little Men, Eight Cousins, and Jo's Boys. Alcott also tried her hand at adult novels, such as Work, and A Modern Mephistopheles, but these tales were not as popular as her other writings. Louisa financially supported her sister Abby May (artist) so that she would be able to paint with Mary Cassatt (where she also met Degas, Pissarro). Abby also was accepted into the Paris Salon for one of her paintings. Abby married and had a baby girl named Lulu (nickname for Louisa). Unfortunately Abby died after giving birth and she willed that Louisa take custody of Lulu (which her husband agreed to.) But what I found MOST SURPRISING was when she volunteered at the hospital during the Civil War, that I believed that her poor heath and death was the result of mercury poisoning. But Drs. Hirschorn and Greaves came up with 2 theories -- either unrelated chronic illness or one multi systemic disease -- an autoimmune disease such as syphilis or lupus. They discarded syphilis but need confirmation regarding the Lupus. In Rome in 1870, Louisa had sat for a painting by George Healy. After Dr. Hirschhorn saw the painting, he immediately analyzed "the curious effect as a rash sharply demarcated over the upper checks and across the bridge of the nose." Often triggered by sunlight, the butterfly rash can easily be mistaken for sunburn and fades the same way." Healy had depicted precisely, not knowing or caring what it signified. Bronson died the day before Louisa died which is strange since they were both born on the same month/day. There is so much in these 344 pages that I cannot tell you everything that is here. I recommend that you read the book, I truly enjoyed it.FYI -- I read that someone who reviewed this book made a comment on the lack of photos (none). Just an FYI -- many historical societies have the photos that would be great in a book, unfortunately there is a cost to use the photo. Where I live, it is $100 per photo, which for a new author can be a huge expense.

  • Judy
    2019-03-17 14:19

    After a slow start, this biography of Louisa May Alcott became great. Her early life was comparable to the childhoods of hippie kids from the 1960s and 1970s. The family moved constantly, were always broke and in debt to friends and extended family. Mr Alcott was a dreamer, impractical and chronically unable to make a living. He started several schools but they all failed as the Puritan families of the day found his methods much too progressive. Alcott's educational ideas reminded me of Summerhill by A S Neill and the ideas I had about schools back in my twenties. Harriet Reisen clearly loved her subject. Her excellent research and wonderful writing brought Louisa May to life for me. She was an intrepid woman and determined to take on the role of providing for her family through her writing. She wrote in many genres before Little Women, lurid sensational tales for magazines, as she trained herself to write for money. But it was Little Women that made her famous and rich. The second half of the book flew by like a pageturner. Louisa's conflicts between caring for her parents and sisters while craving personal freedom touched me deeply. Though she never married, she had all the responsibilities of a mother, wife, sister and breadwinner without the passion or love of a man. Reisen describes her relationships with Emerson, Thoreau and many of the Transcendentalists, but the relationship with her mother was the most interesting to me. This is truly a woman's book for strong, independent, artistic women. It will hold up as a definitive biography of the woman who gave me one of my favorite childhood books.

  • Kimberly
    2019-03-21 12:10

    Harriet Reisen has written an excellent biography that was on Wall Street Journal's Ten Best Books of 2009. Louisa May Alcott was part of the American Bloomsbury group that included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller and Nathaniel Hawthorne. She also grew up knowing Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes (what is it with these middle names?), and Henry James and other famous writers, poets, and artists. Louisa was tremendously loyal to her family working hard to earn enough money to help the family and pay off her parent's debts. Paying their debts was the motivation to produce the short stories, plays, novels, and magazine articles. Her Father, Bronson Alcott, was a teacher and lecturer who was close friends with Emerson and Thoreau. They thought he was a genius but he couldn't make a nickel with all of his forward thinking ideas so the Alcott family was forever seeking help from others.The mid to late 1800's was a grand time in America for artists and writers. Creativity abounded and it was great fun to read about Louisa and the famous people she knew well. Apparently there is a PBS Documentary based on this book so I need to track it down and take a look. Drats, it is not on Netflix!

  • Suzanne
    2019-03-16 13:11

    Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women is a lovingly crafted, meticulously researched biography by Harriett Reisen. I received my copy from a GoodReads First Reads drawing. As a Little Women fan from childhood, I was thrilled to receive the book and was not disappointed. I learned a great deal about Louisa and was surprised to find that much of Little Women was taken from people and experiences in her own life, although highly idealized. My only complaint with this book is that it dwelt on her shiftless father and delusional mother entirely too much. I realize that a backstory is necessary to understanding the personality and motivations of the main character, but, to me, Ms. Reisen went overboard. In the first several chapters, covering Louisa's early years, she is mentioned only briefly, while much is made of her father's grandiose ideals and failed business ventures. Despite this, the book is a must-read for any true Louisa fan. Have your copy of Little Women handy- you'll want to re-read it immediately!

  • Leslie Goddard
    2019-03-06 18:31

    The best thing about this book is how readable it is. Reisen doesn't try to puff up her credibility with stilted academ-ese and that is a great relief for any non-academic reader. She does a nice, clear, clean job explaining complicated issues such as how to translate a certain sum of money in the 1860s-1870s to its modern-day equivalent. And there is some terrific new stuff here, especially from the notes for interviews done with Alcott's niece Lulu describing the unfortunate grab for money by Lulu's father after Alcott's death. I don't recall ever learning that before -- so sad!I wasn't always convinced, though, by some of Reisen's arguments. She argues that Mr. March in Little Women was sent away to war because it was necessary to his daughters' growth and to not do that was "narratively impossible." I'm not convinced -- after all, he does return and then is effectively kept out of the story by sending him into his study (as if often done with fathers in coming-of-age stories about girls such as Pride and Prejudice). And, as is pointed out in The Annotated Little Women, Bronson Alcott was quite famous -- he might have overtaken the story with his eccentricities (or, those eccentricities might have seemed not loveable but worthy of ridicule).I also wasn't always sure if certain points were Reisen's suppositions or something she found in the evidence. Near the end of Alcott's life, she was still writing about taking a "run," which Reisen argues was really a walk (well, OK, yes, she was ill and run-down, but still). She says that the family name "March" in Little Women was a variation on Abba's maiden name "May," but again, I just wasn't sure if that was an educated guess or something we know from an Alcott letter or diary or something (and was Alcott perhaps playing also/instead on the concept of a "march" as in, a long journey???) I tend to agree with Reisen but it would increase her credibility with me if she would clarify what were reasonable assumptions from someone who has done a lot of research -- and what were items drawn from some kind of primary source evidence.Still, I enjoyed this book and would have no trouble recommending it, especially as a first biography for someone who has fallen in love with Little Women and wants to "meet" the author.

  • Michelle
    2019-03-11 17:21

    When I was about ten, my grandmother sent me a copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. The next year, my mom bought me a copy of Eight Cousins, or The Aunt Hill, followed by a mission to the library to find its sequel, Rose in Bloom. All three of those books were certainly fun to read (Rose Campbell's stories), and very moving (Little Women, but it wasn't until a few years later that I became very interested in Louisa May Alcott as an author. That was when I received a copy of A Marble Woman: Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott from the same grandmother who sent me the first of my forays into Alcott.I'm pretty sure she picked it up, saw the author, and sent it without reading it herself. Which is a shame, because while Jo March's dramas as described in Little Women are quite impressive, there's nothing like a deceptive ballerina scheming herself towards a fortune, or a treacherous guardian after his young ward's fortune, not to mention the story the title is taken from, in which a guardian marries his ward, and sculpts her into the shape of a perfect wife. These psychological thrillers were to me far more interesting than the works Alcott was best known for. It's strange then that I never took any time to really look into the life of Louisa May Alcott.Harriet Reisen has, though, in Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women, a comprehensive, well-researched account of Louisa's life from her vegetarian father Bronson, to her artist sister May (or 'Amy' as we may know her from Little Women). I had thought that the big surprise would be Louisa's secret career as a pulp fiction writer, but she was so much more. Louisa was, among other things, an early abolitionist, a woman's suffragist, a Civil War nurse, a second girl (the lowest of the servants in a household), an independent single woman, and the benefactress of her entire family. She was surrounded by literary figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne growing up. As a member of a poor family growing up (from the sounds of it, destitute might have been a more accurate description at times) Louisa dreamed of riches, and was able to achieve this through her writing.Reisen's own writing is very successful. She tells Louisa's story in a manner that any fan of Little Women will feel quite comfortable with. Her deviations into the lives of the other Alcotts are interesting, and add to the narrative. Reisen's book spends a lot of time looking at the effects of Louisa's life in her writing, which can be a slippery proposition in some cases, but seems entirely justified, and very useful under these circumstances (especially since much of Louisa's output came about in the form of slightly fictionalized accounts of her travels and her time as a Civil War nurse). The only thing I could have wished for with this book would be a few pictures, especially those described by Reisen, to have been included somewhere. That's probably just the art history major in me, though.

  • Leeanna
    2019-03-12 12:24

    Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women, by Harriet Reisen"Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women" is a fascinating biography into the life of the author of the classic "Little Women," and also an in-depth look at her family. Reisen provides an extremely complete picture of Louisa's unusual childhood, and how it influenced her later publications. The beginning of the book focuses on her father, Bronson Alcott, an unusual man for his time; he was one of the early Transcendentalists, and counted Emerson and Thoreau among his friends. Bronson focused on philosophy, experimental teaching, and lecturing rather than supporting his family; the Alcotts moved over twenty times while Louisa was a child. Often a wild, unruly child, Louisa had a rocky relationship with her father, but was a mini clone of her mother. It was Abby Alcott, Louisa's mother, who encouraged her to write as a way to express her feelings. Well aware of her family's financial troubles as a child, Louisa's goal as an adult was to fully support her family, while trying to have a measure of independence for herself. Her start in writing came after publishing a book of children's stories, and indeed, her most successful novels would be written for youngsters. But Reisen explains to readers that Louisa wrote thrillers under pseudonyms, and they were rather popular - and likely her preferred format. Louisa would strive all of her adult life to write one great novel that she could be proud of, and never thought "Little Women" was that book, even though it was her biggest cashcow. And with Louisa's drive to earn earn earn, money was often the deciding factor in what she wrote. Louisa is a tragic figure: she spent her entire life being pushed one way or another, feeling obligated to help family and friends at the expense of her own personal life. She literally wore herself out and died at the relatively young age of 55. She took care of her sisters, mother, father, and friends; and even when she was fully supported by her writing, she never really got to enjoy the fruit of her labor. Reisen paints an interesting and educational picture of Louisa's life. While remembered mainly for "Little Women," Louisa was so much more than just a children's author. She was a feminist, an abolitionist, a poet, a Civil War nurse, philanthropist, and so on. I learned so much while reading this book, and not just about Louisa, but also about the Transcendentalists and the Civil War era. And while it could be easy to fall into hero worship, Reisen is careful to point out the flaws in Louisa's character, penning a realistic image. The biography starts out a little slow, but if you give it a chance for a few chapters, I think you'll be pulled into a wonderful tale. Reisen makes use of abundant source material, including many quotes from Louisa's journals and poetry, but weaves them seamlessly into the narrative. I learned a lot, and had an enjoyable time doing so. 4/5.

  • Louise
    2019-03-06 15:19

    Harriet Reisin gives a new rendering of the life of the writer/creator of my most beloved childhood stories. Reisin's book compares favorably with the Pulitzer Prize winning "Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father" in that it has more information and therefore provides a more complete picture.For most bios, a childhood is told in 20-30 pages. Not so, here. Louisa's childhood covers almost 1/3 of the book. Bronson Alcott has been treated well in other accounts, but here you can't help but loathe how his irresponsibility affected his family. The continual poverty, sometimes only apples and bread to eat, is hard to bear. Bronson teaches his family humility, charity, patience, self denial, and it's hard not to see that how manipulative this is in deflecting blame from himself. Bronson has carpentry skills, he's building desks and sheds, he didn't need to be a penniless philosopher.There is more in this book on Abby May Alcott, who is merely cooking cleaning and mothering in other bios. Reisin gives her life. She shows her influence on Louisa and their character similarities. The reader aches as she travels hat in hand to "borrow" from her relatives and how she suffered for her husband's vocational choices. At Fruitlands, Mrs. A almost leaves Mr. A when she suspects an unconventional relationship with Charles Lane which introduces another previously buried dimension to the Alcott saga.Reisin brings in new forensic discoveries relating to Louisa's illness, previously thought to stem from the mercury treatment she received as a Civil War nurse. Reisin also has more on what has become of the Alcott Family, that is Amy/May's daughter and Meg/Ann's sons.If you are looking for a bio of Louisa May Alcott either this or Eden's Outcasts are good choices. The Reisin volume, while lacking photos, is more complete in more areas than those mentioned above and shows how the events and people in the LMA's life influenced her plots, themes and characters. While not as complete, I remember Eden's Outcasts as a page turner, which the Reisin book is not.

  • Shannon
    2019-03-17 10:22

    I'm not much for biographies, but Louisa May Alcott is special. I remember watching "Little Women" with my mother, grandmother, and aunt when I was a young girl, the version with June Allyson as Jo. I loved it. Not much later, I read the book, as well as reading Little Men. Again, loved them. So when this book was mentioned in "Library Journal" I immediately requested it from the library and read it in a weekend.Harried Reisen has done years of research on Alcott and her family, and it definitely shows. She uses conjecture at times, but in an honest and fair way, making it clear to the reader that she's imagining things were a certain way rather than asserting that they were. This is a nice tool for general readers (rather than people accustomed to history texts): insert a little emotion when possible, not to mislead, but to enliven the text a bit. For me, as a lover of history who is accustomed to history texts, this addition was unnecessary. Reisen documents her research extremely well, with many, many pages of end notes. However, she lacks in-text numbering for the notes, so if a reader wants to find the source for a statement in the text, she or he must scroll through the notes in order to locate that source. This was awkward for me; again, however, I'm accustomed to footnotes that occasionally take up half a page! I won't fault Reisen for this, then, because she was clearly trying to reach a broader audience, made up in part of people who are not sticklers for footnotes.Ultimately, this is a very readable biography, written by someone with true affection for the subject. If you're at all interested in Alcott, her writing, 19th century history, or Transcendentalism, do include this in your reading list.

  • Corinne
    2019-03-22 16:11

    Talk about someone who lived an amazing life. I'm not usually a biography reader, but something about Louisa and the world she grew up in intrigued me - and rightly so. This very readable book tells Louisa's story from beginning to end, weaving in her writings as well as pertinent historical information that fleshes out the scene of her days.Growing up with Emerson and Thoreau as surrogate uncles, the Concord and Boston of Louisa's day is the stuff of legend. What I really enjoyed about this book was learning about how her own life experiences made their way into her writing. Her deprived "Utopian" childhood, the Civil War, her slow road to fame - she wrote about it all in both personal journals and in hundreds of sketches, poems and stories.I also came to appreciate how much family troubles, ill health and other people's choices influenced her decisions - I liked when the author made those connections for me. Clearly, her vigor and "can-do" attitude made her such an asset to those who depended on her and the author does well, I think, at combining Louisa's journals with other sources to help us piece together her whole story - since all was not always happiness and "can-do."While I did really enjoy it, it was certainly a slower read than usual. The author is thorough and I was always happy to pick it up, but I wouldn't call it a huge page turner. As a portrait of an exceptionally prolific and creative writer, as well as a snapshot of an American Life, I came away from this book with a much greater appreciation for the struggles of early American women and a sense of pleasure at knowing this incredible woman a little better.

  • Nell
    2019-03-17 18:08

    Before reading this biography, I had no idea about Alcott’s background and how much she based her writings on her own life, or that those writings included novels and stories for adults and pulp fiction as well as her better-known children’s works. Not surprisingly, she was an imaginative, competitive, energetic, adventurous (even wild) tomboy—the Jo of Little Women. Her parents were loving, but her idealistic father could not support his wife and four daughters, and they often went hungry. Yet Louisa was well acquainted with the finer things of life through the wealthier side of the family. Through her writing, from a fairly young age she was able to contribute to the family and eventually became its sole support. The biography also provides an interesting look at the intellectual and social progressives of Bronson Alcott’s circle and the issues of the day, such as abolition and women’s suffrage. It’s also a picture of the primitive state of medicine of the time: so many physical and mental illnesses they could not identify or treat, some chronic, some taking the lives of young people in a very short time. Childbirth and its aftermath was particularly dangerous and often led to death, a factor in Louisa’s decision to remain single. Bronson is thought to have suffered from bipolar disorder and Louisa from lupus. Enthusiastically recommended.

  • Gemma (Non Fic Books)
    2019-03-20 10:37

    An enjoyable enough read about the interesting and unusual life of a much-beloved author. LM Alcott's upbringing was odd and unsettling, moving every few months and bouncing between relative comfort and extreme poverty. Her journey to support herself and her family with her writing shows the sheer force of her personality though it is clear that she would also have been a difficult woman to deal with for those near her.On the cover there is a quote from the Wall Street Journal stating that LM Alcott now 'has the biography that admirers of Little Women might have hoped for'. A sentence that I agree with entirely though not altogether in a positive way, it is this bias and affection which has made me drop a star. Her love for LM Alcott coloured some of Reisen's interpretations and allowed her to present inferences as facts here and there.The other star was lost as I feel like the quality of the writing let the subject down somewhat as I found the prose dragging in places while her focus jumped around on occasion losing the flow of the book.Overall I am still glad that I read this book as I found LM Alcott's life compelling but I would not be surprised if a much better biography could be found elsewhere.

  • Heather
    2019-02-22 12:16

    Like many young girls, I read and loved Little Women, and new that it was based largely on the author's life. As an English major in college, her father Bronson was frequently footnoted as a member of the Transcendentalist Movement which included such luminaries as Emerson, Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller. Until reading Reisen's fascinating biography, that was the total sum of my knowledge of Alcott's upbringing. Though Reisen is clearly a devoted fan of Alcott, the book paints an honest picture of Alcott, flaws and all. I was shocked at the brutal poverty that she endured, and was amazed at the drive that made it possible for her to rescue herself and her family from that life through her work as a writer--an endeavor that doesn't come easily even today. I also had no idea how much she wrote, being only familiar with her children's novels. She was truly an impressive woman, and Reisen's book is an inspiring narrative.

  • Carol
    2019-02-27 18:27

    How much of "Little Women" and other Alcott favorites is based on reality? That's one of the questions Reisen tries to answer. Far more interesting than that issue is the life of Alcott herself. Many a person may identify with her situation, as the only wage-earner, from her teens to death, in a family of ne'er-do-wells and inadequates and entitleds. She and her sisters lived in hunger much of their youth, and, as children, depended heavily on hand-me-downs and hand-outs. I don't know whether their lives would have been better if their popular father, good at speechifying but allergic to paid work, had been recognized as mentally ill in his lifetime. The author posits manic-depressive disorder. I think, schizophrenia. I have heard charming men whose speeches, like Bronson Alcott's, sound impressive, but can't be put on paper because then one sees that they don't make sense. I am amazed and encouraged that such delightful stories came out of such a difficult life.

  • Sally
    2019-03-10 15:29

    Louisa May Alcott! Who knew!

  • Trix Wilkins
    2019-03-15 16:14

    What a compelling read. I had originally planned to muse over this book throughout the month of the Louisa May Alcott reading challenge. What actually happened was: book in hand at 11am, read it through lunch, read after dinner, then after going to bed could not sleep so got up at 11pm and kept reading until I finished it at an unmentionable hour (suffice to say I went immediately for coffee after school drop-offs).Harriet Reisen's The woman behind Little Women is a brilliantly written and deeply researched biography that neatly straddles the line between empathy with the various people who appear and rigorous consideration of the historical, social and economic contexts they navigated. She strikes the balance between bald truth and the art of gently revealing it, treating people with respect without trying to hide anything of who they were.It’s a hard thing to be both sympathetic towards the people one is writing about and at the same time sensitively call a spade a spade – Harriet does this well.What she also does really well in this book is tease. I enjoyed reading about the significant others to Louisa so much that when a section ended and I was to read no more about them, I found myself thinking, “Wait, what?! What happened next?” (So this biography prompts the desire to read additional biographies. For example I now want to know more about: Elizabeth Peabody, Margaret Fuller and John Pratt.)She also brought the men in Louisa’s life to the fore, weaving in moments such as Louisa’s suggesting to Alf Whitman that they run off as sailors across the Atlantic to have adventures in Europe (I will attempt the tease myself and leave it at that).5 new gems I discovered about LouisaOf course there are more than 5 gems in this book – I filled several pages noting things I didn’t know about her and was thrilled to find out! – but a blog post has to stop somewhere, hence I’ve chosen 5 that particularly touched my heart and mind…She became an abolitionist at the age of 3When bounties were placed for the capture and delivery of abolitionists to be tarred and feathered, British abolitionist George Thompson and editor William Lloyd Garrison were targeted. Louisa hid under the bed whilst the abolitionists gathered at the Alcotts’ and from then on was in the thick of the cause. Her sympathy for the equal worth of slaves was further developed when she fell into the Boston Public Garden Frog Pond and nearly drowned before being rescued by an eight year old black boy.She lost her first love to “a fever”As a teenager, Louisa had a romance with a boy named Augustus who went to boarding school and with whom she exchanged letters. He promised to return for her, inviting her to go “boating and berrying and all the rest of it again.” He never did – for in a matter of weeks, he died from “a fever.”Her mother Abigail (Marmee) set up the household post-officeDuring her father’s frequent absences her mother set up a post office in their home like the one that appears in Little Women, which the sisters took turns looking after as post-master. They would write letters and make parcels for each other, and it became a beloved family institution.Her sister Anna (Meg) was the one to have started a schoolIn Little Women, Jo has the idea of starting Plumfield when the estate is bequeathed to her upon the death of Aunt March; in history, it was Louisa’s elder sister Anna who opened a school when she became the sole family breadwinner at the age of 19, and later would teach at a psychiatric hospital.Louisa herself actually disliked teaching, “spending those days giving lessons to small children was not the future she had planned,” though she was willing to as she valued education. She and Anna gave evening classes in literacy to immigrant and black women, and for a short time Louisa would open a school at Beacon Hill (but once it closed for the summer she made no plans to re-open it). She not only advocated for abolition but also the rights of slaves to literacy.She held a masked ball for her 21st birthdayI love this little tidbit about Louisa. In Little Women Jo has a fabulous time showing up to a new year’s eve masked ball dressed as Mrs Malaprop from The Rivals; Louisa herself gave a masked ball for her coming of age 21st birthday party in which she dressed “in fancy costume,” according to her mother Abigail. (Whether this was as Mrs Malaprop is uncertain, though she certainly acted this particular role in the Walpole Amateur Dramatic Company’s performance of The Rivals.)Favorite quotes“No born brother was ever dearer…He did more to make us trust and respect men than anyone I know, and with him I lose the one young man whom I sincerely honored in my heart.” “Words were Louisa’s playthings for the tongue and the page, her non-violent means to power, her passport to riches.”“Her mother was her salvation; even surrounded by strangers and overburdened with responsibilities, Abby could be counted upon to notice, sympathize, and care.”

  • Tracy
    2019-02-26 18:12

    I knew nothing about LMA - just that she wrote some of my favorite children's books. Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom, Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys to name them all. The details of her life are known to us through extensive journals the entire Alcott family kept as well as copious letters they wrote to each other. Her parents are extremely interesting, and they knew a lot of famous people in Concord, MA including Henry Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.One area in particular that I think I will further read about is Fruitlands, an agrarian commune that the Alcotts started in Louisa's childhood. Residents were vegan, bathed in cold water, and did not rely on animal labor or products for food and clothing. Understandably, it didn't last very long.Louisa and her family were abolitionists. She championed integration, female education and labor outside the home, and women's suffrage.I don't know how this book compares to other LMA biographies. Harriet Reisen occasionally inserted her own opinions about the subject by labeling her work or deeds impressive. Those instances earned some internal eye-rolling. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed talking about this book for book club.

  • Laurel-Rain
    2019-02-28 14:25

    This story behind the great author is a beautifully wrought and in-depth portrait that sweeps forward from her birth and through the landscape of her life, but also fills in the picture with details of her parents' lives as well.In the context of what was going on historically, Louisa May Alcott's success is even more awesome. She grew up in a time where women were not yet given the voice. Later in her adulthood, she would jump onto that cause, as well, struggling to help women obtain the vote.Her childhood, bleak with poverty, with a father who was absent more often than not—with his own philosophical leanings toward Transcendentalism, a cause that consumed him, along with others—but her mother was very present, albeit struggling at times to feed and clothe the family. Louisa's mother Abby lost several children in miscarriage and stillbirth, before she finally had all four girls.What strikes me most about this wonderful biography is how Louisa finally created such a wonderful portrait of genteel poverty for her Little Women characters, polishing up her own story and embellishing it so that it would be more palatable—illuminating each family member, including her absent father, in a more favorable light.But before we even got to Little Women, there were the years of struggle, with the compulsive writer churning out pulp fiction, adventure stories, poetry, and whatever she could sell...sometimes for just a few dollars. But she always sent money home from wherever she was—Boston, usually. She went back and forth between various boarding houses or garrets to the home in whatever village her mother was living. Her life was characterized by much instability, with more than thirty moves in her childhood alone.This tale also includes scenes from the Civil War years, when Louisa worked as a nurse until she finally had to come home (after three years) due to exhaustion and illness.Like many writers, Louisa used her own life experiences to fuel her work, and what she hadn't experienced personally, she filled in with what she gleaned from reading.There was so much wonderful information in "Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women" that sometimes I felt bogged down in the details of the early years, but as soon as she began to achieve success and had written Little Women, the story soared for me. I loved reading about how she wrote that book, how she finally came to write the others, and even about how she finally began to enjoy the fruits of her labor with trips to Europe.Although I knew that she would die eventually, I felt sad when it happened. As if a great light had been extinguished, and to realize, too, that she died at a relatively young age (56).I am still amazed, though, at how her books are still out there for all of us to enjoy. I loved them as a child and I'll be rereading them again in the next few weeks.Definitely five stars for this story of a major talent.

  • Rikke
    2019-03-25 18:35

    This was fascinating! I never knew anything about Alcott's upbringing and her lack of a proper childhood-home. The tumultuous move from place to place certainly never shines through her very homely novels.Reading this book made me feel a tiny bit closer to one of my favorite authors. As I've never read a biography about Louisa May Alcott before, I cannot say whether Harriet Reisen provides any new information. I can however say that I was perfectly satisfied with what I got.I am left in awe, deeply fascinated by this magnetic woman who managed to write one of the most enduring children's classics in less than a month. Her frantic writing sessions almost seem unreal, when you consider the outcome of them. How could anyone write a chapter each day for a month without as much as a little break? Apparently, Alcott's genius burned just as brightly as Jo's. Harriet Reisen dwells a lot on Alcott's childhood, her father's involvement with the Transcendentalist Movement, which I found equally interesting and irritating. Reisen keeps underlining just how unable Alcott's father Bronson was to provide for his family, making it very repetitive to read.However, I had no idea how close friends the Alcott family was with literary legends such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau. Louisa May Alcott practically grew up under the supervision and guidance of those brilliant writers. It almost seems unreal that they all were so closely connected by bonds of friendship, family and ideology.With the danger of sounding like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, I must make a complaint. Why are there no pictures in this book? Reisen refers to several portraits and photographs (and even talks about Alcott's peculiar writing habits in her diary), but she doesn't include them in her book. Why? I've spent a lot of time googling pictures, that she could easily have shown me. It seems wrong.As someone else has pointed out, Reisen's well-researched biography has some unfortunate holes as well. When she discusses some plot details in "Little Men", she manages to switch some names around - it seems rather sloppy.All in all, this is an informative and fascinating book about a woman who didn't write books in order to achieve fame or greatness, but simply to provide for her family. Louisa May Alcott turned her own childhood into fiction when she wrote "Little Women". So much so that her sisters got into the habit of calling her Jo.

  • Robyn Hawk
    2019-02-25 17:16

    Looking forward to the PBS American Masters Presentation..., December 24, 2009By Reading It All (Orange County, CA USA) - See all my reviewsI have always been a fan of Louisa May Alcott's writing and when I was given the opportunity to read Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women (John MacRae Books) I jumped on it.Harriet Reisen has a background as a writer of documentaries and I wasn't expecting more than a light biography but this is so much more because of Ms. Reisen's twenty year relationship with Louisa May Alcott. She explains how the book came out of the screenplay and the differences between the two...I am quoting her below.From Harriet Reisen's Bio:I decided to write the film script completely from primary sources. Louisa and all the other characters would speak only words they had written or were reported by contemporaries to have said. My choice and arrangement of scenes and dialogue, our production choices, interviews with scholars and experts, and Nancy's direction and editing were our only means to interpret Louisa's character and her life. We had no narrator to get between the viewer and the material.What the film gained in authenticity was worth the embargo on my own knowledge and opinion. The book came as a gift--with room to let Louisa's story roam, and freedom to tell it in my own words and fill it with characters without having to consider what their costumes and meals would cost.-------------------------------This book gave me a warm, up close peak at Louisa May Alcott - the woman! Reisen does a fabulous job of dropping you into the period - so well in fact that I learned some history and discovered quite a bit about the environment that LMA and her art grew from.I think that I would have loved to work beside the LMA that treated the wounded in the Civil War. Her family, her politics, and her writing. This is a multi faceted woman and Reisen polishes every facet - light and dark.I eagerly await the PBS American Masters Documentary.

  • Lisa
    2019-03-22 14:29

    This biography of Louisa May Alcott is interesting and worthwhile. The first half of the book is more like a biography of Alcott's parents, who were, of course, extremely influential in her life, but to have half the book spent on Louisa's childhood makes for a bit of a slog for those of us who want to get to her more independent life. Her childhood was also sad and is somewhat difficult to read about--Bronson and Abby Alcott were willing to starve themselves and their children for their principles of vegetarianism and transcendentalism, but they didn't know much about nutrition, and one hates to think of those children going hungry and being stunted in their physical and mental growth, perhaps, because of it. Louisa's love of nature and connections to her parents' friends and their unconventional ideas were also important for good in her life, so her chldhood and adolescence are worth significant treatment, but perhaps a good editorial eye could have condensed some of the earlier years. (Perhaps I am mistaken; I could be like the fans of Little Women who visited Louisa expecting to find Jo March, and being disappointed.) I wonder if the author could not bear to sacrifice all the research she did on the Alcott parents and connections for the sake of Louisa's biography.In any case, much of the story of Louisa's childhood and adolescence and all of the story of her adulthood are well told, fascinating, and obviously well-researched and well-documented. Reisen does a good job of presenting Louisa as a fully realized woman and not an embellishment of Jo March. The psychology behind Louisa's actions is explained and many facets of her personality tied to her actions in a skillful manner. Louisa May Alcott is presented as she undoubtedly was--as a self-sacrificing, strong, driven woman who eventually granted herself luxuries and learned to enjoy her life to a degree after securing her family's future through her hard work. She is someone I would like to know and have as a friend.

  • Karen Gallant
    2019-03-05 17:24

    What a remarkable woman Alcott was! She was a woman ahead of her time which is not surprising given her unconventional family and their very different philosophy and lifestyle. I had no idea that her 'Little Women' book (and others) were semi-autobiographical...although her life was much bigger and more challenging than depicted by Jo and her sisters. She was a Transcendentalist, suffragette, abolitionist, actress, writer of children's books and pulp fiction who aspired to be a serious adult writer. I also had no clue that despite her passion and compulsion to write, that it was absolutely essential that she did as she supported her family (given her father's rather odd character and some would say selfishness) and pulled them out of poverty and near starvation. It is probably not unfair to contemplate whether she was bipolar given her 'vortex' as she called it when she was totally absorbed in the creative process of her writing and her subsequent 'lows' that seemed to follow many of her writing periods. Her parents were unconventional to say the least and it makes one wonder if they had not been so, would we ever have benefited from the creativity that most of my female contemporaries at least absorbed themselves in when reading her books. But all that pulp fiction that she wrote and all the articles for newspapers and other publications! How prolific she was! And what an incredible group of people she had in her life who left their influence on her and her thoughts/intellect - Hawthorne, Thoreau, Fuller, Emerson etc. I felt tired after reading a few chapters of this biography - her life exhausted me and all I needed to do was read about it. I highly recommend this book - but would suggest that you read Little Women first.

  • Laurel Bradshaw
    2019-02-28 17:18

    Loved it! Learned a lot. Laughed a lot.Book description from Amazon:A vivid, energetic account of the life of Louisa May Alcott, whose work has delighted millions of readersLouisa May Alcott portrays a writer as worthy of interest in her own right as her most famous character, Jo March, and addresses all aspects of Alcott’s life: the effect of her father’s self-indulgent utopian schemes; her family’s chronic economic difficulties and frequent uprootings; her experience as a nurse in the Civil War; the loss of her health and frequent recourse to opiates in search of relief from migraines, insomnia, and symptomatic pain. Stories and details culled from Alcott’s journals; her equally rich letters to family, friends, publishers, and admiring readers; and the correspondence, journals, and recollections of her family, friends, and famous contemporaries provide the basis for this lively account of the author’s classic rags-to-riches tale.Alcott would become the equivalent of a multimillionaire in her lifetime based on the astounding sales of her books, leaving contemporaries like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Henry James in the dust. This biography explores Alcott’s life in the context of her works, all of which are to some extent autobiographical. A fresh, modern take on this remarkable and prolific writer, who secretly authored pulp fiction, harbored radical abolitionist views, and completed heroic service as a Civil War nurse, Louisa May Alcott is in the end also the story of how the all-time beloved American classic Little Women came to be. This revelatory portrait will present the popular author as she was and as she has never been seen before.

  • Iowa City Public Library
    2019-03-04 18:24

    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. --AnneFrom ICPL Staff Picks Blog

  • MAP
    2019-03-24 12:36

    Like many girls, when I was 11 or 12, I read Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. Unlike many girls, the book made no real lasting impact on me. By that time, I was a voracious reader, and Little Women was just one more in a long line of books I was devouring. I enjoyed the book, and was glad I had read it, but it was not one of those books that I carried with me emotionally even days after I had finished it, like it seems to be for so many others.Therefore, I was drawn to this biography not because I am a fan of Louisa May Alcott, but because I am a fan of biographies. In the past 5 or so years, I have gravitated towards biographies, even (and especially) biographies of people I don't know much about and may not be particularly interested in, because a truly good biography can open up a whole new world.This book did not do that. I found this book very dry and frankly, rather dull. I suppose that ultimately that's because Alcott's life was, as described, "domestic," rather than filled with adventure, but it made the 302 pages devoted to the biography itself (as opposed to the index or citations) go very very slowly.I would say that if you are a fan of Alcott, if you've read several of her books and would like to know the inspirations for them and how she wove her own life and experiences into them, then you will probably love this book. If, on the other hand, you just think it might be fun to read a biography of someone, this may not the book for you.Also: where were the pictures?? What is a biography without pictures?? Stop describing this photographs -- which apparently do not exist on the internet, by the way -- to me, SHOW them to me!

  • Laura
    2019-02-25 16:14

    I only knew a little bit about Louisa May Alcott from the tour I got at the Orchard House in Concord, MA. They told some of the harder truths about her life but it was somewhat romanticized. The first part of this book focuses on her childhood and early adult life. It is extremely interesting. It gets a little boring in the middle. (I found it to be a rather dry recording of her literary accomplishments. She was so prolific and trying so hard to earn a living, she didn't have time for much else!) However, the book picks up in the end. I felt that I really understood her by the end of the book. I think Harriet Reisen did an excellent job researching and organizing this book. There were only a couple of instances when I got confused about the sequence of events. You learn just about everything that happened in her life. I can't imagine that any new information will surface in the coming years. You also learn a lot about her family, their importance in her life and their influence on her personally. This book made me want to go back and read the entire Little Women series again. (I believe I read the whole series in early middle school.) I also want to read her two books, "Work" and "Transendental Wild Oats". Transendental Wild Oats is supposed to be a hilarious account of the time they spent at Fruitlands. The entire project turned out to be a complete disaster. I would like to see where she found the humor in it all. A trip back to Orchard House this summer is on my "To Do" list. Now that I know more about her, I will see everything in a new light.