ited by Daniel Shealy), which collects and annotates letters home fromLouisa and her youngest sister, the painter May Alcott, as they traveledtogether in the early years of Louisa’s fame; and Eve LaPlante’s Marmee& Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother (2012),which I discuss here.
LaPlante presents Marmee & Louisa as a corrective to the idea thatAbigail (Abba) May Alcott’s papers do not survive in adequate supplyto understand her character. LaPlante also edited My Heart Is Boundless: Writings of Abigail May Alcott, Louisa’s Mother (2012), providingadditional counterevidence. Abba began a new journal each year of herlife from the age of ten, as she would encourage her own daughters todo. When the girls were young, Abba, like Mrs. March in Little Women,read and left comments in their journals; when Louisa began writingfiction, Abba shared her own journals with Louisa and encouragedher writer-daughter to mine them for material. Alcott’s 1869 novel AnOldFashioned Girl is based on Abba’s childhood, and the Marches sharemany traits in common with their quasi-namesake Mays, including Mr.March, like Abba’s father, having lost a considerable fortune when hischildren were young. LaPlante suggests that many of Louisa’s works,particularly her lurid tales of vengeful and passionate women, reflectAbba’s inner life and struggles. Drawing from Abba’s journals and hercorrespondence, including her many surviving letters to her belovedolder brother, the Unitarian minister, abolitionist, and women’s rightsadvocate Samuel Joseph May, LaPlante explores Abba’s beliefs and disappointments as a daughter of the early republic and a mother of fourdaughters.
The first half of Marmee & Louisa focuses on Abba’s venerable NewEngland lineage, her youth in Brahmin Boston, and her many losses.Born in 1800, Abba came from a family of four sisters, but by the timeshe was twenty-eight, her three elder sisters had died. Abba’s own beloved“Marmee” died in 1825, and her father, who quickly remarried a significantly younger woman, expected Abba to marry one of her first cousins.Instead, Abba took refuge in the home of her brother and through himsoon met Bronson Alcott. Samuel May was interested in implementingeducational reforms in his rural Connecticut parish; the charismatic,self-educated Alcott was already known for his unconventional teachingmethods. Abba offered to assist Bronson with the school he eventuallyfounded in Boston. When Bronson demurred, she continued to pursuea social relationship. Though Bronson’s journals from the time reveal