childhood sickness, adult hypochondria, and lifelong fascination with“sick-lit.” The real Lizzie Alcott, Machado suggests, resists simplifica-tion into mild, selfless Beth March. For Machado, Beth’s story line is awell-intended denial of Lizzie’s individuality: “A woman who lived andhad thoughts and made art and was snarky and strange and funny andkind and suffered tremendously and died angry at the world becomessweet, soft Beth. A dear, and nothing else.” Don’t let others make you aBeth, the essay urges. Own your story.
Various Louisa May Alcott biographers have suggested that Alcott inflicted violence upon herself by creating Jo March, then trying to inhabither. The “children’s friend” drawn in 1888 by Ednah Cheney, Alcott’s firstbiographer, became the tortured soul of Martha Saxton’s 1978 biographyLouisa May. Possessed by “a sullen, vaporous rage that smoked from apit of disappointment, longing, cherished grievances, sorrow, and loneliness,” Saxton’s Alcott “stunned complicated emotions into submissionand packaged them in easy-to-understand moral lessons.” This visionof Alcott’s life and career is echoed somewhat less forcefully in HarrietReisen’s 2009 biography, Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind LittleWomen, which opens with the contention that “The real Louisa Alcottwas infinitely more interested in the darker side of human nature andexperience than in telling polite stories to nice children.” On the samepage, Reisen asserts that the heroine of Little Women “is Jo March, buther character is Louisa Alcott.” Little Women and, for Reisen, every oneof Alcott’s works, becomes a cipher for Alcott’s occluded inner life.
Approaching Alcott’s life and works from another angle, several relatively recent biographies and collections focus on her emotional andintellectual relationship with one close family member. These worksinclude John Matteson’s acclaimed Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and HerFather (2007; winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prizein biography); Little Women Abroad: The AlcottSisters’ Letters from Europe, 1870–1871 (2008, ed
Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story ofLouisa May Alcott and Her Mother
Eve LaPlante. Simon and Schuster,2012, 384 pp., $18.00 (paper)