Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Look at Louisa

Last night I finished reading the biography Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen. I have to say, the timing was fortuitous. Although I bought the book while I was in San Antonio in October, the little bits of reading I've managed to snatch here and there let me finish up just in time for my annual birthday watching of Little Women. That's going to happen at some point this week. Probably. But this is supposed to be about the book, not the movie, and not even specifically the book of Little Women but rather the book about the author of Little Women. Whatever.

Let me start by saying that I've always been a fan of Alcott's work. As a child, I devoured Little Women and Little Men as well as Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom, but I'm not sure I ever got much past that. I do have a vague recollection of reading Jo's Boys, but I don't think I could give you a plot synopsis if my life depended on it, just that it was darker than I expected and someone died. I think. That said, prior to reading this biography, I had a hazy knowledge of Alcott's life. I was aware that she was strongly involved with the Transcendentalist movement and that she had modeled the characters of Little Women after her own family. After reading Reisen's work, though, I now know more details than I might have wanted. Let me explain.

Reading Alcott's biography almost a year after I read L.M. Montgomery's journals has forever disabused me of my notion of the heroic authoress. I came away from both experiences a little jaded and sad. It made me wonder if such a gift comes at too great a price. Then again, maybe grief and emotional turmoil are just part of life, and it's only when we really dig into the thoughts of a writer who can adequately express them that we are able to understand and process someone else's struggle. Who knows. Still, Louisa May and Lucy Maud (I have a thing for L. M.'s, it seems) had some pretty unbalanced moments... more than I was expecting, to be honest. I did, however, come away somewhat in awe of Louisa's work ethic. Sure there were gigantic periods of burn out, but good grief, when she sat down to do something, she did it. I wouldn't mind being that cool, but then I remind myself that having a toddler doesn't allow for periods of burn out. Ever. Oh well!

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