This week Francine Prose reviews a book about the legacy of Louisa Alcott’s “Little Women,” published 150 years ago. Below is an unsigned 1889 review of a collection of Alcott’s letters and journals.
An anecdote of Miss Alcott’s childhood, told by the wife of Nathaniel Hawthorne, is that one morning at breakfast she suddenly broke the silence with a sunny smile and exclaimed: “I love everybody in dis whole world.” Her character as disclosed in these pages shows that Louisa Alcott throughout life cheerfully devoted all she had of mind, strength, and estate to the comfort and happiness of other people.
Miss Alcott might have married advantageously; she had more than one offer and more attentions than she cared for. But to matrimony she was not inclined. Mrs. Cheney says her heart was bound up in her family, and she could hardly contemplate her own intersests as separate from theirs. Moreover, “she loved activity, freedom, and independence,” and “always said that she got tired of everybody, and felt sure she should of her husband if she married.”
“I was born with a boy’s spirit under my bib and tucker,” wrote Miss Alcott in 1856. “I can’t wait when I can work. So I took my little talent in my hand and faced the world again, braver than before and wiser for my failures.” Years afterward this devoted soul wrote down the following proud declaration: “Twenty years ago I resolved to make the family independent if I could. At forty that is done. Debts all paid, even the outlawed ones, and we have enough to be comfortable. It has cost me my health, perhaps; but as I still live there is more for me to do. I suppose.” These two passages connect the impressive story of this woman’s beautiful life. Wide is the territory over which the facts of that story will now soon have spread, giving a new and grander reputation to Louisa Alcott’s name.
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