Monday, November 09, 2015

The Revelation of Louisa May

The Revelation of Louisa May is a small book compared to Little Women and Louisa May Alcott’s other beloved tomes. It deals essentially with one invented episode in young Louisa’s life, and yet this teen book reveals many aspects of the real Louisa’s adolescence, which later informs her fiction. Louisa’s father, Bronson Alcott, is creative and intelligent, but not adept at providing for his family, so his wife goes to work in a distant town for the summer. Louisa is left to keep house for her father (who does need looking after) and her frail sister Beth; you may remember that Louisa’s alter ego Jo was the daughter Marmee always relied on. Also, a young man who is a long-time friend of the family returns to town, confusing Louisa by his interest in her (think Laurie, of course). Though Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March do not get involved in the Underground Railroad in Little Women, the Alcott family did do so in real life--and in this story. When a ruthless slave hunter shows up on the trail of a runaway, this becomes quite a dangerous enterprise, and Louisa ends up having to make difficult choices.

 The Revelation of Louisa May incorporates fascinating elements of life in Concord, Massachusetts, during the heyday of the Transcendentalists. We get glimpses of friendships with Ralph Waldo Emerson and the young Henry David Thoreau. We visit Walden Pond, the local inn, the town jail, and a shady tavern in pursuit of clues to multiple mysteries. We learn some of the difficulties of trying to earn a living as a writer in the mid-1800’s (there was no self-publishing then!).

Similarly, Louisa and the Missing Heiress, by Anna Maclean, creates a fictional episode in Louisa May Alcott’s life; you can find it in the Virginia Beach Public Library catalog as an ebook or in print. If you haven’t read Little Women and its sequels, Little Men and Jo’s Boys--or haven’t read them in a while--you can find them in print and audio through the VBPL catalog. These classics have had different meanings for me at various stages in my life, so I’d recommend revisiting them if you were a fan in the past.

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