The Enduring Charm of Louisa May Alcott

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Louisa May Alcott was an American novelist best known for her novel  Little Women. Born in 1832, she was brought up in a financially troubled environment which later influenced her decision to write. During her life she penned 270 works, and even 133 years after her death the popularity of her writing lives on.

Alcott's Moral Outlook

Best known as a children’s novelist, or writer for the youth, Alcott’s novels carry an overarching sense of optimism. Moments of bitter realism prevent her writing from becoming naively idealistic and instead reveal a cleverly crafted moral thread. 

Daughter of the transcendentalist Bronson Alcott, Louisa grew up surrounded by men such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Her education was informed by clear and strict principles, laid out by her father. 

In 1860, Alcott began writing to support her family during their financial difficulties. She initially wrote for adults and only by the persuasion of her publisher did she craft the novel which brought her instant fame -  Little Women

As an abolitionist, feminist and suffragist who refused throughout her life to marry, domestic tales weren’t Alcott’s natural calling. However, it is this type of story - with its blend of optimism and realism -that secured her enduring fame. 

 

Alcott's less well-known works

Good Wives(1868)

Good Wives by Louisa M Alcott

Good Wives  continues the story of the March family. Although older and wiser, the sisters are no less charming than they were inLittle Women. Amy is travelling Europe, Meg has become a wife and mother, Beth struggles with her health and headstrong Jo has become a writer.

Alcott’s writing dances with a joyful optimism sometimes tinged with sobering reality. Although not as famous as  Little Women, Alcott writes with a continued charm that makes this book well worth reading. 

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Little Men (1871)

Little Men by Louisa May Alcott

Little Men follows on fromLittle WomenandGood Wives but places its focus on just one of the March sisters: spirited Jo. Now married, Jo is a teacher at Plumfield school which she runs with her husband.

Admired for her fierce independence in Little Women, Jo’s marriage has surprised readers for decades. However, her fiery spark doesn’t waver and the story is as perceptive, touching and humorous as Alcott’s previous novels. 

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Jo’s Boys (1886)

Jo's Boys by Louisa May Alcott

A sequel to  Little Men, Jo’s Boys again places focus on Jo March and Plumfield School. Set ten years after the end of  Little Men, it draws on old threads and blends them with new characters and themes.

While carrying bittersweet notes, the novel is as joyful and entertaining as its forerunners. It is with this volume that the story of feisty Jo and the March sisters comes to its conclusion.  

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Rose in Bloom (1876)

Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott

Often overshadowed byLittle Women,Rose in Bloom is Alcott’s sequel to another of her novels,  Eight Cousins. The story follows protagonist Rose Campell, now a young woman, as she navigates nineteenth century society.

Sweet and kind, Rose attracts numerous suitors but demonstrates a determination to prove her independence. While the novel has underlying moral tones, it is a charming read for those who have enjoyed Alcott’s other works.

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Jack and Jill(1880)

Jack and Jill by Louisa May Alcott

Jack and Jill is a delightful children’s story. It follows the lives of two best friends, Jack and Jill, and the imaginative adventures they experience while lying on respective sickbeds following a sledge accident.

The book is openly didactic and is filled with important messages that are threaded into an entertaining story of trials, adventure, love and change.  

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Why has Alcott's charm endured?

Critics and readers have long discussed the reason behind Alcott’s enduring literary charm. Over time it has become clear that there are many possible factors behind her continued success.

Alcott’s ability to craft intriguing coming of age novels has certainly contributed. The growth of her major characters from fun-loving girls into intelligent young women is wonderfully perceptive. These bildungsroman narratives appeal not only to young people on the verge of change, but also to adults reminiscent of their own youth. 

Representations of female independence in Alcott’s writing have also attracted swarms of readers. While the debate continues as to whether her novels are directly feminist, her female characters are undeniably strong-willed. The face of feminism may have changed over time, but at its core women are still divided between independence and the home. It is perhaps this that makes Alcott’s writing so relatable today. 

Alcott’s novels for young people can be read as untroubled domestic narratives. However, the issues conveyed by Alcott, or those since brought to light by modern critics, are still relevant today. Despite progressions in independence, female readers still closely identify with Alcott’s characters (the March sisters in particular). 

Little Women and its sequels and Alcott’s other children’s novels draw a balance between morality, family and independence. The stories are progressive yet restrained by the instincts of a long gone era. It is through optimism and progressive ideas, alongside modern literary evaluation, that the charm of Alcott’s written word endures. 

Want to read more about classic books from great authors? Explore our previous blog posts. 



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