Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888) was an American novelist best known as author of the novel Little Women and its sequels Little Men and Jo's Boys. Raised by her transcendentalist parents, Abigail May and Amos Bronson Alcott in New England, she grew up among many of the well-known intellectuals of the day such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau. Nevertheless, her family suffered severe financial difficulties and Alcott worked to help support the family from an early age. She began to receive critical success for her writing in the 1860s. Early in her career, she sometimes used the pen name A. M. Barnard .
Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888) was an American novelist, best known for the novel Little Women, which she wrote in 1868.
Alcott was the daughter of noted Transcendentalist Amos Bronson Alcott and Abigail May the third, and though of New England parentage and residence, was born in Germantown, now part of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She had three sisters, the older Anna, and younger sisters Elizabeth and May. The family moved to Boston in 1844, where her father established an experimental school and joined the Transcendentalist Club with Emerson, Thoreau, etc.
During her girlhood and early womanhood, she shared in her family's poverty and Transcendentalist ideals. In 1840, after several setbacks with the school, her family moved to a cottage on two acres along the Concord River in Concord, Massachusetts. The Alcott family moved to the Utopian Fruitlands community for a brief interval in 1843-1844, and then after its collapse to rented rooms, and subsequently a house in Concord purchased with her mother's inheritance and help from Emerson. Alcott's early education had included lessons from the naturalist Henry David Thoreau but had chiefly been in the hands of her father. She also received some instruction from writers and educators such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller, who were all family friends. She later described these early years in a newspaper sketch entitled "Transcendental Wild Oats", afterwards reprinted in the volume Silver Pitchers (1876), which relates the experiences of her family during their experiment in "plain living and high thinking" at Fruitlands.
As she grew older, she developed as both an abolitionist and a feminist. In 1847 the family housed a fugitive slave for one week, and in 1848 Alcott read and admired the "Declaration of Sentiments" published by the Seneca Falls Convention on women's rights. Due to the family's poverty, she began work at an early age as an occasional teacher, seamstress, governess, domestic help, and writer — her first book was Flower Fables (1854), tales originally written for Ellen Emerson, daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
In 1860, Alcott began writing for the Atlantic Monthly, and she was nurse in the Union Hospital at Georgetown, D.C., for six weeks in 1862-1863. Her letters home, revised and published in the Commonwealth and collected as Hospital Sketches (1863, republished with additions in 1869), garnered her first critical recognition for her observations and humor. Her novel Moods (1864), was also considered promising.
A lesser-known part of her work are the passionate, fiery novels and stories she wrote, usually under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard. These works, such as A Long Fatal Love Chase and Pauline's Passion and Punishment, were known in the Victorian Era as "potboilers" or "blood-and-thunder tales" and were later referred to as "dangerous for little minds" in Alcott's own novel Little Women. Their protagonists are willful and relentless in their pursuit of their own aims, which often include revenge on those who have humiliated or thwarted them. These works achieved immediate commercial success and remain highly readable today.
In contrast, Alcott also produced moralistic and wholesome stories for children, and, with the exceptions of the semi-autobiographical tale Work (1873), and the anonymous novelette A Modern Mephistopheles (1877), which attracted suspicion that it was authored by Julian Hawthorne, she did not return to creating works for adults.