Since its release nearly 150 years ago, Louisa May Alcott's classic Little Women has been a mainstay in American literature, while passionate Jo March and her calm, beloved "Marmee" have shaped generations of young women. Biographers have consistently credited her father, Bronson Alcott, for Louisa's professional success, assuming that this outspoken idealist was the source of her progressive thinking and remarkable independence.
But in this riveting dual biography, Eve LaPlante explodes those myths, drawing on unknown and unexplored letters and journals to show that Louisa's "Marmee", Abigail May Alcott, was in fact the intellectual and emotional center of her daughter's world. It was Abigail who urged Louisa to write, who inspired many of her stories, and who gave her the support and courage she needed to pursue her unconventional path. Abigail, long dismissed as a quiet, self-effacing companion to her famous husband and daughter, is revealed here as a politically active feminist firebrand, a fascinating thinker in her own right.
Examining family papers, archival documents, and diaries thought to have been destroyed, LaPlante paints an exquisitely moving and utterly convincing portrait of a woman decades ahead of her time - and the fiercely independent daughter who was both inspired and restricted by her mother's dreams of freedom.
A story guaranteed to turn all previous scholarship on its head, Marmee and Louisa is a gorgeously written and deeply felt biography of two extraordinary women as well as a key to our understanding of Louisa May Alcott's life and work.
©2012 Eve LaPlante (P)2012 Tantor
"A most original love story, taut and tender." (Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra: A Life)
Drawing on new materials, letters, and family papers, Eve LaPlante restores Abba May Alcott to her rightful position as nurturing mother and friend to Louisa May Alcott, her daughter and the author of Little Women and many other books. LaPlante fills in the missing background on Abba's life: her wealthy (for a time) family, her close relationship to her crusading abolitionist brother, Samuel Joseph May, and her extraordinary lifelong support and guidance of all her family, especially Louisa.
The family member who does not come off especially well here is her husband, Bronson Alcott. With an ego the size of Concord or maybe Boston, Bronson did not feel "called" to work or support his family. He had to have space to think, after all, so he would leave Abba with three children under 10 (and no money) so that he could rent a room in downtown Philadelphia or Boston for months at a time and work on his intellectual development.
For Bronson, bringing in money was the job of Abba and her daughters. So Anna taught school, Louisa sewed and wrote, May gave lessons, and Abba worked as a social worker and begged what support she could from family and friends. Marmee and Louisa tells the story of these hardworking women and their extended family in the context of the social and political turmoil of their times. It's an excellent listen.
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