Thursday, February 27, 2014

1934 - Invincible Louisa

This book by Cornelia Meigs is a biography of Louisa. And what other Louisa would that be but Louisa May Alcott? Most well-known by her books Little Women and Little Men, the follow-up novel, Louisa had an interesting life, full of poverty on one hand, full of love and family on the other. She came of age during the American Civil War, which had a great impact on her, and rubbed shoulders with some of the literary greats of the day, such as Nathanial Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Henry Thoreau.

If you have read Little Women, much of Louisa's story will seem familar to you. Not identical, but very familiar. She was one of four daughters in a poor household raised by a steadfast mother and a father with lofty ideals and high ideas. He was so concerned with giving charity, that his own poor family often did without. One part especially rankled me. He was considering going the Shaker way with a friend, leaving behind his carnal relationship with his wife and family. His long-suffering wife protested, so he capitulated, but then fell into a depression. In despair, his wife, Abba Alcott, tucked her pride aside and contacted the friend to say that her husband, Bronson, was free to go after all. But thankfully, the friend was leaving for Europe and the Shaker plan was over.

Louisa feels the burden of helping to provide for her family and not being dependent on them for her sustenance. She tries her hand at writing, with some small success, but it is only when her collection of "Hospital Sketches" is published that she becomes well-known and on her way as a writer.

When the Civil War broke out, Louisa felt a great desire to help with the cause and volunteered as a nurse at a military hospital in Washington. She gained a great deal of life experience, but her health suffered greatly, and after that, she was never quite as strong as she had been. She was always sending home stories of the men and boys she tended to, which were eventually collected into the book, Hospital Sketches.

Invincible Louisa covered about all of Louisa's life, both before she became famous, and after Little Women was published, which changed the fortunes of the whole Alcott clan. But I found myself reading more quickly, less carefully, after she had achieved her success than how her life led up to that point.

You can tell that the writing is a little old fashioned, compared to today's writing styles, but is still very readable. Some parts seemed quaint, making effort to not be sensational.

Louisa Alcott had lovers during her varied life, that much we know. (though I'm not sure the author means that in the modern, carnal sense) ...She has been less frank about the others, so that who they were and just what she thought of them are secrets of her own which prying eyes have no right to investigate, not even in the name of her cherished fame.

Huh? None of our business? Well!

I enjoyed Little Women; it is a great book, though I am not a rabid fan. I think that real devotees would highly enjoy this biography. Another interesting facet to the book is the seeing the ideals and philosophies of the Alcotts, specific to the historical times they lived in.

The cover sort of bugged me, just because I feel that the illustration, while attractive, doesn't quite portray a young woman of the 1860's. Her dress looks "almost right," but her hair makes me think more of the 1980's. And the book says that she used a lap writing desk. That would have been an interesting, rather than traditional prop in the cover illustration.

I got this book for fifty cents at the thrift store.

1 comment:

Mel said...

You are right, her hair isn't correct! I knew something looked wrong but couldn't quite put my finger on it.