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 Excerpt: Louisa May Alcott and Little Women: etc.

The following are some pertinent excerpts from Chapter 7. 
Spring 1868-1869: Little Women

This chapter details how Alcott's most famous book came about - her surroundings - her process - and the book's quick success that made her a household name. (The standard  ellipsis is used - four dots - to indicate where additional material has been left out.) 

She put on her "glory cloak" and pulled her chair up to the little half-moon desk Father had built for her between the two front windows of her bedroom in Orchard House. On the vertical frame in front of her were the lovely flower designs May had painted. Outside was the Lexington Road. Louisa May Alcott, author, began to write . . . .

The home she put her "March" family into was the home of her happy childhood - Hillside. It still stood next door, ready to help invoke memories of Pilgrim's Progress, plays in the barn, and other interactions of the Alcott girls' growing-up years.

Her own dear Marmee would be portrayed as the dear, sweet, ever-helpful and loving mother that she was in real life. Her father she found harder to depict. As a result, Mr. March spent most of the book away recuperating from an illness contracted in the war. When he reappeared, he was distinguished by his scholarship.

Her main characters were the four Alcott-March sisters, much like their real-life counterparts. Within the first few pages, through their choices of Christmas presents and their comments to each other, she gave each of the characters a strong identity. Anna could be recognized in the oldest sister, "Meg" - pretty, domestic, and just a little envious of riches. Louisa was the aspiring writer, "Jo" - independent, brash, and of passionate temperament. Dear Beth kept her own name and gentle and courageous personality - for her memory could not be otherwise [Beth Alcott died young]. May appeared as the hopeful artist, "Amy" - a little spoiled, but nevertheless charming and loving. Anna's beloved, John Pratt, was drawn as the good and earnest "John Brooke," the name chosen because the Pratts were from Brook Farm.

Additional characters had to be invented. She created them, however, from among the familiar circle of friends and relatives. The personality of the boy next door came to her as she remembered two boys, both of whom she had called "my boy." Ladislas Wisniewski, the sparkling Polish boy she had met in Europe, was combined with Alf Whitman, the dependable friend. Even the name was manufactured out of a combination. She had called Ladislas "Laurie." Alf was from Lawrence, Kansas. Therefore, Theodore "Laurie" Laurence was the perfect name for her young hero. "Theodore" was a quiet tribute to the Reverend Parker. Laurie's grandfather she patterned after the remembered kind, dignified images she carried of her grandfather, Colonel Joseph May, and his son, her dear Uncle, the Reverend Sam May . . . .

Into the story Louisa wove the domesticities Mr. Niles wanted. The girls cleaned house, helped the poor, went on picnics, fought with each other, wrote and acted plays, and played at Pilgrim's Progress, just as the Alcott girls had done. Meg fell in love, Jo longed to be a famous and wealthy writer, Beth, though frail, patiently calmed the others, and Amy manipulated and charmed to get her own way . . . .

The character Louisa knew best, of course, was Jo. Carefully, she tried to be honest about this Josephine March, her own mirror-image. Jo was Louy all over again - full of moods - with a hot temper - aiming to be cheerful - and always, determined to succeed. She even decided to use the Dickensian name of  "Jo" that she occasionally used to refer to herself . . . .

To add the emotional pitch necessary to the telling of a story, she added bits of fiction to the real experiences . . . . Other incidents were shaped to make the story line stronger. The sisters' ages were altered to suit the needs of the tale . . . . Deliberately, Louisa wove together fact and fiction to create a story that had "heart" and "spirit."

She worked steadily, and on July 15th, after a vortex of only six weeks, had filled 402 hand-written blue-lined pages . . . . Her task was done . . . .

Little Women; Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The Story of Their Lives, by Louisa May Alcott, was offered to the public on September 30, 1868 . The enthusiastic reaction to the book was far more than any of them could have hoped. Everyone loved it . . . .

On November 1, she began the second part, but declared firmly, "I won't marry Jo to Laurie to please any one."

She considered not having Jo marry at all, saying "marrying isn't the only end and aim of a woman's life." Her story-sense guided her, however, and she invented Professor Friedrich "Fritz" Bhaer as a romantic interest for Jo. He bore a surprising resemblance to the gentle and understanding Mr. [Ralph Waldo] Emerson, whom Louisa had idolized in early girlhood. He was German, like Goethe, the 17th century author whose romantic notions she had once imitated, and whose Faust she considered one of the finest novels every written . . . .

Louisa wrote in a vortex again . . . .

On New Year's Day, 1869, she turned over the completed sequel to the publisher . . . . Upon it's publication, Little Women or Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Part Second was as popular as Part One had been . . . .

Throughout the year, the sales for Little Women changed the Alcott fortunes. Roberts Brothers issued Parts I and II as one fat book, and Little Women established Louisa May Alcott as an author. She was grateful that she had found an honest publisher who urged her to keep her copyright, for now it made all the difference in the income she was receiving . . . .

Louisa knew she had found her writing form; the juvenile field . . . . She had also found her style; simple, true, with characters who talked like real people. She would write "from real life" . . . .

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