Saturday, June 18, 2011

If You Loved Little Women

Louisa May Alcott's birthday isn't until November 29.  But I don't think I can wait that long to celebrate her!
  I just read a book about her that has made me want to pick up Little Women again and of course watch the movie version that stars Winona Ryder, Susan Sarandon, and Christian Bale (whom I love love love just below my husband and Robert Sean Leonard -- long story!).

Anyway, it's called The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees.

Despite being an English major and an English teacher, I am ashamed to say that I learned so much from this book!  And I'm only ashamed because I feel like I should have known it all before.  But despite it being historical fiction (which I love actually), the history and biographical information about Alcott is very artfully woven in to enhance the story and promote reader understanding of Alcott's motives and life.  Wow -- that sounded a little too academic -- teacher moment, sorry.  In other words, it still reads and feels like a novel, not like a biography.

Anyway, the premise of the story comes from a few facts: Apparently, because Alcott was famous in her lifetime, she frequently burned letters and destroyed documentation of things that she felt were too personal.  Also, a comment was made by Julian Hawthorne (son of Nathaniel -- The Scarlet Letter) that she must have known love to write so wonderfully about it.  Thus, the book is about a love affair that Alcott had one summer where the documentation of her life has been very scarce (that's the fictional part). 

I found this book informative, compelling, and romantic.  I can understand now why Alcott would CHOOSE to be an "old maid" rather than marry.  Of course, the affair itself is speculation, but given her parents marriage, her father's EXTREME transcendental ideals and their impact on his family, and how the roles of wife and mother would affect her independence and her ability to write, I think that had there been a love interest in reality she most likely would have chosen to end it.  
But the romance was so sweet.  And genuine.  And I cheered for it even as I knew that is was doomed.  Oh, but be warned, there is a "scene" in the middle.  It's not graphic or explicit but it is the one issue I had with the book -- good romances don't need sex.  And that is evidenced by Alcott herself, as well as many other wonderful writers of romantic novels (not romance novels though of course!).

I also had never realized how closely Little Women mirrored her own life.  My next task is to reread that -- it's been years!  And then on to Whitman's Leaves of Grass which plays a key role in the novel and (again I am ashamed to admit I have never read the whole of it!) then maybe even a biography!  McNees references one by Martha Saxton that she just loves.

So between all that and projects I'm trying to finish, I should be busy!  And in such a delightful way.