Alcott, Louisa May, 1832–88, American author, b. Germantown, Pa.; daughter of Bronson Alcott. Mostly educated by her father, she was a friend of Emerson and Thoreau, and her first book, Flower Fables (1854), was a collection of tales originally created to amuse Emerson's daughter. Alcott was determined to contribute to the small family income and worked as a servant and a seamstress before she made her fortune as a writer. Her letters written to her family when she was a Civil War nurse were published as Hospital Sketches (1863); her first published novel, Moods, followed in 1864. She first achieved wide fame and wealth with Little Women (1868), one of the most popular children's books ever written. The novel, which recounts the adolescent adventures of the four March sisters, is largely autobiographical, the author herself being represented by the spirited Jo March. Good Wives (1869), Little Men (1871), and Jo's Boys (1886) are sequels.
Alcott's other novels for young readers include An Old-Fashioned Girl (1870), Eight Cousins (1875), and Under the Lilacs (1879). They all picture family life in Victorian America with warmth and perception. She also wrote novels for adults, including Work (1873), which is grounded in Alcott's experiences as a breadwinner for her family, and the unfinished Diana and Persis, an examination of the relationship between two women artists. Another adult volume, the novel A Long Fatal Love Chase (1866), which was originally rejected by her publisher as too sensational, was discovered in manuscript in the early 1990s and finally published in 1995. In 1996 yet another manuscript was unearthed; it contained Alcott's very first novel, written for young people, entitled The Inheritance and composed in 1849 when the author was 18.
See her letters and journal, ed. by E. D. Cheney (1889, repr. 1966); Journals of Louisa May Alcott, ed. by J. Myerson et al. (1989); Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott, ed. by J. Myerson et al. (1987); biographies by K. S. Anthony (1938, repr. 1977) and S. Elbert (1984); dual biography of Bronson and Louisa May Alcott by J. Matteson (2009); E. LaPlante, Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother (2012); studies by R. L. MacDonald (1983) and C. Strickland (1985).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.