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Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women

She may have written homey tales of family, but Louisa May Alcott’s own life was filled with struggle.

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If Louisa May Alcott’s family were alive today, they would likely try their hands at working an organic co-op in Massachusetts, keeping company with Michael Pollan, and seeking out other progressive writers of the day. But if things turned out anything like they did in real life – when father Bronson subjected his family to life at Fruitlands, an experiment in agrarian communal life in Harvard, Mass. – the four young daughters and debt-ridden parents would suffer mightly from hunger, cold, and the effects of poor nutrition.

The author of the timeless homey tale “Little Women” herself lived “an unusually varied experience,” in her own words. She was a child of a transcendentalist, an actress, a Civil War nurse, an invalid’s governess, an elite first-class traveler of Europe, and the celebrity writer of a multitude of family tales and racy pulp fiction. Harriet Reisen’s Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women perceptively traces each wild turn of the author’s life through diary entries, letters, and her own largely autobiographical popular fiction. (A televised version of Reisen’s book aired Dec. 28 on PBS’s “American Masters.”)

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