“Rich, and famous, and happy before I die”: Louisa May Alcott.
Louisa May Alcott did not write because she had the need to get the stories out. Louisa May wrote for one reason: she wanted her family to be rich.
Louisa May Alcott was born in Germantown, PA in 1832. Her father was Amos Bronson Alcott, a Transcendentalist/Philosopher/educator, and her mother Abigail May Alcott. Louisa and her father shared the same birth day (November 29). The Alcotts moved to Boston in 1834, where her father started an experimental school, the Temple School, and joined the Transcendentalist Club. Louisa did not attend school; her father taught her at home. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller became family friends and came into Louisa’s life; the naturalist Thoreau gave her lessons. Hawthorne visited the Alcott house. The Temple School failed in 1840. The Alcotts moved to Sudbury, MA. They all became part of the Fruitlands (named after 10 decrepit apple trees) utopian commune in 1843. The communal farm failed when the residents saw they did not have enough food to make it through the winter.
The failure of the Fruitlands commune proved to Louisa her father was incapable of supporting his family. Amos once went on a lecture tour and came back with $1.00; he was that bad with money. It hardened her drive, built up over the years of hunger and insecurity, to make her family rich. She did what she had to: a governess, laundress, seamstress, a servant in other people’s houses. Louisa had kept a diary since the age of 8; she started writing dramas, then stories. She practiced her craft, driven by the need to support her family. War broke out in 1861, and Louisa signed up to be a nurse. She reported to Washington in time to help the wounded from the battle of Fredericksburg.
Louisa’s first bestseller was not fiction: Hospital Sketches was based on her letters home during the war. She still had to take in sewing to help meet the family’s needs. She wrote ‘racy’ Victorian thrillers under a pen name. The first part of Little Women , loosely based on her childhood, was published in 1868, with the second part following the next year. It was a hit; it still is. It has been translated into 50 languages and has never been out of print. No need to take in sewing anymore. She discovered the secret of getting rich by writing: sequels! She came to detest writing ‘moral pap’ as she called her books for children, but, after years of financial insecurity and moving 30 times, they helped the Alcott family move into a beautiful home in Boston’s exclusive Louisburg Square.