Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott

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Apparently this is old news, at least from reading the postscripts, introductions, and book flaps to the books, but I just found out that Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, wrote many books and short stories with darker and more serious themes than were known in her lifetime.

Some of the books, such as her first novel, The Inheritance, were never published in her lifetime. Others, and many of the short stories, were published under pseudonyms. I enjoyed A Double Life, a collection of short stories with dark themes that had been published anonymously in magazines during Miss Alcott’s lifetime.

The last story, Taming a Tartar, was particularly enjoyable and not particularly disturbing or shocking from a twenty-first century standpoint. An English governess in Paris finds herself employed as companion to a frail Russian princess. The princess’s brother turns out to be quite handsome but cruel and falls in love with the heroine. She, being rather a feminist, refuses to fall melting at his feet. Although she does eventually marry him, it is on her terms. Quite racy for the nineteenth century, but rather tame by our standards.

Most of the stories, however, are not nearly as cheerful and end with the death and/or death wish of most if not all the characters.

And A Long, Fatal Love Chase is quite disturbing. A young girl, isolated from the world on her grandfather’s island, where they and their servants are the sole inhabitants, meets and falls in love with a man of shady character who comes to visit her grandfather. Warning: Plot spoilers ahead. He whisks her away on her yacht and supposedly marries her. They live an idyllic life for a year, until his wife comes looking for him because he has prevented her seeing their son for a year. Horrified at having helped him commit bigamy and adultery, the girl flees. He pursues her across Europe, only to run down the boat she is on, thinking it is another man’s, when she goes to visit her grandfather. She dies, and he shoots himself.

This novel was meant to be published as a magazine serial, but was rejected by the publisher who had requested it as being too disturbing.

If you read these books, you can read all about how these writings were discovered, and what the world of academia thinks of a beloved children’s author being a multi-faceted, multi-talented author.

For my part, I am simply delighted to discover that one of my favorite authors has more to offer than just the simple pleasures of childhood. I also want to go back and reread my favorites. How many of the themes of these darker writings can I discover in the books I loved as a child?

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