Louisa May Alcott: Her life, Letters and Journals

Louisa May Alcott: Her life, Letters and Journals

As this is a non-fiction novel, I can’t use the criteria that I’d normally use. I will discuss my overall enjoyment.

It starts off quite nicely, I always enjoy the journals of children. They are generally more insightful then adult journals. A child doesn’t think about who could be reading it, they are more focused on getting their grievances on the page.

Each chapter began with a poem, I found this enjoyable. Then there is a summary of that period of Miss Alcott’s life written by Ednah Dow Cheney, who obviously was a great fan of Louisa May and cherished her dearly. Which gives the account a lopsided point of view, according to Cheney, Louisa May could do no wrong. I’m not saying that I wanted all the dirty secrets to be aired, I found the “woe Louisa May and her hard life” extremely tedious. Especially after she became a famous author, I found it a bit too much.

After the summary, we are plunged headfirst into pages upon pages of journal entries which consist of the books she’s written and how much she was paid per month. Dry, dull and repetitive are these sections and unfortunately, they make up majority of the book. It was at this point that I had to stop and read another book to break the monotony.

Louisa May refers to everyone by their initials which is the most confusing thing ever. I had no idea who she was talking about half the time. I feel like the editor of the book could have made that small adjustment in the journal entries.

Eventually we come across the letters she wrote and that is a welcome break. I did enjoy the letters, however we only see her side of the conversation, it’s really like we’re only getting half the story.

Now, if her life had been set in modern times, yes it would have been a very hard life. However, she grew up in a period where infant mortality was high, and even living into your adulthood did not mean you would be lucky enough to live a long life, what with strange coughs, odd medicine and the horrors of childbirth, I don’t think her sufferings were any different to most other families in that period. And the fact is, she got her family out of near poverty. She was, in fact, one of the luckier ones.

What I found heart wrenching, is the fact that she never slowed down to enjoy her success. From the look of things, she was a robot, who churned out books. She never seemed to live her life. Her journal entries and her letters always have mentions of what she’s working on, what she’s sent out and the value of all of it.

One reason why I wanted to read this book is because she was a writer and I wanted to learn her method of writing. There doesn’t seem to be one. Apparently, she never had to edit anything. She wrote it and sent it out and it gets published. As an aspiring writer, I found that annoying, that a book about an author has nothing to do with her process as an author.

I will end on a positive though, I really loved her relationship with her sister May. That section of the book touched me deeply. I would love to read May’s journals as I think they wouldn’t be as dry as Louisa’s.

In total, I give this book one and a half stars for the journal entries as a child, the insightful letters and her sister May. I will not read this book again and I will not recommend it to anyone. If you want to know about her life, read Little Women, a much better depiction.


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