Happy birthday Louisa May Alcott

"I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship."
? Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Sunday (29 November) would have been Louisa May Alcott's 183rd birthday. Her much-loved novel Little Women features on the Kumon Recommended Reading List, and the story is widely considered to be based on Louisa's own childhood.

To mark her birthday we have taken a look at the life of this acclaimed author and considered how life imitates art within her celebrated novel.

  • Exactly like the four March sisters in Little Women, Louisa grew up with three sisters; Anna, the eldest, and two younger siblings Elizabeth and Abigail May.

  • The Alcott's, like the March's, experienced the hardships of poverty. Due to Mr Alcott's socialist values he often struggled to find suitable employment to provide for his family, so Louisa, akin to Meg and Jo March, had to work to support her family from a young age.

  • The similarities between Little Women's heroine Jo, and Alcott herself are particularly striking. Both woman are independent, strong-tempered and struggle to conform to traditional 19th century notions of femininity. Alcott was a feminist, who campaigned publicly for woman's rights and Jo's character blurs gender stereotypes, highlighted from the onset in her androgynous nickname 'Jo'.

  • Alcott loved to read and was a skilled writer, and like Jo she began publishing sensational stories to help ease her family's financial woes.

  • Alcott signed up as a union nurse after the civil war broke out in 1861, and her protagonist Jo too feels the same desire to serve alongside her father, and the soldiers on the front-line.

  • Not only is Jo March based upon Louisa herself, Meg, Beth and Amy March mirror Louisa's own sisters: similar to Beth, Alcott's younger sister Elizabeth died at an young age having contracted scarlet fever from a poor family her mother had been treating; older sister Anna, like Meg, settled into a traditional motherly role, and even the competitive, fraught, relationship Louisa had with her youngest sister Abigail May is presented in Jo and Amy's volatile relationship. (The name 'Amy' even being an anagram of 'May'.)

It took Louisa just two and a half months to write the manuscript for Little Women, having so many personal memories to warrant as material. It is this autobiographical element to the novel which helped project Little Women to such stratospheric success. The domestic, sentimental novel resonated with mothers and young women everywhere for its honest depiction of womanhood.

Happy birthday Louisa!

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