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Nov 11, 2009

Louisa May Alcott Publishes Her First Story!!

On November 11, 1852, Louisa May Alcott published "The Rival Painters: A Story of Rome" in the Saturday Evening Gazette per some sources, others say it is The Olive Branch that it first appeared in. She had previously published a poem, Sunlight (under pseudonym Flora Fairfield), but this was her first story that was published. She had written this tale for her sisters when she was sixteen, and she duplicates the scene of reading the Rival Painters aloud for the first time to her sisters in her later novel Little Women. The story involves two painters who were in love with the same woman, and she was paid $5.00 for it.
Most of us recognize Louisa May Alcott as the author of the infamous classic Little Women (1868), of which I own at least three copies of. Before this success she wrote her first book Flower Fables (1854), and lived to write many more poems, short stories and novels. In 1858 her sister Elizabeth (Betty) passed away, another family event she duplicated later in Little Women with Beth. Louisa May Alcott herself was a tragic and heroic figure which came through in her writings.

Alcott remembered her personal sadness with her sister in November 1857:
"Twenty-five this month. I feel my quarter of a century rather heavy on my shoulders just now. I lead two lives. One seems gay with plays, etc., the other very sad, in Betty's room; for though she wishes us to act, and loves to see us get ready, the shadow is there, and Mother and I see it. Betty loves to have me with her; and I am with her at night, for Mother needs rest. Betty says she feels " strong" when I am near. So glad to be of use."
"January, 1858. Lizzie much worse; Dr. G. says there is no hope. A hard thing to hear; but if she is only to suffer, I pray she may go soon. She was glad to know she was to "get well," as she called it, and we tried to bear it bravely for her sake. We gave up plays; Father came home; and Anna took the housekeeping, so that Mother and I could devote ourselves to her. Sad, quiet."
"My dear Beth died at three in the morning after two years of patient pain. Last week she put her work away, saying the needle was too heavy ... Saturday she slept, and at midnight became unconscious, quietly breathing her life away till three; then, with one last look of her beautiful eyes, she was gone."
(this quote Retrieved from "")
Betty died March 14, 1858, was the basis for the character Beth in Little Women, and perhaps because of her kind, timid and soulful ways, she was my favorite character. Another sister Anna was the basis for Meg, Louisa herself was Jo, and Abigail May was the basis for Amy.

Louisa May Alcott was one of my very first favorite authors. It was first Judy Blume, then her. When I was ten years old, I first read Little Women, and then I read Little Men, and then Jo's Boys, and I re-read them over and over. I remember sitting at the bus stop reading them, and I also remember penning several book reports featuring either Little Women or Louisa May Alcott. I will always mention her as a favorite author, as she helped to hone my dislikes and likes for certain books as my tastes changed as I grew older, yet Alcott would always have a hold on my heart.

Her appeal to me was the way that she depicted the family of the Marches of Little Women. They were seemingly destitute, yet they found peace within the love that they shared for each other and their neighbors. I can see that she drew from her own experiences as a sister and a daughter and used them in her stories. It is interesting to learn now that Alcott did not really sit down and think of the story of Little Women as a story that begged to be told. A publisher approached her with the request that she write a book for girls, and Alcott was reluctant to do so. She had previously established herself as a serious literary writer when she wrote of her memories of being a civil war nurse in Hospital Sketches in 1863. She had also written under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard a set of stories that were quite contrary to the calm and tender tales we would equate Alcott with. Louisa May Alcott satisfied herself writing her stories to help support her impoverished family and never married.

My 6 Book set from Doubleday that I've had since I was a kid

The books shown above are the Doubleday reprints that feature illustrations within. They are Under the Lilacs, Little Men, Jack and Jill, Eight Cousins, Jo's Boys, Little Women, received as gift from my late father, probably in the early 80's.

But my most favorite edition, another gift from my father, is my "The Works of Louisa May Alcott" by Longmeadow Press, in 1986 (ISBN 9780681400344) a Full-Leather bound book complete and unabridged, where the soft cover boards are maroon genuine bonded leather, accented with pink flowers with gilt lettering and design on front and spine, and the pages are gilded with gold! This book contains Little Women, Little Men, and 24 short stories. At 787 beautiful pages, this book is a treasure.

Favorite Fact: She has a crater on Venus named after her.

Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888) died from the effects of mercury poisoning at the age of 55 and is buried with her adored father, Bronson, who had passed away two days earlier, in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Massachusetts. She rests with her family and friends and mentors, who include Thoreau, Emerson and Hawthorne.
Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father was a 2008 Pulitzer Prize biography by John Matteson that I've got on my wish list, and I just received The Glory Cloak by Patricia O'Brien which features Louisa May Alcott as well.

You can download selected works at the Internet Archive Search.
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