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MARMEE & LOUISA by Eve LaPlante


The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother

by Eve LaPlante

Pub Date: Nov. 6th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-2066-5
Publisher: Free Press

Revisionist dual biography shows just how much iconic children’s author Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888) “was her mother’s daughter.”

LaPlante (Salem Witch Judge: The Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewall, 2007, etc.), a descendant of Abigail May Alcott’s brother, relies on previously undiscovered family papers and untapped pages from Abigail’s dairies to provide new evidence exposing her undeniable influence on her daughter. Born to a prestigious Boston family, intellectually ambitious Abigail sought independence and dreamed of “teaching school and learning more about the world,” until she found her “ideal friend” in self-made, self-styled reformer Bronson Alcott. LaPlante ably demonstrates that Abigail was a “vibrant writer, brilliant teacher and passionate reformer;” she fought to eradicate slavery and promote women’s equality. When Bronson proved incapable of supporting his wife and children, Abigail, like many 19th-century women, sacrificed her ambitions to maintain the family. In contrast to earlier Alcott biographies that credit Bronson for guiding their daughter’s education and ideas, LaPlante suggests it was Abigail who nurtured Louisa’s feminist ideals and encouraged her to write and keep a diary. The author also hints that Abigail’s unsatisfactory marriage and disappointment contributed to Louisa’s determination to remain a spinster and earn enough money writing stories to care for her beloved Marmee. Fresh material gives flesh to the formerly invisible Abigail, revealing how she and her famous daughter mirrored one another in temperament and depended on one another emotionally. Both longed for freedom; neither achieved it. LaPlante emphasizes Abigail’s family, especially her brother, abolitionist Samuel Joseph May, as well as Abigail's and Louisa’s involvement in the women’s rights movement.

Thoroughly researched and moving—will appeal particularly to 19th-century women’s history buffs, Alcott fans and Little Women aficionados.