Reprints of deft, amusing, and often moving magazine articles written by the author of Little Women during her most productive period.
This is the third volume in Ironweed’s Alcott Restoration Project to reissue her lesser-known writings. It includes “Hospital Sketches” and “Letters from the Mountains,” both published in 1863 before Little Women made her reputation as a novelist; reports on trips to Europe; recollections of her life in Concord; and a selection of essays written for children’s magazines in the 1880s. Close readers of Alcott will recognize characters and incidents that appeared later in her fiction. The setting for “Hospital Sketches” is a Washington, D.C., infirmary where Alcott briefly served as a nurse in 1862 at the height of the Civil War. Although she is shaken and horrified by the terrible wounds and tragic deaths suffered by her patients, Alcott’s observations are pungent, blunt, and astute, with little room for shallow sentiment and a generous ability to poke fun at herself, as well as to share jokes and ironies with the wounded men. Were there moments of despair and depression? Surely, but “far too deep and earnest to be recorded in a newspaper.” The next section recounts Alcott’s adventures on vacation in New Hampshire, where fellow guests are described with a caustic though never cruel pen. The spinster, as she often styles herself, particularly delights in the energy and playfulness of a group of college boys hiking through the White Mountains (think Little Men and Jo’s Boys). The same attitude informs her European sojourns, where amusement at people’s shortcomings (including her own) is balanced by appreciation of human virtue. The concluding sketches of Concord and visits to New York City prisons and orphanages have less of that ironic edge, presumably because most were written for children.
Wry, witty, charming vignettes of a 19th-century life: a gift to Alcott lovers and a welcome change of pace for readers weary of 21st-century spill-all confessionals.