A tightly focused biography on a brief period in the life of Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888): her time as a nurse during the Civil War.
Alcott’s life seems like something out of our imagination. She was raised in Concord, Massachusetts, with a transcendentalist father and social worker mother, and she became closely acquainted with John Brown, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass, with whom she shared abolitionist sympathies. Though she experienced a wealth of intellectual stimulus, she and her family also struggled financially, causing her and her sisters to seek work where they could find it. As young adult nonfiction author Seiple (Death on the River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Amazon Adventure, 2017, etc.) shows, that was a most difficult task in 1860s America, where options for women were severely limited. Thankfully, Alcott realized her writing talent early, and by her late 20s, she had published a book as well as articles in the Atlantic Monthly. In 1858, tragedy struck with the death of her younger sister, despite Louisa’s devoted nursing. By 1862, she discovered the popularity of sensational thrillers published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and provided a steady stream of stories under a male name, thus providing a small income. Even with her literary success, she felt the need to affect the ongoing war, so she volunteered and traveled to Washington, D.C., to serve at the Union Hotel Hospital. There she met a badly wounded man who opened her heart and wakened her authentic voice, transforming her characters and stories forever. During her time at the hospital, Alcott nearly died of pneumonia and returned to Concord. There she wrote Hospital Sketches, Thoreau’s Flute, and Pauline’s Passion and Punishment, which earned enough to save her family. Then she published Little Women, in which “she expertly weaved her progressive beliefs and empathetic insights…creating original and unforgettable characters.” Throughout, Seiple’s fluid style of writing displays few fireworks but makes the story read like a novel.
A useful addition to the Alcott archives that would also appeal to younger readers.