A Strange Life: Selected Essays of Louisa May Alcott

Notting Hill Editions: Penguin Random House. Oct. 2023. 168p. ed. by Liz Rosenberg. ISBN 9781912559435. $21.95. LIT
Little Women sold millions of copies, making Alcott (1832–88) famous and enabling her to financially support her family. However, as the nine essays in this book demonstrate, Alcott was much more than a children’s-book writer. Rosenberg (English, Binghamton Univ.; Sorrows, Scribbles and Russet Leather Boots: A Biography of Louisa May Alcott) edited these essays, noting in her introduction to the book that Alcott never intended these texts to serve as “real” examples of her writing talents. The essays include descriptions from Alcott’s childhood in Boston as well as at Fruitlands, a failed utopian farming experiment that ruined her family; working as a servant for a lecherous minister; European travel reports; and a treatise praising singlehood. Essays that depict Alcott’s work as a Civil War nurse poignantly illustrate the physical and mental pain of wounded soldiers, many of whom suffered from the as-yet unidentified PTSD. Alcott embraced her “spinsterhood” while also championing numerous causes, such as abolitionism and women’s rights, Rosenberg argues. This collection reveals Alcott’s excellent writing abilities with her captivating accounts, keen observations, wit, and “modern opinions” about issues still relevant today.
VERDICT Although some essays would benefit from the inclusion of explanatory notes to provide context and historical background, this delightful book is highly recommended for all Alcott devotees.
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