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Marmee & Louisa: the Untold Story of Louisa…

Marmee & Louisa: the Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother (2012)

by Eve LaPlante

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This is a biography that focuses on the relationship between the American author Louisa May Alcott and her mother Abigail (May) Alcott. When I learned that her mother was the inspiration for the March family matriarch in Little Women, I thought I might be at a disadvantage because I have never read Little Women. It wasn’t an issue, really, but now I want to read Little Women for the first time.

The author, a descendant -- but not a direct descendant -- of Louisa May Alcott, did a great job of giving readers a sense of what life was like in mid-1800s America, especially for women. Without the right to vote and to control her own finances, women – especially married women – were virtual slaves to their fathers, husbands and brothers.

And poor Abigail, married to a real piece of work who was so smart (in his own mind) that he didn’t need to support his family. He would abandon his wife and four daughters for months, even years at a time, leaving them to struggle financially. So, all the Alcott girls and women learned at a young age to make their own futures.

I read this book for a non-fiction readers’ group at my public library and believe it will engender a lively discussion. ( )
  NewsieQ | Nov 6, 2017 |
Fabulous insight into the relationship between Louisa M-A and her mother. Also brings to light the fact that Marmee, Abigail May Alcott, was no docile wallflower. She raised her gifted daughters with love and compassion, but always under the yoke of poverty, constant home transitions, and often alone. The fact she was able to do all of this successfully and have time to write and be politically active (abolitionist, women's rights, civil rights) says a lot about her strength, drive, and character. ( )
  Sixtravelbugs | Feb 7, 2017 |
I tried listening to this book as an audiobook. The reader had a voice that really wasn't well suited to reading and she read much too slowly. I think I will try again, this time with the print edition. ( )
  eowynfaramir | Dec 9, 2016 |
Full of tidbits about history, a bit dry at times, this book did offer good insights into the life and characters of Louisa May Alcott. It told the history of Louisa's mother Abigail and since Abigail grew up in the Boston area and had a family that participated in politics it also offers quite a bit of history about that time and place, in a very focused way. Abigail's brother Samuel May was very involved in the abolitionist movement and her husband Bronson was good friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson. Bronson was quite and idealist and not very practical so much of the book is about Abigail's struggle to support the family. I would say this book is good for those with a strong interest in history or in studying Louisa's family, but for a reader with just a passing interest it may be too detailed/dry. ( )
  debs4jc | Oct 9, 2015 |
Excellently researched, by descendant of the Alcotts. First of many books I have read about Louisa May that delved into her relationship with her mother. Amazingly, Abigail Alcott was a proponent of women's rights (including voting) and passed that sense of justice to her daughters. Abigail was also a prolific keeper of yearly journals and as the author shows, she rivals the words of LM Alcott. And really points out the sadness of Bronson Alcott, a brilliant individual who failed to financially support his family throughout their life. ( )
  bogopea | Jul 22, 2015 |
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Mothers are the best lovers in the world;
but I don't mind whispering to Marmee, that
I'd like to try all kinds. It's very curious, but
the more I try to satisfy myself with all sorts
of natural affections, the more I seem to want.
—Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, 1868
To David
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On Wednesday, October 8, 1800, in a large frame house on Milk Street overlooking Boston Harbor, Dorothy Sewall May delivered her fourth living daughter, whom she names Abigail, after her husband's mother.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Louisa May Alcott was one of the most successful and bestselling authors of her day, earning more than any of her male contemporaries. Her classic Little Women has been a mainstay of American literature since its release nearly 150 years ago, as Jo March and her calm, beloved “Marmee” have shaped and inspired generations of young women. Biographers have consistently attributed Louisa’s uncommon success to her father, Bronson Alcott, assuming that this outspoken idealist was the source of his daughter’s progressive thinking and remarkable independence.

But in this riveting dual biography, award-winning biographer Eve LaPlante explodes these myths, drawing from a trove of surprising new documents to show that it was Louisa’s actual “Marmee,” Abigail May Alcott, who formed the intellectual and emotional center of her world. Abigail, whose difficult life both inspired and served as a warning to her devoted daughters, pushed Louisa to excel at writing and to chase her unconventional dreams in a male-dominated world.

In Marmee & Louisa, LaPlante, Abigail’s great-niece and Louisa’s cousin, re-creates their shared story from diaries, letters, and personal papers, some recently discovered in a family attic and many others that were thought to have been destroyed. Here at last Abigail is revealed in her full complexity—long dismissed as a quiet, self-effacing background figure, she comes to life as a fascinating writer and thinker in her own right. A politically active feminist firebrand, she was a highly opinionated, passionate, ambitious woman who fought for universal civil rights, publicly advocating for abolition, women’s suffrage, and other defining moral struggles of her era.

In this groundbreaking work, LaPlante paints an exquisitely moving and utterly convincing portrait of a woman decades ahead of her time, and the fiercely independent daughter whose life was deeply entwined with her mother’s dreams of freedom. This gorgeously written story of two extraordinary women is guaranteed to transform our view of one of America’s most beloved authors.
[retrieved 3/6/13 from Amazon.com]
Includes bibliographical references (p. 340-355) and index. Illustrated.
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The author argues that Louisa's "Marmee," Abigail May Alcott, was in fact the intellectual and emotional center of her daughter's world--exploding the myth that her outspoken idealist father was the source of her progressive thinking and remarkable independence.… (more)

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