The Louisa May Alcott Encyclopedia

The Louisa May Alcott Encyclopedia

The Louisa May Alcott Encyclopedia

The Louisa May Alcott Encyclopedia


Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) is arguably the most widely read 19th-century American author. She has long been a staple of children's literature courses, and her works now also receive significant attention in American studies and women's studies classes. This reference collects in a comprehensive and reliable single volume the most important facts about Alcott's life and works. It surveys the basic biographical details of her family and personal life; it supplies essential information on her historical and cultural contexts, including her place in the 19th-century publishing milieu, various reform movements, and major historical events, such as the Civil War; and it treats her writings, both the adult and children's works, in an accurate, informative, and accessible manner.


In 1860, when she was 27, author of Flower Fables and several sentimental short stories for the Saturday Evening Gazette, Louisa May Alcott was asked by publisher James Redpath for her autograph so that it might be reproduced, along with her poem on the death of John Brown, in his Echoes of Harper’s Ferry. Her reaction to the request for her autograph was characteristic. She wrote in a letter that it was “such a rich joke we haven’t done laughing at it yet.” There is no doubt she would have reacted similarly to the knowledge that, more than a century after her death, a Louisa May Alcott Encyclopedia would be compiled.

In this Encyclopedia, Alcott’s characteristics are described, along with her friends and associates, the events of her life and the themes of her fiction. The Encyclopedia is especially rich in entries on the most significant aspect of her career, her literary output.

Alcott’s actual observations and experiences shaped many of the themes in her writings—a transmutation that this Encyclopedia makes abundantly clear. The roles of acting and of gender, of education and drug use, are all here, presented often both as experience and as theme. The reforms of her day, from diet reform and temperance to dress reform, from antislavery to the women’s movement, are represented as concerns of her life that became motifs of her works.

Alcott’s background is covered in clear and concise form: the Germantown where she was born, the Boston she knew, the Fruitlands, the Concord, the Nonquitt. Her homes are here: Hosmer Cottage, Hillside, Orchard House, the Thoreau House. So, too, are the men and women who peopled her world. The Alcott and May families are of course part of this cast of characters, as well as those who figured in her life or influenced her work. From Goethe and Emerson to Margaret Fuller and the Hawthornes, from the Unitarian minister Theodore Parker to Thoreau, from her teacher Sophia Foord to her friend Laura Hosmer, from the gymnast Dio Lewis to the abolitionist Sallie Holley, from Franklin B.

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