Little Women Abroad: The Alcott Sisters' Letters from Europe, 1870-1871

By Louisa May Alcott; May Alcott et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

In the “Preface” to Shawl-Straps (1872), Louisa May Alcott’s account of her grand European tour with her sister May and their friend Alice Bartlett in 1870–71, Alcott complains that “there is nothing new to tell, and that nobody wants to read the worn-out story.… The only way in which this affliction may be lightened to a long-suffering public is to make the work as cheerful and as short as possible.” Therefore, she declares at the onset, she “has abstained from giving the dimensions of any church, the population of any city, or description of famous places… but confined herself to the personal haps and mishaps, adventures and experiences, of her wanderers” (v). True to her word, Louisa’s narrative focuses on the “adventures and experiences” of the three women. But she did not write primarily from memory. Instead, she turned to letters written to her family while abroad to recount “the personal haps and mishaps” of the travelers. For it was in these often lengthy and descriptive personal letters that Louisa and her sister May first told the events found in Shawl-Straps. Of course, using her own letters to form the basis of her literary work was not new to Louisa. In 1863, her letters home to family had formed the basis for her first successful book, Hospital Sketches.

The same year that Louisa published her travel narrative, her father, A. Bronson Alcott, wrote in his Concord Days (1872): “A lifelong correspondence were a biography of the correspondents. Preserve your letters till time define their value. Some secret charm forbids committing them to the flame.… Letters… better represent life than any form in literature” (123–24). Such a declaration directly contrasts with the thoughts of Alcott’s most famous daughter, Louisa May, who, late in her life, penned the following in her 1885 journal: “Sorted old letters & burned many. Not wise to keep for curious eyes to read, & gossip-lovers to print by & by” (Journals

-xv-

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Little Women Abroad: The Alcott Sisters' Letters from Europe, 1870-1871
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Abbreviations of Works Cited xiii
  • Introduction xv
  • Notes on the Text lxxv
  • Chronology lxxviii
  • The Letters 1
  • Index 271
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