cover image The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott

The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott. Little Brown and Company, $24.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-316-59361-8

Louisa May Alcott produced several hundred letters, and the first one here, written by the 11-year-old child to her mother in 1843, includes the postscript: ""It a book mark is not very pretty, but it is all I had to give.'' The final letter by the successful author, shortly before her death in 1888, speaks of her brief stint as an Army nurse: `` . . . I wish I had a fuller record to offer . . . but I may perhaps deserve a humble place among the women who did what they could.'' Between these characteristically modest yet assertive statements there is a wealth of colorful, determined, cranky, humorous, affectionate correspondence, salted with Yankee colloquialisms. The recipients range from eminent people like Lucy Stone, Ralph Waldo Emerson and publisher Thomas Niles to friends of the Alcott and May families. A large part of the correspondence is about her books, but the letters before 1868, when Little Women was published, also deal with the perennial poverty of the Alcotts, the activities of the four sisters and the struggles of Louisa to support herself and contribute to the ``Alcott Sinking Fund'' by working as a seamstress and governess until she sold her first story for $10. After the success of Little Women, there is much about her attempts to meet publishers' insistent demands for more material, increasing ill health, European travel and unceasing attention to family concerns as the chief breadwinner. The voice of the writer and woman is palpable throughout, insistent and appealing. Myerson and Shealy both teach at the University of South Carolina; Stern is an Alcott scholar. Illustrations not seen by PW. (September 16)