cover image A Strange Life: Selected Essays of Louisa May Alcott

A Strange Life: Selected Essays of Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott, edited by Liz Rosenberg. Notting Hill, $21.95 (168p) ISBN 978-1-912559-43-5

Editor Rosenberg (Sorrows, Scribbles, and Russet Leather Boots) assembles in this elegant anthology some of 19th-century novelist Alcott’s most notable nonfiction. In “Hospital Sketches,” Alcott lyrically recounts working as a nurse in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War, writing of a soldier she tended who died of his injuries: “He vanished, like a drop in that red sea upon whose shores so many women stand lamenting.” Her humor and vivaciousness are on display in “How I Went Out to Service,” in which she describes her brief stint as a domestic servant for a Boston family of declining fortunes when she was 15 and offers a nauseatingly vivid sketch of the priggish scion who insisted on inviting Alcott to his “charming room” so he could read Hegel to her. The standout “Transcendental Wild Oats” provides a droll account of Fruitlands, the short-lived utopian community founded by Alcott’s father in the 1840s. She wryly notes that the idealistic residents walked back their ban on animal labor after a few days of “blistered hands and aching backs suggested the expediency of permitting the use of cattle” to plow fields. Filled with scintillating prose and amusing stories, this persuasively makes the case that Alcott’s essays have been unjustly overlooked. (Oct.)