A New England Literary Walk: Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott

Another New England literary walk took me to the town of Concord, Massachusetts where I visited two authors’ homes.  I went to the Orchard House, home of Louisa May Alcott and the Alcott family. I was given good directions to the Fitzburg line, a part of the Boston T train system.

I was still learning how to navigate my way, but finding the home was fairly easy.  I went into the Orchard House Bookstore and purchased a couple of greeting cards as I waited for the tour to begin. I sat on a garden bench outside of the house and wrote my mother.  She had read parts of Little Women to me and my sisters when we were small and I knew that she would be happy to share this experience with me.

The tour started on time and as we entered the living room, I noticed a large painting of an African American girl. It was surreal and I imagine that the youngest daughter May had painted it.  During that time, most blacks were still slaves and the Alcotts sometimes saw runaways.  She must have been impressed to paint this picture for a reason.

They supported the abolitionists and Marmee used quilts with designs that had arrows which pointed in the direction of the next safe haven.  This was all shared by the tour guide as we continually moved through the house.

We went upstairs and saw the bedrooms where the family slept.  I remember the paintings on the walls and I mean on the actual walls.   May, the painter, used the walls when she ran out of paper or canvas. What understanding parents!  She did great work.

Back downstairs in the living room, we saw nice plush furniture with a small piano. Louisa wrote as she reclined on the couch and she used the couch pillows to indicate her moods. She was known to be temperamental and the family tip-toed around her.  If she had the couch pillow sitting up, they knew not to speak to her.  If she had the pillow in a down position, they knew that she could be approached.

Louisa could write for eight to nine hours at a time.  When one hand gave out, she would switch over and write with the other one.  By the time that she wrote Little Women, she had already served as an army nurse in Washington D.C during the Civil War. Unfortunately, she caught typhoid fever.  She was escorted home by Ina, the daughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne.  She was very ill and it took a while for the family to nurse her back to health.

She never fully recovered and her right hand was somewhat impaired.  This is why she switched over and used the left hand to continue her writing.  It is said that she wrote Little Women in about six weeks.  She did enjoy some monetary comfort from book sales during her lifetime.  The family depended on her financially and it is said that when the responsibilities were too great, she would escape by spending time in Boston.

Louisa spent her earnings on things like purchasing a heating system for the house, buying Thoreau’s house for her older sister after she became a widow, and paying for art lessons for her younger sister, May.  When May died after childbirth overseas, Louisa adopted her daughter, Lulu and bought her fancy clothes which she did not often buy for herself.

Louisa moved the remaining family to Boston after her mother and two of her sisters died.  She was a giving soul and if she did not feel fully appreciated during her lifetime, her praises are still being sung today. She will always be the author of moving pieces such as Little Women and Little Men.

She did write under pen names such as of Flora Fairfield and A.M. Barnard.   The full extent of her publications may be illusive but to me, she will always be Jo, the tomboyish sister who spoke the truth in Little Women.

Orchard House-brochure

Lynn                                                                                                                 October 1, 2014

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