I have not dear reader as you may have supposed fallen off the face of the earth. Indeed I have been indulging in a few very Victorian past times namely sketching, paying calls and the cultivation of the domestic arts. I have also suffered from a nervous complaint, a common malady that tends to hit mothers during the school holidays.
Here is one proof of my occupation…
But I am back and ready at long last for commentary on Marmee and Louisa, which I finished July 2nd so almost making it during the Louisa May Alcott challenge.
What can I say but that the real Marmee, Abigail May Alcott, was more kind, more patient, compassionate, intelligent and inspiring than her fictional counterpart, Mrs. March.
She survived marriage to a most eccentric, erratic and insolvent husband, to raise her daughters more or less single-handed. And what women they grew to be.
Abigail went from being the much petted youngest daughter in a well off family, to a life of hardship and at times extreme poverty, yet she did not become mean, miserly or embittered. Not to say she never had bitter words, she was after all very human and many times deplored her husbands inability to support their family but that is not the same as being embittered.
She was among Americas first paid social workers, a position created for her by friends in Boston to save them from destitution. However the long hours and exposure to every kind of disease and squalor almost led to the death of the whole family. And yes her daughter Elizabeth (Beth) did contract scarlet fever from a family she was helping, some years after her time as a social worker.
She encouraged each of her girls in their specific talent from an early age, especially did she encourage Louisa in her writing and story telling.
On her turning ten Abigail wrote:
“Dear Daughter…I give you the pencil-case I promised, for I have observed that you are fond of writing and wish to encourage the habit. Go on trying, dear, and each day it will be easier to be and do good.”
When Louisa was 14 she wrote:
“I am sure your life has many fine passages well worth recording,” she advised, “Do write a little each day, dear, if but a line, to show me how bravely you begin the battle, how patiently you wait for the rewards sure to come when the victory is nobly won.”
Encouragement to be good, to be victorious in noble pursuits is very old fashioned, but for me it was such a relief to find the inspiration for Marmee was even more worthy of admiration than the fiction. And as Abigail recommends I have long used my writing as a “safety valve” to deal with the ups and downs of life.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Louisa May Alcott but also to those interested in the history of abolition, woman’s suffrage, women in education and work in Victorian United States or the history of women in publishing.
I also recommend a study of Louisa May Alcott’s life for aspiring authors today, there is more to learn about the writing life and practice than I can possibly include in a blog post.
But see here for my top 10 picks.
Oh, and the best part the author Eve LaPlante has a direct family link to the Alcotts through the May cousins.