March 23 - Today's post contributed by Michaela MacColl
A note from KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month: Michaela MacColl has generously offered two copies of her upcoming book, The Revelation of Louisa May. The entry form is below her post. Enjoy the post and good luck!
|Louisa May Alcott, c. 1862|
Louisa May Alcott’s most famous work by far was Little Women. Her endearing story of four March sisters and their beloved mother, Marmee, trying to grow up and make ends meet during the Civil War was an instant success. The book spawned several sequels and has never been out of print. For Louisa, who wished as a child that she could become rich with her pen, Little Women was the book that fulfilled her dreams. Before Little Women, she had written gothic stories under a pseudonym so as not to embarrass her family. Her first literary success came from a short collection (only four stories) called Hospital Sketches, published in 1863. The Sketches were based on letters she sent home from a Union Army hospital in Georgetown during the civil war.
|From an 1872 edition of "Hospital Sketches"|
Fans of Little Women will recall that Mr. March is absent for most of the book because he is a chaplain in the Union Army. Fierce abolitionists, the Alcott family supported emancipation, but Louisa’s father was also a pacifist. He would not be going to war, nor would his four daughters. Perhaps Louisa felt that the burden of showing the family’s support fell to her. At first she said, "as I can't fight, I will content myself with working with those who can." But Florence Nightengale had paved the way during the Crimean War for women to be useful in the hospitals. On her 30th birthday, Louisa wrote in her journal, "Thirty years old. Decide to go to Washington as a nurse if I could find a place."
Her career as a nurse was only six weeks before she succumbed to typhoid fever and had to return home. During that time she saw horrific injuries from the Battle of Fredericksburg. She wrote home about the young soldiers she met, washed, tended to their wounds and all to often mourned. She learned “the wisdom of bottling up one’s tears for leisure moments.” Further, she observed, “A hospital is a rough school, its lessons are both stern and salutary.”
Once home, her family encouraged her to publish her letters as literary sketches. To her surprise, the book was an instant critical and commercial success. The nation was hungry for a woman’s perspective on the War. Her stories were about terrible and gruesome things, but leavened with humanity, wit and empathy. When the troops returned to her hometown of Concord, Louisa and the other women prepared a feast for them. Little did they know that the troops had prepared a surprise for her! Sixty young veterans marched to her house, and the men raised their caps and saluted Louisa. Later, Louisa mused about the success of her little sketches, "I find I've done a good thing without knowing it."
In my novel The Revelation of Louisa May we see a 17 year old Louisa trying to juggle her family responsibilities, her writing and a fugitive slave. The Alcotts were part of the Underground Railroad. Incidentally, Louisa also solves a murder. That girl would grow up to serve in the Civil War in any way she could. When she showed people a glimpse of the terrible hospitals and the dignity of the patients and doctors, she served her country well. Louisa wrote “Strong convictions precede great actions.” She was right.
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