Thursday, June 07, 2007

Louisa May Alcott: A Biography (by Madeline Stern)

I have two back-entries to write (since my last post I have read The Accidental and Special Topics in Calamity Physics) but I finished this one this morning and figured I'd get it out of the way. I picked this up at the Orchard House (the home where Alcott wrote Little Women) and read that it was the premier biography of Alcott, so was looking forward to reading it.

I was hugely disappointed. Although the author had clearly done her research, she writes the whole thing in a folksy, Alcott-esque style like a cute life story and doesn't explain anything. She drops names and doesn't explain who they are; she almost never quotes from primary sources; she writes in a confusing, faux-literary style, and she leaves out all the interesting facts, trivia, quotes, background stories, and explanations. She neglects to tell us what happened to anyone (such as the niece she was raising when she died) and she ends it as Louisa is dying. And throughout, she seems to guess as to what people were thinking and feeling, and it's obviously biased by hindsight.

I would have quit reading this if I weren't trapped on a plane. It was really not well done, and given all the research Stern did on Alcott, she could have written something a thousand times better. I guess I just wanted it to be more academic, more rigorous, and less frou frou.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

When we lived in Framingham I used to make rog visit Orchard House every 2 or 3 months. I have kind of an Alcott and Ingalls obsession.

I've never actually read a biography of Alcott but I've worn out my copies of "The Journals of Louisa May Alcott" and "The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott." The editor of those collections, Daniel Shealy, edited a biography called "Alcott in Her Own Time" that looks interesting. It's all taken from writings of people who actually knew her.


11:13 AM  

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