Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women

Book By Harriet Reisen

Henry Holt and Company, 2009

Hardcover, 362 pages

5 of 5 stars

Review by Laureen F. Guenther

I thought I knew about Louisa May Alcott, but I was curious to fill in the cracks of my knowledge. That must be why I picked up The Woman Behind Little Women at the library. After reading it, I have a fully-rounded picture of her life and work.

Harriet Reisen, the author of this biography, was a little girl when her mother gave her Little Women as a gift. Harriet gobbled it up quickly, and soon her grandmother gave her the rest of the Alcott novels. Harriet did the same with them and she’s been an Alcott devotee ever since.

Riesen has dedicated her life, it seems, to learning and telling the full and true story of Louisa May Alcott. She also collaborated with Nancy Porter to produce a documentary film on Louisa May Alcott’s life. (Learn more about the film here.)

The Woman Behind Little Woman is extensive and detailed. At first I found the writing a little heavy, with longer-than-average sentences — and that was when I was just trying to find out if I wanted to read the book! But after only a couple of pages, I was hooked. I read the entire 300+ pages in three days.

I now know about the sad parts of her life that Louisa left out of her autobiographical novels. She grew up in a close but unstable family, where her (in)famous father was not nearly as much of a hero as the father in Little Women. I found out that Louisa tried to make money teaching – as did her imitation character Jo in Little Men –but Louisa wasn’t nearly as successful a teacher as Jo was. And although Louisa loved writing, her most pressing and enduring motivation was to support herself and her family – though not a husband and children. Louisa never married, but through all her adult life, her writing supported her parents and her sisters, and even paid off her parents’ decades-old debts.

If you love biography and are interested in the strong-but-weak woman who wrote the novels so many of us love, I encourage you to check out The Woman Behind Little Women.

Purchase it at from amazon or from goodreads.

Or borrow it from the Calgary Public Library or the public library in your community.

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~ by Laureen Guenther on August 17, 2012.

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