“The Lost Summer of Louisa Mae Alcott,” by Kelly O’Connor McNees, E Book Penguin Group, 235 pages.
Financial woes had forced Louisa Mae Alcott’s family to leave their transcendental friends in Concord, N.H., — Emerson, Thoreau and Longfellow.
They borrowed a small house in Walcott, N.H. Since her father, Bronson, had not earned a regular income in years, they were beholden to their family and friends.
Bronson believed that “a penchant for lace and silk revealed a weakness in one’s character” so his lofty airs did not allow him to consider economic affairs.
Working for “filthy lucre” was beneath him, but he certainly accepted what little the four daughters and his wife, Abba, contributed from their part-time work.
Twenty-two-year-old Louisa cared little for fluffy dresses, leather shoes, jewels or bonnets. The very idea of marriage was repugnant to her, considering how hard her mother worked to keep her family housed, fed, clothed and healthy. Her father’s charity extended to everyone except his family.
The Alcott girls had more spirit than the pious girls of Walpole and became popular with the boys. Louisa tried to avoid Joseph Singer since she wanted to spend what little free time she had on writing.
But she and Joseph had so much in common. They found their relationship on the pages of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” which she had to read secretly since her father would never approve.
She longed to move to Boston and make a living from publishing her stories. She yearned for nothing more than to have ink and a stack of paper to write sentences on the page.
Kelly O’Connor McNees mixes fact with fiction. When she read Louisa’s biography, she felt compelled to search out every biography. She noticed something strange.
Every bio portrayed her differently. Louisa Mae Alcott destroyed letters and much of her early writing, trying to make sure that her life and family were not exploited.
McNees had always wanted to write a novel and began mountains of research into Louisa’s life. Although rooted in fact, she took plenty of liberties. She investigated the way the Alcott family lived — their lack of basic necessities, their food choices, their clothing and their social life.
All her life, Louisa wondered why God gave her a talent for writing if she was to only cook and wash clothes. Like Jo in “Little Women,” “the home nest was growing too narrow for her restless nature.”
After she wrote “Little Women,” based on her own family, she became a celebrity all over the world, but she lost much of her privacy.