I love reading about the differences between characters and the real-life people who inspire them. In the case of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, I always thought Jo was a badass, but never really know about Alcott’s own mother, who was equally badass.
From the Chicago Trib:
Alcott wrote “Little Women” at the request of her publisher, who wanted a “girls’ book.” Alcott complained that she didn’t much like girls, nor know many, other than her sisters. Still, she needed the money, and so she set to work, drawing on her childhood memories. But to shoehorn her unconventional, bohemian and transcendentalist parents into a suitable tale for Victorian-era sensibilities just wasn’t possible. She dealt with her father, Bronson–brilliant and wildly radical–by leaving him out. (Mr. March spends most of the novel “far away” ministering to Union troops.) And she evidently felt that her mother’s character needed an extreme makeover–the personality equivalent of the teeth-whitening, nose-straightening, breast-enhancing transformations performed on TV’s “The Swan.”
Fucking publishers. How fabulous would it be if, in addition to Little Women, we had a memoir of Alcott’s real-life mom? Reading more about her whets my appetite for such a memoir:
Abigail May was 26 when she met impoverished educator Bronson Alcott, in 1827. Shunning what she called “heartless fashion and polar etiquette,” she proceeded to court him purposefully for three years. When they finally married, it was an unusually egalitarian union by the yardstick of the era. Bronson insisted on attending the birth of his daughter Elizabeth and took charge of the girls’ morning bath and bedtime routines, so that Abigail could have some time to herself each day. When Bronson’s radicalism (attempting sex education and trying to racially integrate his school, among other things) brought opprobrium, Abigail became his fiercest defender[…].
Bronson’s uncompromising ideals eventually made him unemployable, and while he sat contemplating philosophical works in his study, Abigail had to take in sewing. … When Bronson decided they would live outside the money economy on a communal farm, Abigail found that much of the physical labor of the venture fell to her, while the men occupied themselves with debating its ideas. … When the farm failed during its first winter, Abigail became the main breadwinner, one of the first women employed as a professional social worker among the poor in Boston.
19 Century sex ed? Uncompromising ideals that render people unemployable? Communal farms? Social work? Men debating ideas rather than doing the real work? Trailblazing Chicks? Someone needs to write a book about this, soon.