Arts and Leisure

Louisa May Alcott: ‘Never liked girls or knew many, except my sisters’

Louisa May Alcott wasn’t keen on writing Little Women, but her publisher insisted. She was 35 years old and a spinster who wrote potboilers under the name A.M. Barnard to alleviate her family’s poverty.Louisa_May_Alcott_13403

She was living in Concord, Mass., friends and neighbors with Ralph Waldo Emerson. She had been taught by Henry David Thoreau and knew Nathaniel Hawthorne and Margaret Fuller before they died.

Little Women would be her family’s ticket out of poverty and Louisa May Alcott’s lasting fame. At first she didn’t like the book very much.

Good Joke

In May 1868, publisher Thomas Niles said he wanted a girls’ story.  “And I begin Little Women,” she wrote in her diary. “So I plod away, though I don’t enjoy this sort of thing. Never liked girls or knew many, except my sisters; but our queer plays and experiences may prove interesting, though I doubt it.” Later she added, parenthetically, “Good joke.”

The book was based on her mother, her three sisters and herself. She wrote her improvident father, Bronson Alcott, out of the story, sending him away to the Civil War. In June she sent 12 chapters to her publisher, who thought it dull. She vowed to work away, because ‘lively, simple books are very much needed for girls.’

She finished it on July 15, noting how tired she was from overwork. She received an offer for the book from another publisher, who advised her to keep the copyright. She did, adding a note in 1885: “An honest publisher and a lucky author, for the copyright made her fortune, and the “dull book” was the first golden egg of the ugly duckling.”

On Aug. 26, 1868. Louisa May Alcott wrote in her diary:

August 26th.–Proof of whole book came. It reads better than I expected. Not a bit sensational, but simple and true, for we really lived most of it; and if it succeeds that will be the reason of it. Mr. N. Likes it better now, and says some girls who have read the manuscripts say it is ‘splendid!” As it is for them, they are the best critics, so I should be satisfied.

This story was updated in 2019. 

To Top

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest artciles from the New England Historical Society

Thanks for Signing Up!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join Now and Get The Latest Articles. 

It's Free!

You have Successfully Subscribed!