Louisa May Alcott
The Woman Behind Little Women
By Harriet Reisen
(Henry Holt and Co., Hardcover, 9780805082999, 384pp.)
Publication Date: October 27, 2009
A vivid, energetic account of the life of Louisa May Alcott, whose work has delighted millions of readers
Louisa May Alcott portrays a writer as worthy of interest in her own right as her most famous character, Jo March, and addresses all aspects of Alcott’s life: the effect of her father’s self-indulgent utopian schemes; her family’s chronic economic difficulties and frequent uprootings; her experience as a nurse in the Civil War; the loss of her health and frequent recourse to opiates in search of relief from migraines, insomnia, and symptomatic pain. Stories and details culled from Alcott’s journals; her equally rich letters to family, friends, publishers, and admiring readers; and the correspondence, journals, and recollections of her family, friends, and famous contemporaries provide the basis for this lively account of the author’s classic rags-to-riches tale.
Alcott would become the equivalent of a multimillionaire in her lifetime based on the astounding sales of her books, leaving contemporaries like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Henry James in the dust. This biography explores Alcott’s life in the context of her works, all of which are to some extent autobiographical. A fresh, modern take on this remarkable and prolific writer, who secretly authored pulp fiction, harbored radical abolitionist views, and completed heroic service as a Civil War nurse, Louisa May Alcott is in the end also the story of how the all-time beloved American classic Little Women came to be. This revelatory portrait will present the popular author as she was and as she has never been seen before.
Harriet Reisen’s interest in Louisa May Alcott dates to her marathon reading of Alcott’s eight children’s novels during a rainy spell one childhood summer. Over the past twenty years, what began as an idea for a film biography of Alcott developed into a passion for the subject herself. A former fellow in screenwriting at the American Film Institute, Reisen has written dramatic and historical documentary scripts for PBS and HBO, and radio commentary for Morning Edition and Marketplace. She lives in Massachusetts.
For many readers, Louisa May Alcott is synonymous with her most famous character, Jo March, the spirited sister in Little Women. But author and filmmaker Harriet Reisen says Alcott's life "was no children's book." Reisen's The Woman Behind 'Little Women' premieres Monday night on PBS. More at NPR.org
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“Every now and then, there appears a writer who has tracked a subject for so long through space and time that the resulting product ranks it superior to any of the facile interpretations or extended magazine articles that currently pass for biography. Such is the case with Harriet Reisen . . . . Ms. Reisen is a master storyteller. Chapters are never formulaic. With compassion and insight, she propels readers on to the next adventure, sacrifice, tragedy and triumph.”—Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, The Washington Times
“As Harriet Reisen's enchanting biography reminds us, Alcott patterned the March family on her own and Jo on herself . . . . [Her life] is richly examined in Ms. Reisen's full and vivid portrait.”—Melanie Kirkpatrick, The Wall Street Journal
“There may be better American novels, but Little Women surely ranks among the most cherished. . . . Fans will adore Harriet Reisen’s sympathetic biography Louisa May Alcott. With charming verve, she details Alcott’s remarkable if difficult life.”—USA Today
“A lively, engrossing portrait of Louisa May Alcott's life that will appeal to the legions of women who grew up worshipping the book . . . . [Alcott’s] spirit shines through in Reisen’s retelling.”—Meghan Barr, Associated Press
“Reisen’s lifelong fascination with Little Women and the woman who wrote it has produced an absorbing narrative, in many ways the best ever, of Alcott’s own life. . . . The utterly compelling force of Alcott’s personality has never been better described. I found the book compulsively readable; I couldn’t put it down.” —Robert Richardson, author of Emerson: The Mind on Fire and Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind
“Brilliantly researched. . . . Her biography will occupy an essential place on any Alcott bookshelf.” —John Matteson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father
“A beautifully written, significant, and fascinating work. Harriet Reisen does with this biography what Alcott did with her writing—gives us a memorable and inspiring gift full of humanity, heart, and soul.”—Winona Ryder, producer and star of Little Women (1994)
“[Reisen’s] story equals—and maybe bests—her beloved book about the lively March sisters.”—Lisa Shea, Elle Magazine
“This juicy bio is a page-turner.”—Good Housekeeping
“Drawing heavily on family letters and journals, Reisen’s intimate biography . . . is a moving and sympathetic look at the Alcotts and their extraordinary cultural mileu.”—Julia M. Klein, Obit Magazine
“Harriet Reisen puts 20 years of study into a highly readable story. She casts a revealing new light upon an ambitious woman who was very much like her literary alter ego.”—Joyce Saenz Harris, The Dallas Morning News
“Comprehensive and eminently readable. . . . At once sweeping and personal. . . Reisen’s devotion both to scholarship and Alcott herself makes the book truly an interesting and engaging read.”—Victoria Shouldis, Concord Monitor