Reviews for Marmee & Louisa : The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother
Book News Reviews
Drawing on newly discovered family papers, LaPlante, a New England author who is a cousin of Louisa May Alcott and great-niece of Abigail May Alcott (the model for "Marmee" in Little Women), offers new insights into their relationship as a source for Louisa's fiction. In this dual biography, LaPlante recounts their unstable family life as the daughter and wife of a charismatic but chronically indigent man, and provides interesting historical context. She takes Abigail out of Bronson Alcott's shadow, giving due to a woman who was a progressive thinker/writer herself. Annotation ©2013 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Booklist Reviews 2012 November #2
*Starred Review* It's not unusual for a biography to include a family tree, but it's rare for the biographer to appear on it. LaPlante (Salem Witch Judge, 2007) is great-niece and cousin of the subjects of this involving mother-daughter portrait of Abigail May and Louisa May Alcott. Louisa's unconventional father, Bronson, has received far more attention than his long-suffering, feminist wife, even though Abigail is the model for Marmee, the beloved mother in Little Women. This imbalance was due, in part, to Bronson's burning of Abigail's personal papers. But LaPlante discovered that all was not lost while examining the contents of her mother's attic. Her subsequent quest for more overlooked materials resulted in this first full biography of Abigail; a collection of her writings (My Heart Is Boundless); and a fresh perspective on Louisa. Spirited Abigail believed women had the right to an education and "a voice in running the world," but she fell for a charismatic yet incompetent man and found herself trapped in poverty, caring alone for their four daughters. Her own dreams cruelly thwarted, Abigail brilliantly nurtured Louisa's literary genius. Although bitter ironies mark each woman's story, vividly set within the social upheavals of the Civil War era, their profound love, intellect, and courage shine. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.
BookPage Reviews 2012 November
Alcott women were anything but little
In one of the most disturbing scenes in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, the saintly Marmee says to her daughter Jo, “I have been angry nearly every day of my life.” Eve LaPlante’s new biography of the “real” Marmee—Louisa’s mother, Abigail May Alcott—provides ample reason for her fictional counterpart’s daily rage.
LaPlante, herself a descendant from the Alcott family tree, traces Abigail May Alcott’s life from early childhood through death. We hear about Abigail’s relationships with her siblings, including her older brother, who would become a famous progressive (it is because of him that women were admitted into Cornell, for example). We learn about Abigail’s love of writing, her chronic bad health and her love match with philosopher A. Bronson Alcott. The last of these was, in LaPlante’s view, the cause of much of the trouble in Abigail’s life.
The Alcotts were perpetually in debt and moved more than 30 times. LaPlante’s chapter titles, often pulled from Abigail’s writing, reveal her subject’s despair: “Sacrifices Must Be Made,” “A Dead Decaying Thing,” “Left to Dig or Die.” [Wed Mar 12 13:37:57 2014] enhancedContent.pl: Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\enhancedContent.pl line 249.
Into this disheartening scene came Louisa, a daughter LaPlante convincingly argues had much in common with her beleaguered mother. Louisa vowed early on to become rich, pay off her family’s debts and give her mother a comfortable room. The strain between Louisa’s parents very much shaped her passion to write for money, which was why she wrote Little Women in the first place.
The narrative about Marmee’s life will be of interest to anyone who enjoys mother/daughter stories, American history or literary studies. Readers of the last category, however, may find that in fact, this “untold story” is already familiar, and may take issue with some of the author’s interpretations, particularly her obvious distaste for her subject’s husband. Still, the long and vital quotations from primary documents (some of them newly uncovered) and LaPlante’s careful research more than compensate for the book’s limitations. Especially as we move into the winter season, when many of us will cue our DVD players to the opening scene of Little Women, Marmee & Louisa is well worth a read. Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2012 September #2
Revisionist dual biography shows just how much iconic children's author Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888) "was her mother's daughter." LaPlante (Salem Witch Judge: The Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewall, 2007, etc.), a descendant of Abigail May Alcott's brother, relies on previously undiscovered family papers and untapped pages from Abigail's dairies to provide new evidence exposing her undeniable influence on her daughter. Born to a prestigious Boston family, intellectually ambitious Abigail sought independence and dreamed of "teaching school and learning more about the world," until she found her "ideal friend" in self-made, self-styled reformer Bronson Alcott. LaPlante ably demonstrates that Abigail was a "vibrant writer, brilliant teacher and passionate reformer;" she fought to eradicate slavery and promote women's equality. When Bronson proved incapable of supporting his wife and children, Abigail, like many 19th-century women, sacrificed her ambitions to maintain the family. In contrast to earlier Alcott biographies that credit Bronson for guiding their daughter's education and ideas, LaPlante suggests it was Abigail who nurtured Louisa's feminist ideals and encouraged her to write and keep a diary. The author also hints that Abigail's unsatisfactory marriage and disappointment contributed to Louisa's determination to remain a spinster and earn enough money writing stories to care for her beloved Marmee. Fresh material gives flesh to the formerly invisible Abigail, revealing how she and her famous daughter mirrored one another in temperament and depended on one another emotionally. Both longed for freedom; neither achieved it. LaPlante emphasizes Abigail's family, especially her brother, abolitionist Samuel Joseph May, as well as Abigail's and Louisa's involvement in the women's rights movement. Thoroughly researched and moving--will appeal particularly to 19th-century women's history buffs, Alcott fans and Little Women aficionados. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2012 June #2
When we think of Louisa May Alcott's formative years, we think of her famous father but rarely of her mother, Abigail May Alcott, always thought to be self-effacingly in the shadows. In fact, reports LaPlante, a great niece of Abigail's who drew on newly discovered family papers for this book, she was a forthright feminist and political activist who actively encouraged her daughter's writing. I bet there will be interest in this new slant on an ever-popular cast of characters. [Page 50]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Library Journal Reviews 2012 September #2
LaPlante (Salem Witch Judge: The Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewall) sheds light on Abigail May Alcott (1800-77), mother of Louisa May Alcott, creator of Little Women and of that book's beloved mother, Marmee. Stumbling upon an inscription in a book found among her ancestral belongings, LaPlante began to uncover the life of a woman whose husband, controversial teacher and writer Bronson Alcott, and renowned daughter Louisa May (the second of four daughters) overshadowed her own accomplishments. Abigail, called Marmee by her daughters, is shown to have been a remarkable intellect and a progressive who played a primary role in Louisa's life. LaPlante pays meticulous attention to primary sources, delving into the surviving diaries of mother and daughter. VERDICT This heavily researched double biography serves as a kind of twin to John Matteson's Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father. Nineteenth-century New England literature buffs and Alcott aficionados will appreciate this well-wrought study.--Elizabeth Heffington, Lipscomb Univ. Lib., Nashville, TN (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 August #2
In her compelling but ultimately disappointing dual biography of Louisa May Alcott and her mother, Abigail May Alcott, LaPlante (American Jezebel) admirably seeks to paint a fuller picture of Abigail and her role in Louisa's life. Born into a prominent New England family in 1800, Abigail read widely as a child and, with the encouragement of her beloved older brother, Samuel Joseph, pursued an education; she would also follow his interest in reform movements, such as abolition. Though she originally favored the idea of teaching or writing over marriage, Abigail met "unconventional" teacher A. Bronson Alcott in 1827 and married him--a love match that quickly devolved into a peripatetic life of poverty. As their family grew to include four daughters, Abigail spent most of her time earning money and managing their household, while also fighting chronic illness. Louisa followed suit, though Abigail consistently encouraged her daughter to write as a means of expression. This turned into a vocation, and Louisa's success with Little Women afforded the Alcotts their first taste of financial security. LaPlante allows her protagonists to speak for themselves through copious quotes from private journals and letters, though this doesn't always lead to cogent storytelling. Nevertheless, the book is likely to spur further scholarship on the inspiration for the beloved "Marmee." Agent: Lane Zachary, Zachary Shuster Harmsworth. (Nov.) [Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC