Sanya Weathers's Reviews > Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women

Louisa May Alcott by Harriet Reisen
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Apr 19, 2012

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Wow. Again, a biography of one of my favorite authors winds up with three stars because of the subject and not the book. Subject - five stars. Book... one. Two if I'm feeling sweet.

This time, I was actually quite enjoying it. The scholarship seemed good, the writing was crisp and dryly humorous, and the material was well organized. Generally, the point of this book was that biography illuminated LMA's novels, and vice versa.

Then, oh, maybe three quarters in, give or take a chapter, the author does a capsule summary of "Little Men" for the purposes of said illumination, and it is... wrong. I quote:

"Jo's children are boy and girl twins, Daisy and Demi... The boys' inspiring tutor, modeled on Thoreau etc."

The first one is a howler because it shows the biographer didn't read great enormous whacks of LITTLE WOMEN, for heaven's sake. How can you be an Alcott biographer without reading Little Women? There are multiple chapters in Little Women devoted to Meg struggling to adjust to motherhood, learning to accept co-parenting, etc ad nauseum.

The fact that the twins are Meg's children take up several chapters in Little Men, as well. Like, oh, the chapter that deals with the death of Meg's husband, the twins' father.

The tutor flub is not quite as insane, but it's close. The naturalist in Little Men is not a tutor. He's mostly an offstage character that inspires one of the main, er... "little men." Dan, the wild child. The offstage nature of the character makes this flub incredibly strange, because there's nothing inspiring about a character that never speaks in front of the reader. He inspires *Dan* during the period where Dan has run away from Plumfield.

And so what might have been a five star book becomes a three, because now I'm wondering... what oversights and flubs did the author commit in areas where I'm not familiar with the material? If I have to wonder, the book no longer works on a non-fiction level for me.

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