Friday, March 7, 2014

In Which I Experience a Literary Coincidence

About two weeks ago I was browsing about in the public library's DVD collection and came across two literary finds. One, which I will tell you about today, was a PBS American Masters film Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women written by Harriet Reisen.

I finally got around to watching it last night and was highly entertained by the likes of Louisa and her family - parents Abigail and Bronson, and three sisters - with guest appearances by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. 

The film features a combination of Louisa (played by Elizabeth Marvel) reflecting on her life experiences through her writings, commentary by Alcott scholars, author Geraldine Brooks's nod to Ms. Alcott's influence on her own choice to become a writer, and shots of the Alcott homes and the scenery in and around Boston and Concord.

It was a fascinating look at a strong, vibrant and free-spirited woman who practically worked herself to death to keep her family in food and clothing. Her father, Bronson Alcott, was not a very good provider and Louisa was determined to make money through her writings. 

In her lifetime, it was said, she earned over $100,000 from her books and stories which would make her a millionaire in today's economy. Many of her stories were published under pen names and scholars are still discovering them in dusty files. She also worked as a nurse in a Washington, D.C. hospital during the Civil War until she herself contracted one of the fevers - typhoid? scarlet? yellow? I don't remember which - but in any event it put an end to her war efforts.

I have three of her novels - Little Women, Eight Cousins, and Under the Lilacs - that belonged to my mother and that have wonderful illustrations and color plates which so add to their enjoyment.

But here is the coincidence. I don't know what made me decide to watch this DVD last night - it has been sitting on my desk for almost two weeks, but it turns out that yesterday, March 6, just happens to be the date in 1888 that Ms. Alcott died at the age of 55. 

(Cue Twilight Zone music...)

Pretty weird, wouldn't you say?


  1. I love when the stars seem to alight just this way, I believe Bronson died on the same day. Belle. I eagerly awaited The Woman Behind Little Women when it aired on PBS a few years ago, and have watched it a few times when it was replayed. Very well done. Reissen also has a companion book for this that is very good.

    What a lovely collection; to have your mother's volumes of Alcott is a treasure. One of my favorite trips was visiting Concord and Orchard House a few years ago.

    Now, I'm wondering what your second literary find is.

    1. Hi, Penny. Actually, Bronson died two days before Louisa, but close enough. And of course I know this only from the film. I was very happy to find this treasure at my library and now will be searching for more programs like it.

      You will love my second literary find. It is another DVD - an interview with a poet. One we both admire.

      I have been to Concord - long ago - but don't think I visited Orchard House. I do seem to remember The Old Manse where Emerson and Hawthorne lived. I guess that gives me a reason to go back.

    2. I hope you are able to return to Concord sometime, Belle. I enjoyed it beyond measure. We also went to the Old Manse on that trip. As we pulled into the parking lot, a busload of tourists disembarked. They headed to Minuteman Park, so, we decided to do the Manse first. We were the only ones there and so had our own, personal tour, which was delightful! Concord remains one of my favorite places. We stayed at the Wayside Inn, which is, of course, historic, haunted, and where I had a splendid time finding pages and pages of letters written by guests, keeping me up all night. I wrote my own letter, making me a member of the Secret Drawer Society. I would go back in a heartbeat.

      Ah. I think I know who that may be. Can't wait.

    3. How lovely, Penny, to have had the Manse all to yourself. I am so glad that happened for you. A much more intimate experience with the ghosts, wouldn't you say...

      I looked at the Wayside Inn's website. How delightful. It goes on my list of inns to visit. Sometime...

      We recently heard at the Monday Afternoon Club a presentation on the Peabody Sisters: Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia. Sophia married N. Hawthorne. They were quite lively siblings and were traipsing about the area at the same time as Our Dear Louisa. The presenter actually credited the whole transcendental philosophy to Elizabeth. I am not surprised, although of course, she got no credit!

  2. Belle, this sounds like a great film, one I admit would never come my way because I don't watch American Masters. I love Louisa. I haven't read Under the Lilacs since I was eight or nine, but I certainly loved the other two you mentioned. Maybe it's time for UTL.

    I love it when coincidences happen. I think you're probably psychic.:)

    1. As you know, Kat, my young reading life was pretty barren. I have read "Little Women" - as an adult - but none of the others. I did read her "Hospital Sketches" which were fascinating and horrifying at the same time.

      I really liked the woman who portrayed Ms. Alcott in this program. She captured Louisa's spunk and high spirits. If you go to the PBS website (use this link: )

      you will be able to see some of the scenes from the film and a few other videos of interest. Enjoy.

  3. Thanks Belle, I will have to keep an eye open for that DVD. I wonder when someone is going to try to put on the screen the intriguing life of the other great American writer Emily Dickinson.
    Belated happy "International Women's Day" to you and all your readers!

    1. Funny you should mention Ms. Dickinson, Tullik. My second literary find - that I will write about today - was an interview on DVD with American poet Billy Collins. He is one of my favorites. He has a poem entitled "Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes' that will leave you quite breathless. And yes, a film about her would be great.