From Publishers Weekly
They were both born on November 29 (he in 1799 and she in 1832), but willful, passionate Louisa May Alcott couldn't have been more different from her serene, unworldly father, Bronson, whom fellow transcendentalists such as Emerson and Thoreau revered for his wide-ranging philosophical pursuits and occasionally ridiculed for his lack of common sense. Bronson's failed educational and utopian ventures placed a great burden on his wife, Abba, while elder daughters Louisa and Anna worked as teachers and paid companions to support the family. Yet Louisa honored her father's steadfast principles, avers Matteson, a professor of English at John Jay College, who views both father and daughter with a sympathy that doesn't quite conceal the book's slightly specious premise. Bronson was far closer to Anna and younger sister Lizzie; Louisa's fiery nature sometimes dismayed him. She only gained his full approval when mistreatment with a mercury-based medicine during the Civil War made her a near-invalid for the rest of her life. This is really a biography of the whole Alcott family, though it narrows to a dual portrait after the wild success of Little Women
in 1868 gave Louisa the independence she longed for and Bronson enjoyed more modest acclaim for his book Tablets
and lecture tours out West. 26 illus. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Bronson Alcott filled hundreds of pages with minute observations of his infant daughters, believing that fatherhood was the ideal laboratory for testing his beliefs in the natural genius of children and a holistic mode of education. Yet he was baffled by the willfulness of his second-born, Louisa May. And so begins the dramatic father-daughter relationship on which first-time biographer Matteson so adeptly builds a riveting double portrait of two exceptional Americans and abolitionists: one a man of quixotic dreams and abject failures; the other a resourceful, self-sacrificing, and revolutionary woman writer. Making penetrating use of primary sources, Matteson gracefully interprets an astounding family drama of compassion and creativity, folly and courage, deprivation and mental instability. Sharing a birthday and dying within two days of each other, Bronson and Louisa were the driving forces of the Alcott household as he impressed and dismayed their friends Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau by taking innovative ideas to ruinous extremes, and she became the destitute family's wage-earner and author of one of the world's most beloved novels. Matteson's lucid, commanding biography casts new light on an unusual father-daughter bond and a new land at war with itself. Seaman, Donna