From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Little Women was the idea of Alcott's publisher, who bullied her into writing it. Louisa may, Cheever speculates, have taken revenge on Bronson Alcott--a friend of the great Transcendentalists, but an irresponsible and browbeating father--by leaving him out of her semiautobiographical masterpiece. A revolutionary educator whose uncompromising high-mindedness made him a financial failure, Bronson was critical of and often punished the rebellious Louisa. But his close friendships with men like Emerson and Thoreau blessed Louisa with a unique circle of mentors, whom Cheever depicted in American Bloomsbury. Alcott gradually lost everyone dear to her: her beloved sister Lizzie died at 22, and her sister Anna's marriage felt like a betrayal. Struggling so hard for wealth and fame that when it came she was too ill and weary to enjoy it, Louisa never married and died two days after Bronson. Cheever laces this provocative biography with musings on the genesis of genius, and her identification with Jo March when she was a rebellious girl in the throes of puberty. While some may find Cheever's digressions and self-referencing grating, most will savor this work--surely a future book club staple--as keen, refreshing, and authoritative. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Nov.) (c)
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At a time when author biographies swell with sociopolitical overviews and literary analyses, Cheever has opted to tell a straightforward, concise story. She may add nothing new to readers’ knowledge of Alcott’s life and legacy, but the critics gave her points for enthusiasm and insight. However, there were some serious concerns about Cheever’s persistent digressions, peculiar theories, and questionable conclusions. And while the Washington Post
would have liked to hear more about Cheever’s relationship with her own wayward father, John Cheever, others complained that she inserted herself into the narrative too much already. “The best thing about Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography
,” muses the St. Petersburg Times
, “is that it revives discussion of Alcott and sends people back to Little Women