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Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography Hardcover – November 2, 2010

3.3 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Bookmarks Magazine

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.”

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (November 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 141656991X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416569916
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,441,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Louisa May Alcott has been given a lot of press lately. She had a documentary made about her last year, an amazing biography by Ms. Reisen, two spoofs on her book Little Women, a novel entitled The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, this biography and a new nonfiction book dealing with the Alcotts' experience at Fruitlands. Finally, Louisa May Alcott is getting the recognition she deserves. Although, perhaps we shouldn't celebrate too much about the spoofs.

With eager anticipation I waited for this book. I snatch up all biographies on Alcott. It's always interesting to see what an author thinks of the famous woman. This book is a small one, coming in at only 260 pages. The rest of the book consists of notes and a bibliography. Since it is so short don't expect anything mind blowing. As the title to my review suggest this is a good beginner biography.

The book starts in 1832, but flashes back to Louisa's childhood. I wasn't fond of this approach, but it isn't a deal breaker. For almost half of the book it's about the Alcott experience, not about Louisa. I'm wondering if the author did this to strengthen her argument that those in the family were Alcotts first and individuals second. Louisa's personal journals are rarely used in this book. Everyone in the Alcott family kept a journal, yet these journals are not referenced as much as they could be. However, I wonder if Elizabeth had a journal. I cannot recall anyone every using quotes from it. The second half of the book has more quotes from Louisa and she becomes the focus of the book.

We get brief glimpses into her life. For instance, when Liz dies there is only one quote about Louisa seeing the mist rise from her dead sister's body.
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Format: Hardcover
I must not only second the two fairly lukewarm reviews of this book already entered, but perhaps go even further. I, like Librarian, read every biography I can find of Alcott, and have been enthralled by such studies as "The Alcotts" by Madelon Bedell (and I longed for the second volume for years until I learned Bedell had passed away before completing it -- a tremendous loss to Alcott scholars) and "Eden's Outcasts" by John Matteson. I teach a course on Alcott, her works and her life and times, at Allegany College of Maryland. And I am sorry to say that I was disappointed by Cheever's book.

The most blatant concerns I have are factual ones, and while they may seem trivial, they tend to undermine Cheever's overall credibility. It has already been noted that Cheever repeatedly refers to Elizabeth as Alcott's youngest sister, when she was, in fact, the third of the four Alcott girls. On page 9 Cheever mentions Bronson Alcott's brother, William. William Alcox (Alcott) was, in fact, Bronson's cousin, not his brother. Cheever also maintains at one point that Louisa grew up unloved by her parents, who considered her wild, aggressive, uncontrolled and intractable, and valued her only for her ability to produce income -- a claim which I find shocking in the extreme. While Bronson Alcott's emotions are difficult to interpret and frequently mixed, there is little doubt that he shared at least a reluctant kinship with his literary daughter and took great pride in her accomplishments. And a reading of the existing notes from Abba Alcott in her daughter's journal shows a mother, at least, who is attentive, supportive, forgiving, encouraging and unfailingly loving.

But Cheever's oversights tend not only to the facts of Alcott's life, but to the details of her novels as well.
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Format: Hardcover
I really must agree that this is at best a beginner biography of Alcott. In fact, I think it a bit Freudian that it is subtitled "A Personal Biography." In this case, "personal" applies more to Cheever herself what with her many interjections of her own observations about the writer's craft than it does to Alcott.

Not only does Cheever refer more than once to Elizabeth as Alcott's youngest sister as YA Librarian mentioned but also makes a thoroughly ignorant error common to non-Catholics when she refers on p. 25 to Abner Kneeland's jailing "for ridiculing the concept of a virgin birth as manifest in the Immaculate Conception." Immaculate Conception refers to the belief that Mary was born without original sin so as to make her more fitting to be the Mother of God. In only a tangential sense does the concept relate to the virgin birth. It certainly is not the same thing. I was left wondering how many other such notable errors there are which I didn't spot or unknowingly took as facts.

Rather than merely echo YA Librarian's very thoughtful review, I will simply add that Cheever might have done better to have focused solely upon how Alcott's personality and writing were influenced by her relationships with family and friends. I really felt that unless the reader is relatively familiar with the stature of such personages as Horace Mann, the Peabody sisters, Emerson, Thoreau and Margaret Fuller, one will not come away from this book enlightened very much as to the impact that such luminaries may have had upon Alcott herself.
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