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Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother Paperback – November 19, 2013

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Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother + My Heart is Boundless: Writings of Abigail May Alcott, Louisa's Mother + Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (November 19, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451620675
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451620672
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #219,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* It’s not unusual for a biography to include a family tree, but it’s rare for the biographer to appear on it. LaPlante (Salem Witch Judge, 2007) is great-niece and cousin of the subjects of this involving mother-daughter portrait of Abigail May and Louisa May Alcott. Louisa’s unconventional father, Bronson, has received far more attention than his long-suffering, feminist wife, even though Abigail is the model for Marmee, the beloved mother in Little Women. This imbalance was due, in part, to Bronson’s burning of Abigail’s personal papers. But LaPlante discovered that all was not lost while examining the contents of her mother’s attic. Her subsequent quest for more overlooked materials resulted in this first full biography of Abigail; a collection of her writings (My Heart Is Boundless); and a fresh perspective on Louisa. Spirited Abigail believed women had the right to an education and “a voice in running the world,” but she fell for a charismatic yet incompetent man and found herself trapped in poverty, caring alone for their four daughters. Her own dreams cruelly thwarted, Abigail brilliantly nurtured Louisa’s literary genius. Although bitter ironies mark each woman’s story, vividly set within the social upheavals of the Civil War era, their profound love, intellect, and courage shine. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“[An] involving mother-daughter portrait…and a fresh perspective on Louisa….Louisa’s unconventional father, Bronson, has received far more attention than his long-suffering, feminist wife...Her own dreams cruelly thwarted, Abigail brilliantly nurtured Louisa’s literary genius. Although bitter ironies mark each woman’s story, vividly set within the social upheavals of the Civil War era, their profound love, intellect, and courage shine.” (Booklist, starred review)

“In this meticulously researched look at Louisa May Alcott and her mother, LaPlante shatters myths about the supposed passive Marmee, replacing them with a portrait of a woman who fought for a woman's right to education, professional and maternal satisfaction, and power.” (People Magazine)

A November 2012 Indie Next Great Read (American Booksellers Association)

“Engrossing... LaPlante, a descendant of the Alcotts, pursued this untold story after discovering forgotten journals and letters in an attic trunk. In her skilled hands these documents yield Abigail unabridged: a thinker, writer, activist, wife and mother who held fast to her convictions in the face of terrible suffering...[T]his is a biography of Louisa, too, and LaPlante makes a compelling case that it was Abigail, not Bronson, who encouraged Louisa not only to channel her considerable energy through writing, but also to pursue publication and to weather the censorship that female writers faced...In bringing to life the woman who made Louisa May Alcott’s work possible, LaPlante shows us that there’s even more to admire in the real Abigail than in the fictional Marmee." (The Washington Post)

“This revealing biography... will forever change how we view the characters and their relationships in Louisa’s novels... Through LaPlante’s book we see how Louisa drew heavily from Abigail's life experiences in her own writings.... Alcott fans who revel in LaPlante’s biography can read to the very last page and then turn to a bonus... companion volume, MY HEART IS BOUNDLESS, writings of Abigail May Alcott.” (USA Today)

“A revelatory dual biography... LaPlante makes a convincing case that Abigail’s doggedly pragmatic responses to the intertwined and ongoing catastrophes of Bronson’s inconsistent emotional involvement and the family finances left an indelible impression on Louisa, who vowed from an early age to take care of her mother... [D]emonstrates that Abigail’s daughters were her dreams made manifest.” (The Seattle Times)

“A romance... The eye-opener of Eve LaPlante’s marvelous new dual that Abigail was every inch the social philosopher that Bronson was when it came to issues of abolition and women's rights.... Marmee & Louisa charts Abigail’s relatively unacknowledged influence as a progressive thinker on her famous daughter Louisa.... When Louisa began to write Little Women... she drew material from her mother's approximately 20 volumes of diaries. Until Abigail's death...she was her daughter's closest confidant and biggest booster.” (Maureen Corrigan NPR "Fresh Air")

“Until recently, most scholarship has glossed over Abigail’s influence on Louisa’s writing, focusing instead on the role of Louisa’s father, who was often absent. Drawing on newly discovered letters and diary entries, this fascinating dual biography corrects the record by revealing the enormously close bond that was shared by mother and daughter,...showing that Abigail was Louisa’s most important intellectual mentor.” (BUST (five stars))

“Convincingly argue[d]... Of interest to anyone who enjoys mother/daughter stories, American history, or literary studies… In the winter season, when many of us will cue our DVD players to the opening scene of LITTLE WOMEN, Marmee & Louisa is well worth a read.” (Bookpage)

“[Marmee & Louisa] shows just how much iconic children’s author Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888) “was her mother’s daughter”… previously undiscovered family papers and untapped pages from Abigail’s dairies … provide new evidence exposing her undeniable influence on her daughter … Fresh material gives flesh to the formerly invisible Abigail, revealing how she and her famous daughter mirrored one another … Thoroughly researched and moving.” (Kirkus)

“LaPlante sheds light on Abigail May Alcott… [who] is shown to have been a remarkable intellect and a progressive who played a primary role in Louisa’s life. LaPlante pays meticulous attention to primary sources, delving into the surviving diaries of mother and daughter. This heavily researched double biography serves as a kind of twin to John Matteson’s Eden’s Outcasts. Nineteenth-century New England literature buffs and Alcott aficionados will appreciate this well-wrought study.” (Library Journal)

“‘Let the world know you are alive!’ Abigail Alcott counseled her daughter, who amply did, having inherited her mother’s spirit and frustrations, diaries and work ethic. Along the way Louisa May Alcott immortalized the woman in whose debt she understood herself to be and who ultimately died in her arms; Eve LaPlante beautifully resurrects her here. A most original love story, taut and tender.” (Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times bestselling author of Cleopatra: A Life)

“Eve LaPlante’s Marmee & Louisa is a heartwarming and thoroughly researched story of family interdependence very much in the style of Louisa’s own unforgettable Little Women. No other biographer has examined so thoughtfully and with such compassion the mother-daughter relationship that supported both women through decades of adversity and brought a great American novel into being.” (Megan Marshall, author of The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism andMargaret Fuller: A New American Life)

“This is an important book about an important relationship. Writing engagingly and with precision, Eve LaPlante sheds new light on the Alcott story, a story that is in some ways the story of America.” (Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times bestselling author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power)

“‘Reason and religion are emancipating woman from that intellectual thralldom that has so long held her captive.’ That was the dearest hope of Louisa May Alcott's mother Abigail, who was a writer herself and juggled work and family in ways that will be strikingly familiar to many contemporary readers. Marmee & Louisa is the engrossing story of a vibrant, talented woman whose life and influence on her famous daughter has, until now, been erased.” (Anne-Marie Slaughter, Bert G. Kerstetter '66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University)

“It’s hard to imagine that anything new could be said about the life of Louisa May Alcott, one of America’s most beloved authors. Yet as a great-niece of Abigail May Alcott, Louisa’s mother, Eve LaPlante isn’t just any biographer. Her new book, MARMEE & LOUISA, is…an intimate portrait of mother and daughter, showing how their lives were profoundly intertwined in ways that some biographers have underplayed or ignored altogether... LaPlante chronicles the intense attachment between Abigail and Louisa…. [A] fascinating story of two visionary women…” (The Boston Globe)

“Compelling... LaPlante admirably seeks to paint a fuller picture of Abigail and her role in Louisa's life....[and] allows her protagonists to speak for themselves.” (Publishers Weekly)

More About the Author

Eve LaPlante's latest books are MARMEE & LOUISA, a groundbreaking dual biography of Louisa May Alcott and her mother, and MY HEART IS BOUNDLESS, the first compilation of Abigail May Alcott's personal writings. Please visit with Eve at

A New Englander with degrees from Princeton and Harvard, Eve has published articles, essays, and three previous nonfiction books. SEIZED is a narrative portrait of a common brain disorder that can alter personality, illuminating the mind-body problem and the limits of free will. AMERICAN JEZEBEL tells the true story of Eve's ancestor the colonial heretic and founding mother Anne Hutchinson. Eve's second ancestor biography, SALEM WITCH JUDGE, about the 1692 judge who became a feminist and an abolitionist, won the 2008 Massachusetts Book Award for Nonfiction.

Shaun O'Connell, in his anthology, BOSTON: VOICES & VISIONS, which includes the preface to AMERICAN JEZEBEL, observes, "Just as Nathaniel Hawthorne dug into the dark history of his ancestry, which reached back both to the original Boston settlement of the 1630s and the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s, so too did LaPlante trace family members who were rooted in the same eras.... Hawthorne took shame upon himself for the misdeeds of his Puritan ancestors, and LaPlante offers praise for her forebears who testified against Puritan repression. As her prefaces to these biographies, a kind of spiritual autobiography, show, Anne Hutchinson and Samuel Sewall were not the dark Puritans many imagined them to be. They remain living presences, even models of rectitude, into the twenty-first century."

A first cousin of Louisa May Alcott and a great-niece of Abigail May Alcott, Eve lives in New England with her husband and four children.

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Customer Reviews

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Having read the book, my visit was made just that much more enjoyable.
Carol I. Kauffman
I recomend this book highly as the author is a descendant of Louisa' s mother and has done excellent research.
D. E. Schellhase
"Marmee & Louisa" is an important book and a lively read; I highly recommend it.
Susan Bailey

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By YA Librarian on November 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Louisa May Alcott's life is well known, and many historians have stated that it was her father, Bronson, that helped mold his daughter into the amazing woman she became. That theory never set well with me. I often wondered if historians were shutting out an important chapter in Louisa's life. Did Louisa's mother play a larger part in her daughter's life? Were historians not giving Abigail her due because, after all, she was just a Victorian woman subjected to the domestic sphere of life.

Abigail has never been known to most people because her journals and letters were supposedly burned by her husband and famous daughter. The public image of Marmee, the tranquil, loving angel of the household had to be kept up no matter what. The family did not what future biographers writing about Abigail's headstrong ways and Bronson didn't like some of the things his wife wrote about him. Her image had to be upheld no matter what. And for the most part that was true. There is one biography about her life entitled Marmee: The Mother Of Little Women, but that gives very little insight into her thoughts.

Ms. LaPlante stumbled onto Abigail's letters and journals. These papers allows us to peel away the layers of the iconic Marmee and see who she really was.

The book is filled with many firsts and that makes it a treasure. It begins with the history of the Mays and explores Abigail's life as a girl and young woman. The reader is introduced to a headstrong woman who has a mind of her own, wants to explore education, embraces many radical ideas of the time(anti slavery and giving women the right to vote). She may become a spinster, and is comfortable with her role. However, she meets Bronson and is overtaken by love.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Susan Bailey on December 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover
As the author of the only blog devoted to Louisa May Alcott (Louisa May Alcott is my Passion at [...], I was delighted to read "Marmee & Louisa"; it is long overdue. Anyone who has read "Little Women," who sees the strong presence of Marmee and the lack of presence of Mr. March (who is barely referred to as "father") has to know that since Louisa May Alcott drew so much of her material from her family, that her mother was most important to her. I'm not really sure sometimes why Bronson Alcott was listed in the past as the greatest influence as Louisa never understood nor adopted his philosophy (although Transcendentalism certainly permeates her work) and he disapproved of her for much of her life. It was only when she nearly lost her life as a Civil War nurse that he came around to appreciating his self-sacrificing daughter. There is no doubt he was an influence, but her mother was the muse, as LaPlante puts it.

That being said, LaPlante reveals new sources from her own mother's attic trunk along with papers that have been available for years at the Houghton Library at Harvard which were overlooked. It's especially appropriate that a blood relative should reveal the real Abigail Alcott for the first time and tell so compellingly how she influenced Louisa.

One of Louisa's biographers dared to say that Abigail was a better writer than Louisa and "Marmee & Louisa" demonstrates this. She is lucid, electric, clear and passionate in her writing, revealing great insight. Abigail was gifted with a sharp intellect and love of learning, traits that Louisa inherited and were nurtured (she also had a share of her father's intellect but with a big dose of her mother's pragmatism).
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By M. Lamkin on November 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover
First of all, this is a phenomenal new book, a rich and rewarding read.

The previous review is quite good but fails to properly emphasize that Bronson's outrageous irresponsibility is what made this Victorian marriage so very bad. This is the true strength of this book... first you have the laws that granted few rights to women and then you have the behavior of a husband who really deserved to be jailed for non-support- together you have a story that burns with meaning.

Another strength of the book are relatives like Samual Joseph May, Abigail's brother who was an important abolitionist and exponent of women's rights.

As far as Louisa, it's important to mention that she was probably too sick to even consider marriage during the second half of her life due to what was almost certainly Lupus... she may have followed Margaret Fuller's example of marrying late and have a child or perhaps two. Children and family are likely to have meant too much for her to forgo this and with her connections, she is likely to have met someone she could accept, perhaps in Europe like Margaret and her sister May.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on January 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
When I first read a battered local library copy of Louisa May Alcott's LITTLE WOMEN --- somewhere during that nebulous in-between age from about 10 through 12 --- I remember it as an engaging story of a close-knit family in which I could take for granted the idea that girls and women were important and had meaningful voices in the world. It never dawned on my preteen mind that the book in my hands was an extraordinary achievement by an author who overcame numerous social, political, economic and institutional obstacles in order to have her voice heard --- and still heard --- more than a century-and-a-half later.

Today, much more is known about Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888), and that knowledge has become vastly more complete and relevant with Eve LaPlante's superbly crafted new dual biography, MARMEE & LOUISA: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother.

On learning that LaPlante herself is a great-niece of Louisa's remarkable mother, Abigail May (1800-1877), and a cousin of her famous daughter, I felt an instant identification with her passion for enlarging the once-obscure details that made them unique and predictive of women many years beyond their generation. As a less direct, but still connected, descendant of the early 18th-century English poetess Anne Kingsmill Finch (1661-1720), I regret the loss and destruction of much archival material that is missing from her formative years --- the kind of material that the Alcott family kept, albeit well-hidden until recently.
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