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Little Women

Louisa May Alcott

  Little Women

  Louisa May Alcott

  Little Women is a novel by American author Louisa May Alcott. The book was written and set in the Alcott family home, Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts. It was published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869. The novel follows the lives of four sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March – and is loosely based on the author's childhood experiences with her three sisters. The first volume, Little Women, was an immediate commercial and critical success, prompting the composition of the book's second volume, entitled Good Wives, which was also successful. Both books were first published as a single volume entitled Little Women in 1880. Alcott followed Little Women with two sequels, also featuring the March sisters: Little Men and Jo's Boys. Little Women was a fiction novel for girls that veered from the normal writings for children, especially girls, at the time.

  Table of Contents


  Title Page

  Copyright Page




  Part One

  Chapter 1 – Playing Pilgrims

  Chapter 2 – A Merry Christmas

  Chapter 3 – The Laurence Boy

  Chapter 4 – Burdens

  Chapter 5 – Being Neighborly

  Chapter 6 – Beth Finds the Palace Beautiful

  Chapter 7 – Amy’s Valley of Humiliation

  Chapter 8 – Jo Meets Apollyon

  Chapter 9 – Meg Goes to Vanity Fair

  Chapter 10 – The P. C. and P. O.

  Chapter 11 – Experiments

  Chapter 12 – Camp Laurence

  Chapter 13 – Castles in the Air

  Chapter 14 – Secrets

  Chapter 15 – A Telegram

  Chapter 16 – Letters

  Chapter 17 – Little Faithful

  Chapter 18 – Dark Days

  Chapter 19 – Amy’s Will

  Chapter 20 – Confidential

  Chapter 21 – Laurie Makes Mischief, and Jo Makes Peace

  Chapter 22 – Pleasant Meadows

  Chapter 23 – Aunt March Settles the Question

  Part Two

  Chapter 24 – Gossip

  Chapter 25 – The First Wedding

  Chapter 26 – Artistic Attempts

  Chapter 27 – Literary Lessons

  Chapter 28 – Domestic Experiences

  Chapter 29 – Calls

  Chapter 30 – Consequences

  Chapter 31 – Our Foreign Correspondent

  Chapter 32 – Tender Troubles

  Chapter 33 – Jo’s Journal

  Chapter 34 – A Friend

  Chapter 35 – Heartache

  Chapter 36 – Beth’s Secret

  Chapter 37 – New Impressions

  Chapter 38 – On the Shelf

  Chapter 39 – Lazy Laurence

  Chapter 40 – The Valley of the Shadow

  Chapter 41 – Learning to Forget

  Chapter 42 – All Alone

  Chapter 43 – Surprises

  Chapter 44 – My Lord and Lady

  Chapter 45 – Daisy and Demi

  Chapter 46 – Under the Umbrella

  Chapter 47 – Harvest Time





  “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” (page 11)

  “I’m the man of the family now Papa is away, and I shall provide the slippers, for he told me to take special care of Mother while he was gone.” (page 14)

  “I’ll try and be what he loves to call me, ‘a little woman,’ and not be rough and wild, but do my duty here instead of wanting to be somewhere else.” (page 18)

  Boys are trying enough to human patience, goodness knows, but girls are infinitely more so. (page 71)

  “Little girls shouldn’t ask questions.” (page 76)

  “Housekeeping ain’t no joke.” (page 114)

  “Have regular hours for work and play, make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will be delightful, old age will bring few regrets, and life become a beautiful success, in spite of poverty.”

  (page 121)

  “Wouldn’t it be fun if all the castles in the air which we make could come true, and we could live in them?” (page 143)

  “People don’t have fortunes left them in that style nowadays, men have to work and women to marry for money. It’s a dreadfully unjust world.” (page 158)

  She could not speak, but she did “hold on,” and the warm grasp of the friendly human hand comforted her sore heart, and seemed to lead her nearer to the Divine arm which alone could uphold her in her trouble. (page 183)

  “Beth is my conscience, and I can’t give her up. I can‘t! I can’t!”

  (page 183)

  Jo’s face was a study next day, for the secret rather weighed upon her, and she found it hard not to look mysterious and important. Meg observed it, but did not trouble herself to make inquiries, for she had learned that the best way to manage Jo was by the law of contraries, so she felt sure of being told everything if she did not ask. (page 202)

  It takes people a long time to learn the difference between talent and genius, especially ambitious young men and women. (page 250)

  Amy sailed away to find the Old World, which is always new and beautiful to young eyes, while her father and friend watched her from the shore, fervently hoping that none but gentle fortunes would befall the happy-hearted girl, who waved her hand to them till they could see nothing but the summer sunshine dazzling on the sea. (page 302)

  “Girls are so queer you never know what they mean. They say no when they mean yes, and drive a man out of his wits just for the fun of it.” (pages 351-352)

  Little they cared what anybody thought, for they were enjoying the happy hour that seldom comes but once in any life, the magical moment which bestows youth on the old, beauty on the plain, wealth on the poor, and gives human hearts a foretaste of heaven. (page 457)


  Louisa May Alcott was born on November 29, 1832, in Germantown, Pennsylvania, the second of four daughters of Amos Bronson and Abigail Alcott. Her mother, known in the family as “Abba,” was from a distinguished Boston family. Her father, a self-educated son of farmers, was an educator and reformer; his controversial and often unpopular teaching philosophies kept him from steady employment and the family (Louisa called it the “Pathetic Family”) continually on the edge of poverty. The Alcotts often relied upon the generosity of family and friends, including American essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, who frequently provided financial support.

  When Louisa was two, the family moved to Boston to be near Abba’s family and Emerson. They would move frequently between Boston and Concord for the rest of Louisa’s life. Bronson Alcott became part of a group of writers and philosophers known as the Transcendentalist Club, which included Emerson and writer Henry David Thoreau, both of whom Louisa idolized. Throughout her life Louisa was brash and moody, with a quick tongue that often angered her father.

  Alcott wrote her first stories at age fifteen, during what she called her “sentimental period.” As a teenager, she pursued many dramatic and literary endeavors: producing and acting in family theatricals; creating a series of tales for Emerson’s young daughter, Ellen, which she called Flower Fables; and founding a family newspaper, the Olive Leaf. Her first published work was the poem “Sunlight,” which appeared pseudonymously in Peterson’s Magazine in 1851.

  Louisa’s father didn’t earn sufficient income to support the family, so Louisa, her mother, and her sisters worked – Ab
ba as one of the nation’s first social workers, the girls at sewing and teaching. Alcott viewed herself as a pillar of financial and emotional support to her female relatives. She was devastated in 1858 when her younger sister, Elizabeth, died of scarlet fever and her elder sister, Anna, announced her engagement.

  During the American Civil War, Alcott moved briefly to Washington, D.C., to work as a Union Army nurse, until a bout with typhoid cut her service short. While convalescing, she reworked her letters to her family into a series called Hospital Sketches; published in 1863, it brought her favorable notice as a writer. Over the next several years she published a number of children’s collections and anonymously wrote fantastic and gothic tales. In 1867 she was offered the editorship of the children’s magazine Merry’s Museum. The following year, commissioned by the publisher Roberts Brothers, she wrote Little Women in six weeks. With the publication of Little Women, Alcott gained immense fame and achieved long-sought financial security for herself and her family. The sequel Little Men: Life at Plumfield with Jo’s Boys was published in 1871.

  Always active in the suffrage movement, in 1879 Alcott became the first woman to vote in Concord. When her sister May died in childbirth the same year, Alcott adopted the baby, a girl named Lulu. Alcott’s health declined greatly during this period, due to the lingering effects of mercury in the treatment she had received for typhoid fever during the Civil War. Too weak to write extensively, Alcott would publish and republish her children’s story collections until her death. The feminist-leaning Jo’s Boys was also published during this period, in 1886. Louisa May Alcott died March 6, 1888, two days after the death of her father. She is buried with her parents.


  1832 Louisa May Alcott is born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, on November 29, her father’s birthday; she is the second of four children of Abigail “Abba” Alcott and Amos Bronson, a teacher and educational reformer. Also born this year are Horatio Alger and Lewis Carroll; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who will become one of Alcott’s favorite authors, dies.

  1834 Struggling financially and in search of work, Bronson moves his family to Boston, nearer the support of longtime friend Ralph Waldo Emerson and Abba’s family. Bronson opens the Temple School, based on his controversial teaching methods.

  1835 Abba gives birth to her third child, Elizabeth Sewall Alcott. Samuel Langhorne Clemens, known as Mark Twain, is born.

  1836 Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, and other philosophical and literary scholars in the area form what becomes known as the Transcendentalist Club. Emerson publishes Nature, an essay explaining the philosophy of transcendentalism, which asserts God’s existence in man and nature, and individual intuition as the highest source of knowledge.

  1837 Victoria becomes queen of England.

  1838 Charles Dickens’s novels Oliver Twist (1837-1839) and Nicholas Nickleby (1838-1839) attain great popularity.

  1840 Forced to close the Temple School – parents alarmed by Bronson’s teaching methods and his admittance of a mulatto child have withdrawn their children – Bronson Alcott moves his family to Concord, Massachusetts, where Emerson and Thoreau live. Louisa attends the Concord Academy, run by Thoreau and his brother. The fourth and final Alcott child, Abigail May (called May), is born.

  1841 Emerson publishes Essays.

  1843 Bronson cofounds a utopian communal farm, Fruitlands, in the rural town of Harvard, Massachusetts; he and his family live there until the experiment fails in 1844.

  1844 Emerson publishes Essays: Second Series.

  1845 With an inheritance left to Abba, the family purchases a house in Concord, named Hillside, where Alcott finally has a room of her own.

  1847 The novels Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte are published.

  1848 Alcott creates the Flower Fables stories for Emerson’s young daughter Ellen. Later in the year Alcott writes her first adult story, “The Rival Painters: A Tale of Rome.” The Alcotts move back to Boston, where Abba finds employment as one of the nation’s first social workers.

  1849 Alcott creates a family newspaper called the Olive Leaf Publication begins of Dickens’s novel David Copperfield. Alcott writes her first novel, The Inheritance, which is not published until 1996.

  1850 Emerson’s Representative Men and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter are published.

  1851 Peterson’s Magazine publishes Alcott’s poem “Sunlight” under the pseudonym Flora Fairfield; it is her first published work. To help support their family, Alcott and her sisters find jobs teaching and sewing. Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick are published.

  1852 The Boston periodical the Olive Branch publishes “The Rival Painters: A Tale of Rome.” Hawthorne purchases Hillside, giving the Alcotts some financial security. Alcott and her sister Anna open a school in the parlor of their home in Boston. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is published.

  1853 Bronson goes on a lecture tour in the Midwest.

  1854 Alcott’s Flower Fables, dedicated to Ellen Emerson, is published; her short story “The Rival Prima Donnas” appears in the Saturday Evening Gazette. Thoreau’s Walden; or, Life in the Woods is published.

  1855 The family moves to Walpole, New Hampshire, although Alcott remains in Boston, teaching; she attends lectures by the liberal clergyman and reformer Theodore Parker. She spends the summer in Walpole, where she organizes the Walpole Amateur Dramatic Company. The first edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass appears.

  1857 The Alcott family returns to Concord; with money from friends, including Emerson, they purchase Orchard House (where Alcott will later write Little Women).

  1858 Elizabeth Alcott dies of scarlet fever. Anna announces her engagement to John Pratt, whom she will marry in 1860. Alcott is greatly unsettled by the loss of her two sisters.

  1859 Bronson becomes superintendent of schools in Concord, receiving a salary of $100 per year. Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species is published.

  1860 Alcott writes her novel Moods. The Boston Theater Company produces her play Nat Bachelor’s Pleasure Trip. Abraham Lincoln becomes president of the United States. Publication begins of Dickens’s Great Expectations.

  1861 Alcott starts work on an autobiographical novel, tentatively titled Success (it will be published in 1873 as Work: A Story of Experience). The American Civil War begins.

  1862 Henry David Thoreau dies, and Alcott writes the poem “Thoreau’s Flute” in his honor. At the end of the year she travels to Washington, D.C., to serve as a Union Army nurse.

  1863 Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper anonymously serializes Alcott’s story, “Pauline’s Passion and Punishment,” and awards her a prize of $100. After working as a nurse for only six weeks, Alcott becomes seriously ill with typhoid; she returns to Con cord where she receives treatment with calomel, a medicine containing mercury that permanently damages her health. While convalescing, Alcott reworks her wartime letters to her family into a collection titled Hospital Sketches; it is serialized in the Boston Commonwealth, an abolitionist paper, and published in book form later in the year to great praise. Alcott receives almost $600 from writing this year. Over the next several years she will write many gothic stories, either anonymously or under a pseudonym.

  1864 The Rose Family: A Fairy Tale and On Picket Duty, and Other Tales are published in January. In December Moods is published but is not well received. Horatio Alger publishes his first boys’ book, Frank’s Campaign.

  1865 Bronson leaves his superintendent post. Anna and John give birth to a child, who will become Alcott’s heir. Alcott travels to Europe as an assistant to an invalid, Anna Weld; there she meets Ladislas Wisniewski, the inspiration for Laurie in Little Women. The Confederates surrender at Appomattox, marking the end of the Civil War. Lincoln is assassinated on April 14. Lewis Carroll publishes Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.r />
  1867 Alcott accepts editorship of the children’s magazine Merry’s Museum for $500 per year.

  1868 She moves from Boston to Concord to care for her family while continuing her editorship; she will continue to move back and forth between the two cities until her death. Thomas Niles of the publisher Roberts Brothers commissions Alcott to write a book for girls; she completes the first part of Little Women in six weeks, and it is published to great acclaim. Bolstered by its success, she writes an equally popular second part at the rate of a chapter per day.

  1869 The second part of Little Women is published under the title Good Wives. Alcott travels to Canada and Maine to recover her health, compromised by the rapid pace with which she wrote Little Women. She receives $8,500 in royalties and pays all her family’s debts.

  1870 Her novel An Old-Fashioned Girl is published. Alcott travels to Europe with her sister May. Anna’s husband, John Pratt, dies. Charles Dickens dies.

  1871 Still in Europe, Alcott writes Little Men: Life at Plumfield with Jo’s Boys, a sequel to Little Women published this year. She and May return to Boston later in the year. Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There is published.

  1872 Publication begins in the Christian Union of Alcott’s autobiographical novel Work. Alcott will publish copiously until her death, producing, among other volumes, many short-story collections.

  1873 Alcott attends the debates on suffrage in Boston with her father.

  1875 She attends Vassar’s tenth anniversary and the Women’s Congress in Syracuse, New York. Her novel Eight Cousins is published in book form. She travels to New York City for Christmas, visiting the Tombs, the Newsboys’ Home, and the Randall’s Island orphanage, where she draws experience for her novel Rose in Bloom. May returns to Europe.