Audiobook Review: Marmee & Louisa

I hope you all enjoyed your Memorial Day holiday. I skipped posting because hey, a holiday (okay, and it was my birthday). I'm back now, though, with a review of Marmee & Louisa, a biography of Louisa May Alcott and her mother, Abigail May Alcott.

Title: Marmee & Louisa
Author: Eve LaPlante. Narrated by Karen White
Publication Info: Tantor Media, 2012. 14.5 hours. Hardback, Free Press, 2012, 384 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Blurb:
Since its release nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, Louisa May Alcott's classic Little Women has been a mainstay in American literature, while passionate Jo March and her calm, beloved "Marmee" have shaped generations of young women. Biographers have consistently credited her father, Bronson Alcott, for Louisa's professional success, assuming that this outspoken idealist was the source of her progressive thinking and remarkable independence.

But in this riveting dual biography, Eve LaPlante explodes those myths, drawing on unknown and unexplored letters and journals to show that Louisa's "Marmee," Abigail May Alcott, was in fact the intellectual and emotional center of her daughter's world. It was Abigail who urged Louisa to write, who inspired many of her stories, and who gave her the support and courage she needed to pursue her unconventional path. Abigail, long dismissed as a quiet, self-effacing companion to her famous husband and daughter, is revealed here as a politically active feminist firebrand, a fascinating thinker in her own right. Examining family papers, archival documents, and diaries thought to have been destroyed, LaPlante paints an exquisitely moving and utterly convincing portrait of a woman decades ahead of her time—and the fiercely independent daughter who was both inspired and restricted by her mother's dreams of freedom.

A story guaranteed to turn all previous scholarship on its head, Marmee and Louisa is a gorgeously written and deeply felt biography of two extraordinary women as well as a key to our understanding of Louisa May Alcott's life and work.

My Review:
Before I get started on this review, I need to call attention to the companion book, My Heart is Boundless: Writings of Abigail May Alcott, Louisa's Mother. Eve LaPlante edited that collection of letters and excerpts from Abigail's diaries and other papers, and it's clear that these source materials back up her arguments about the influences on Louisa. 

I found this account to be convincing and illuminating. I had long known that Bronson Alcott wasn't much in the way of a provider for his family, and that the hard work of running his Fruitlands experiment fell on Abigail and the two oldest girls, Anna and Louisa. I hadn't realized quite how completely he failed as both breadwinner and parent, not to mention husband.

Perhaps the point that may most quickly convince the would-be reader that it was Abigail, not Bronson, who supported Louisa as a child and as a writer would be to note that for much of Louisa's life, Bronson was somewhere else. It was Marmee who was there, giving Louisa journals and encouraging her to write daily, as well as providing a model in doing the same. 

I was also fascinated to learn more about the family commitment to social reform. No, not that of Bronson Alcott (though many of his strange education notions have become normal, he was much slower to come to an Abolitionist belief, and slower still to throw any support behind women's suffrage). It was Abigail and her brother, Sam Joseph May, who fought those fights, ones that show up over and over in Louisa's books as well.

My Recommendation:
Well worth reading or listening. Given that in the last years of her life Louisa made more money than any other writer of her time (and paid taxes on it all, without any right to vote... a point her mother made in a letter to the MA legislature), I think we can take it as read that she is an important literary figure, and worth understanding.

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of  from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”   

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2023
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

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