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a wonderful Louisa May Alcott letter on Little Women and children’s literature

ALCOTT, LOUISA MAY. Autograph letter signed to Miss Thurston

No place, [c. 1868 or possibly later]

4pp. Original folds, light wear. Very good condition.

Louisa May Alcott discusses the impact of Little Women and its place in children’s literature. She observes that “My ‘Little Women’ have much astonished their Momma by making many friends for themselves, & she can only account for it by the grain of truth that lay at the bottom of the little story.” “The praise & value most you have given me, in saying that my effort to do something toward putting simpler & healthier food before the little people has been made evident at least, though very imperfectly carried out.”

Alcott goes on, “I have such a love and reverence for children that it makes me heart-sick to see the trash offered them, when there is so much that is true & fresh & helpful in their own innocent hearts & lives, if wiser, older heads would only learn how to shadow it forth in hearty plain words for their pleasure & instruction. The little people have taught me more than I can ever teach them, & my greatest satisfaction is the friendship with which they honor me.”

She concludes with a tongue-in-cheek observation on her most beloved character: “‘Jo’ is not myself any more than the others are my sisters, only suggestions of the four real girls. I consider her a failure, for she was meant as a warning, & to my surprise naughty, riotous, peppery Jo turns out to be the favorite. I’m afraid it’s a proof of natural depravity in the rising generation.” Contrary to what she writes in this letter, there is no doubt that the Alcott sisters were directly reflected in Little Women’s Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. In fact Louisa gave her mother the first inscribed copy of the book with the inscription “Marmee / from Jo.”

The recipient of this letter was likely Louise M. Thurston (1848- 1917), then an aspiring young author from Chicago. In 1867 the Sunday-School Society held a contest offering prizes for manuscript books for young children. Thurston was awarded a prize leading to the publication of her Forrest Mills: A Peep at Child-Life from Within in 1868—the year the first edition of Little Women appeared. She went on to write four books in the Charley Roberts series (1870-72) before abandoning her writing career. Godey’s Lady’s Book hailed them as “entertaining and instructive stories.”

This is by far the best Alcott letter concerning Little Women we can trace in the market in many years.