Following the publication of Little Women in 1868, Louisa May Alcott was popularly known as the “children’s friend,” a moniker that became the title of the first biography written about her in 1888. The warmhearted stories she told in Little Women about the March sisters— Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—growing up in Civil War–era Massachusetts, made her one of America’s best-selling and best loved authors. Little Women spawned two sequels, stage plays, numerous films, more than 10 TV adaptations, a Broadway musical, and an opera. It has sold an estimated 10 million copies and been translated into as many as 50 languages.
Alcott went on to write fiction for the rest of her life. Literary historians now know that she had an earlier, hidden career, in which she had produced a significant number of books, both anonymously or under a pseudonym. These early novels often explore a darker, more turbulent vision of life than she presented in the Little Women series. In these works Alcott adopted a strikingly different voice than that of the “children’s friend.”
Born in 1832 near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Alcott was the second of four daughters raised in an intellectual family that was plagued by constant financial struggle. Her father, Bronson Alcott, was an educational reformer and follower of transcendentalism, a philosophy that believed in individual self-improvement, universal brotherhood, and union with nature.