Louisa May Alcott saw her greatest success with the publication of the classic, Little Women, released in two volumes in 1868 and 1869. The novel was a semiautobiographical look at her childhood, following the four March sisters as they made the transition into womanhood. It is set in Concord, where Alcott grew up, and reflected some of the family’s poverty during the period. Alcott wrote the novel at the urging of her publisher, who suggested that she write something for a broader audience to quickly make the family money. Though Alcott did not believe that she could do it, she hurriedly wrote the first few chapters. The book, of course, was met with unprecedented success.
By that time, however, Alcott was in her mid-thirties. She had served as a nurse during the Civil War and the medicine used to combat a case of typhoid had given her mercury poisoning, the effects of which she suffered under for the rest of her life. Though she had long aspired to write more serious fiction, the sales of Little Women and its sequels, Little Men and eventually Jo’s Boys, supported the family.
Alcott’s sister Elizabeth died in 1858, which is reflected in the novel; her mother, Abigail, died in 1877. Following the death of May, the youngest, and her father’s stroke, Alcott moved the remaining family to 10 Louisburg Square, a Greek Revival style house with five bedrooms. She was joined there by May’s infant daughter, Lulu (who had, in fact, been named for Louisa). Alcott never married, once saying,
“I am more than half-persuaded that I am a man’s soul, put by some freak of nature into a woman’s body… I have fallen in love in my life with so many pretty girls and never once the least bit with any man.”
Alcott produced her last work in 1886 and died in 1888 at the age of 56, two days after her father, Bronson Alcott.