Book review: 'Marmee and Louisa' honors mother-daughter bond

By Rosemarie Howard

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Dec. 29 2012 12:30 p.m. MST

"MARMEE AND LOUISA: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother," by Eve LaPlante, Free Press, $26, 368 pages (nf)

Eve LaPlante’s book “Marmee and Louisa” shares the previously untold story of Louisa May Alcott and her mother, Abigail May Alcott.

Inspired by the discovery of some old letters and journals in her mother’s attic, LaPlante researched the family history of Louisa and her mother, Abigail.

“ … the treasures in the attic compelled me to explore the mysteries of the May-Alcott family,” writes LaPlante in the book’s introduction.

Although Louisa May Alcott is best known for her children’s books that include “Little Women,” “Rose in Bloom,” “Eight Cousins,” and “Jo’s Boys,” she began her career writing sensational romances and antislavery stories for magazines like “Atlantic” and “Saturday Evening Gazette” under pseudonyms — much like the character Jo did in “Little Women.”

LaPlante takes us into the pre-Civil War world of the Boston, area where Louisa and her family lived — the world of Emerson, Thoreau and Hawthorne, all of whom were friends of the family.

The book sheds light on Louisa’s family life and provides background and insight to the life choices Louisa made, and what inspired the books she wrote.

The author states that although many of Louisa’s biographers emphasize her father as the dominant influence in her life, the unmistakable stability and support Abigail provided were Louisa’s mainstay and inspiration. “In short,” writes LaPlante, “Abigail was Louisa’s muse.”

This is a well-written, extensively researched biography of two amazing women: a mother and daughter who understood and supported each other amidst the turmoil of their own lives and the changing world around them.

The book contains endnotes, an extensive bibliography and an index. It’s illustrated with a small section of black and white photos — images of Louisa and her family, and some of the places they lived.

A few flirtatious relationships Louisa's father indulged in are mentioned, but there is nothing that would make a parent uncomfortable sharing this book with their teens.

LaPlante is also the editor of a recently published collection of Abigail’s writings titled “My Heart is Boundless.” A cousin of Louisa May Alcott and a great-niece of Abigail May Alcott, the author lives in New England with her husband and four children.

Rosemarie Howard lives in a 100-year-old house on Main Street, Springville. She enjoys creating multimedia projects. Her website is at dramaticdimensions.com.

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