October 31, 2014 16:24 UTC

People in America

Louisa May Alcott, 1832-1888: She Wrote Her First Book at the Age of 16

"Little Women" is still one of America's best loved children's books. <em>Transcript of radio broadcast:</em>

VOICE ONE:

I'm Steve Ember.

VOICE TWO:

And I'm Shirley Griffith with the VOA Special English program People in America. Every week we tell about a person important in the history of the United States. Today we tell about Louisa May Alcott. She wrote one of America's best loved children's books.

VOICE ONE:

In eighteen sixty-eight, an American publisher asked a struggling young writer to write a book for girls. At first, the writer, Louisa May Alcott, was not sure she wanted to do it. She said she never liked girls. And she never knew many, except her sisters. She thought her family's activities and experiences might be interesting to others. But, she said, probably not.

VOICE TWO:

Alcott decided to write the book anyway. She told about her experiences growing up in the northeastern United States during the middle of the nineteenth century. Her book proved to be more than interesting. “Little Women” became one of the most popular children's books in American literature. It has been published in more than fifty languages.

(MUSIC)

VOICE ONE:

Louisa May Alcott was born in Pennsylvania in eighteen thirty-two. She was the second of four daughters. She had one older sister, Anna. And two younger sisters, Elizabeth, called Beth, and May. Her parents were Bronson and Abigail Alcott. Her father was an educator and social reformer.

The Alcotts later settled in concord, Massachusetts. Several great American writers were friends of the family. They included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau. Mister Alcott provided the girls' education. He taught them many subjects. He also made them write about their personal thoughts and experiences.

VOICE TWO:

The Alcotts did not have much money. Louisa worked to help support her family. She tried teaching, sewing, and taking care of children. She did not like any of these Jobs.

Louisa thought of herself as a writer. At the age of sixteen, she wrote her first book. It was called “Flower Fables.” She decided to sell what she wrote. She wrote many kinds of poems, stories, and plays. Her stories were exciting, but unrealistic. She sold them to newspapers and magazines for small amounts of money.

VOICE ONE:

In eighteen sixty-two, during the American Civil War, Louisa May Alcott went to Washington, D.C. She served as a nurse in a military hospital. She cared for sick and wounded soldiers. She wrote letters to her family about her experiences. She included these letters in a book that was published the next year. Critics praised it but it did not bring her much money. And, working in the hospital damaged her health.

VOICE TWO:

In eighteen sixty-five she visited Europe as a helper to an older woman. Alcott hoped to re-gain her health. She spent a long time away from her family. Her health did not improve. But she thought about her writing. When she returned, she agreed to her publisher's request that she write a book for girls based on the life she knew.

“Little Women” was published in eighteen sixty-eight. The book was immediately popular with people of all ages. It brought Alcott fame and a lot of money. She continued writing other popular books for young people. These included “An Old-Fashioned Girl,” “Little Men, and “Eight Cousins.”

(MUSIC)

VOICE ONE:

Louisa May Alcott wrote books for adults, as well as children. She published these under another name -- A. M. Barnard. These books were published before “Little Women” made her famous. They were very different from her children's stories. They were about love, power, and unhappiness. They have been published again in the United States.

One book is called “Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott.” The book includes four mystery stories. Another is called “The Lost Stories of Louisa May Alcott.” These stories are about love, betrayal, and illegal drugs.

VOICE TWO:

Alcott wrote a story called “A Long Fatal Love Chase.” It is about an independent young woman. She marries an older man who already has a wife. She flees from him. He follows her throughout Europe. The book tells of insanity, violence, and death. Louisa May Alcott tried to get the book published in eighteen sixty-six. The publisher rejected it. He said it was too shocking.

A man who collected Alcott materials found the unpublished story in a bookstore in New York City. He bought it for about fifty thousand dollars a few years ago. He reportedly sold it to a major American publisher for about one million dollars.

VOICE ONE:

Louisa May Alcott wrote many exciting stories about love. Yet she never married. She continued to support her family during the last years of her life. In fact, she cared for the young daughter of her sister, May, who died in eighteen seventy-nine.

Alcott was involved in the movements to end slavery and to gain voting rights for women. She wrote that "I . . . take more pride in the very small help we Alcotts could give than in all the books I ever wrote. " Louisa May Alcott died in eighteen eighty-eight.

(MUSIC)

VOICE TWO:

Louisa May Alcott's most famous book, “Little Women”, tells the story of the March family of Concord, Massachusetts. The story begins during the American Civil War in the eighteen sixties. Mister March is away from home. He is with the troops of the Union Army. He is a religious worker. Missus March is raising her four daughters by herself.

The March family is very close. They do many things together. They do not have much money. They suffer shortages caused by the war. Yet they share what they have with people who are in need.

VOICE ONE:

The four daughters are Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. They are strong, brave, and loving. Jo is the most important person in the book. She is smart. She has a good imagination. She writes stories. And she creates plays that the sisters perform together.

Jo also is independent. She chooses a non-traditional life. She goes to New York to become a writer. There she meets an older man, a professor. She returns home to care for her parents. She writes stories that become very popular. Later, Jo marries the professor. Together, they establish a school.

(MUSIC)

VOICE TWO:

The March family in “Little Women” is very much like Louisa May Alcott's family. Her sisters are like the sisters in the book. And the leading person, Jo, is like Louisa. Jo must work to support her family, just as Louisa had to do. One of Jo's jobs is to help a family member, an old woman called Aunt March. Jo does not really like Aunt March. But she loves the old woman's house, especially the large library with hundreds of books. This is how Alcott writes about this place:

VOICE ONE:

"The dim, dusty room. . . the cozy chairs, the globes, and, best of all, the wilderness of books in which she could wander where she liked, made the library a region of bliss to her. The moment Aunt March took her nap, or was busy with company, Jo hurried to this quiet space, and, curling herself up in the easy chair, devoured poetry, romance, history, travels, and pictures, like a regular bookworm. "

All of these wonderful books put great ideas into Jo's head. Jo wanted to do something very wonderful, Alcott writes: "What it was she had no idea as yet, but left it for time to tell her. "

VOICE TWO:

Jo's beloved sister Beth dies young, as Alcott's own sister Beth did. Jo is very unhappy. Her mother tells her to write because that always made her happy. Jo writes a story "that went straight to the hearts of those who read it. " Jo cannot understand how her simple little story became so popular.

Her father explains, "There is truth in it, Jo, that's the secret; . . . You have found your style at last. You wrote with no thought of fame or money, and put your heart into it. . . ; You have had the bitter, now comes the sweet. "

VOICE ONE:

Louisa May Alcott's book, “Little Women”, is still extremely popular. Women who read the book when they were young often give it to their daughters. Some famous American women even claim they decided to become writers after reading how Jo March became a writer in “Little Women”.

(MUSIC)

VOICE TWO:

This Special English program was written by Shelley Gollust. It was produced by Paul Thompson. I'm Shirley Griffith.

VOICE ONE:

And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another People in America program on the Voice of America.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Learn with The News

  • A convoy of peshmerga vehicles is escorted by Turkish Kurds on their way to the Turkish-Syrian border, in Kiziltepe near the southeastern city of Mardin October 29, 2014

    Audio Iraqi Kurdish Fighters Enter Kobani

    Also in the news, Burkina Faso ends efforts to extend its presidential term limit after protests in the capital. Ukraine says the EU will be guarantor in any gas deal with Russia. Myanmar holds a major meeting Friday. And claims of cheating delay SAT results for South Korean and Chinese students. More

  • Video Singapore Film Ban Raises Free Speech Issue

    The documentary film, “To Singapore, with Love” tells about political dissidents from Singapore. The film has been shown at public events in Britain, India and Malaysia, among other countries. But one place the movie cannot be seen is Singapore. That is because the government there has banned it. More

  • Ghana Bamboo Bike

    Video Ghana's Bamboo Bikes Hit the Streets

    Bicycle frames are usually made out of materials like carbon fiber, steel or aluminum. But in rural Ghana, a businessman has developed another way to make bicycles from a natural product -- bamboo. The wooden bike parts are sent Ghana to Germany, the Netherlands and Australia. | As It Is More

  • Believer Benito Martinez (C), dressed as a "devil" wearing a mask, walks around in Almonacid del Marquesado, in central Spain, during the "Endiablada" traditional festival, Feb. 3, 2014.

    Audio A Halloween Special: The Devil is Everywhere ...

    Today we take you to the Dark Side. (insert evil laugh here) We teach expressions that involve the king of evil – the devil. Read on to learn how to “speak of the devil”, “to play devil’s advocate” and to ”make a deal with the devil.” | Words and Their Stories More

  • Orbital Sciences Antares Launch

    Video Questions for NASA after Rocket Explosion

    An unmanned privately-owned rocket bringing supplies to the International Space Station exploded seconds after launch Tuesday night. The accident did not cause any injuries on the ground. However, it has raised questions about efforts by the US space agency NASA to use private companies. More

Featured Stories

  • Obama Halloween

    Audio Halloween Is Big with Kids and Business

    The National Retail Federation says sales of Halloween goods will total about $7.4 billion this year. It says the average American will spend about $77. The group expects 162 million people to celebrate. The NRF predicts 54 million of them will hold Halloween parties. | American Mosaic More

  • A print shows the Second Battle of Bull Run, also called Second Manassas.

    Audio South Defeats North Again at Manassas

    Lincoln named George Pope to lead the Army of Virginia. He wanted to join Pope’s forces with the Army of the Potomac and break through Confederate defenses around Richmond. But General Robert E. Lee decided to hit Pope first. More

  • Star House

    Video Home of Last Comanche Chief Close to Ruins

    One of the most interesting people in U.S. history is Quanah Parker, the last chief of the country’s Comanche Indian tribe. Quanah Parker was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Quanah Parker was a fierce fighter. More

  • FILE - A veterinarian at the nonprofit Bali Animal Welfare Association gives a rabies shot to a puppy in Kebon Kaja village, Bangli Regency in Bali, Indonesia.

    Audio Mass Vaccination of Dogs Can Eliminate Rabies

    About 70,000 people worldwide die every year of rabies. Rabies is a viral infection that people get mainly through dog bites. Scientists say vaccinating dogs can effectively get rid of rabies outbreaks in dog populations. And this will have a domino effect, fewer humans with rabies. More

  • Methane oxidizing

    Photogallery Small Organisms in Deep Sea Rocks Eat Methane

    The gas methane has been linked to rising temperatures on Earth. But methane does not stay in the atmosphere as long as another “greenhouse gas” -- carbon dioxide. Scientists say both gases trap heat from the sun. They prevent heat from escaping into outer space. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner BlogConfessions of an English Learner Blog

Tell us About Our Programs