Reviewed by Christen Krumm
Louisa May Alcott has been one of my favorite American authors since I was ten. I loved Little Women and loved The Inheritance even more. As a writer myself, I am always very excited to get the chance to read biographies of other writers and explore their lives. Susan Cheever’s account of the life of this beloved author, while beautifully written, is a tad luke-warm.
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography begins with the story of how Little Women came to be — out of necessity to feed her family and at the bullying from her publisher. From there, Cheever switches gears and begins the story of Bronson Alcott, Louisa’s father. We are thrown little tibbits of Abigail “Abba” Alcott’s, Louisa’s mother, life, however, it seems the main spotlight in these first few chapters, and ultimately the rest of the book, goes to Bronson.
I do understand that biographies, in general, touch on the lives of the parents and other family members in order to show where the subject of the biography came from — and these glimpses give the subject more life then simply just focusing on the subject themselves. However, the author needs to be mindful of the fine line of sharing family life to give their subject life and loosing site of the subject by writing the biography on the family.
Life for Louisa was nothing like what was painted in Little Women. While some critics will argue that Louisa was describing life of the Alcotts when she wrote Little Women, after reading Cheever’s account of her life, I would dare say that Alcotts account of the May family was what she dreamed life to be for her and her sisters. Cheever’s account of Alcott’s life brings light to the almost occult type lifestyle that Bronson desired for his family. It seemed Bronson was a bit of a dreamer and ruled his family with a sad dominance. Life was hard for Abba and her girls with Bronson, the dreamer, in charge. He rarely provided for his family, and often relied on others to pay his debts. I did find it interesting that the Alcotts were close neighbors with the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Thoreaus.
While Cheever has written a beautiful story of the Alcott family, this biography of sorts was just so-so for me. The bi-line “A Personal Biography” was a little strange to me. I am not sure if Cheever meant the bits of personal inflection throughout to be her biography within the story, or if she had something else entirely planned, but it just left me scratching my head. I wish it had a tad bit more of Lousia herself and less about her domineering father and his failed dreams.
Christen graduated from the University of Arkansas Fort Smith with a BA in English. She’s a coffee drinking stay at home mom by day and a freelance writer/editor by night. She currently resides in Arkansas with her husband and daughter and is excited to welcome a son in August.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Simon & Schuster. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.