Fri, 12 January 2018
All in the Coventry household are curious about the new governess, little Jean Muir. But is the slight and frail girl all she seems to be? Louisa May Alcott, today on The Classic Tales Podcast.
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Louisa May Alcott grew up in an environment of education. Her father was one of the great Transcendentalists, and his friends Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were frequent visitors. Bronson Alcott was a philosopher and educator, whose aim was to “awaken the soul” of the pupil. He did this through the then controversial method of being courteous and gentle, rather than doling out draconian punishments to his students. He also included physical education, art, music, and nature study in his curriculum, at a time when these subjects were not taught. Unfortunately, his methods did not catch on, and were considered peculiar. He struggled to keep his schools open, closing his last school before he reached the age of 40. Many of Alcott’s original methods are established principles in the school systems of today.
The Alcott family was pretty poor, though they had such distinguished neighbors. Bronson would do odd jobs as a handyman when the opportunities arose, but money was pretty tight. They lived largely on the charity of others.
When Louisa May was 19, she took a job as a companion to a young woman, sister of James Richardson, a lawyer in Dedham, Massachusetts. The old gentleman described the job as requiring some light housework, but that she should be regarded as one of the family. The reality was that the light housework was rather heavy, the sister was rarely seen, and Mr. Richardson attempted to woo with poetry an unimpressed young Louisa. When Louisa protested and delivered an ultimatum, the situation worsened. After seven weeks of drudgery, she left. She was paid four dollars, which the outraged Alcotts returned. Louisa May later wrote about the incident in “How I Went Out to Service”. Doubtless this event fuelled much of the anger and frustration that burns bright in many of Louisa’s “blood and thunder” tales. The first of which, entitled “Pauline’s Passion and Punishment”, won a contest that paid her one hundred dollars for its publication. Her “blood and thunder” tales sold for fifty to seventy-five dollars each. They were published under the pseudonym A.M. Barnard.
And now, Behind a Mask, or A Woman’s Power, part 1 of 4, by Louisa May Alcott