Little Women Abroad

The Alcott Sisters' Letters from Europe, 1870-1871

Title Details

Pages: 376

Illustrations: 78 b&w photos and illus.

Trim size: 6.750in x 9.750in



Pub Date: 04/01/2021

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6038-6

List Price: $24.95


Pub Date: 11/15/2008

ISBN: 9-780-8203-3009-9

List Price: $42.95

Little Women Abroad

The Alcott Sisters' Letters from Europe, 1870-1871

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  • Description
  • Reviews

In 1870, Louisa May Alcott and her younger sister Abby May Alcott began a fourteen-month tour of Europe. Louisa had already made her mark as a writer; May was on the verge of a respected art career. Little Women Abroad gathers a generous selection of May’s drawings along with all of the known letters written by the two Alcott sisters during their trip. More than thirty drawings are included, nearly all of them previously unpublished. Of the seventy-one letters collected here, more than three-quarters appear in their entirety for the first time. Daniel Shealy’s supporting materials add detail and context to the people, places, and events referenced in the letters and illustrations.

By the time of the Alcott sisters’ sojourn, Louisa’s Little Women was already an international success, and her most recent work, An Old-Fashioned Girl, was selling briskly. Louisa was now a grand literary lioness on tour. She would compose Little Men while in Europe, and her European letters would form the basis of her travel book Shawl Straps. If Louisa’s letters reveal a writer’s eye, then May’s demonstrate an eye for color, detail, and composition. Although May had prior art training in Boston, she came into her own only during her studies with European masters. When at a loss for words, she took her drawing pen in hand.

These letters of two important American artists, one literary, the other visual, tell a vibrant story at the crossroads of European and American history and culture.

These letters add to our knowledge of the Alcotts and demonstrate the artistic eye through which May Alcott saw the treasures of Europe. They also inform us about the composition of Little Men and, as many of Louisa's letters were incorporated into Shawl Straps, allow readers to see her at work both as a letter writer searching for literary topics and as a professional author adapting these descriptions to her published stories. Not only is this the only work of its kind about Louisa May Alcott, it is also a valuable addition to the fields of travel literature and nineteenth-century transatlantic studies.

—Joel Myerson, University of South Carolina

No scholar of his generation has added more to our understanding of Louisa May Alcott than Daniel Shealy. In his brilliantly researched Little Women Abroad, he outdoes himself. Casual readers will be delighted to share in the humor and exuberance of two irrepressible sisters as they explore the wonders of western Europe side by side. Academicians will feast upon the rich archive he has placed before their eyes and will greatly benefit from his insightful commentary and meticulous annotations. Little Women Abroad warms the heart as it broadens the mind.

—John Matteson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father

Little Women Abroad tells an engrossing tale in letters. In the spring of 1870, two sisters escape sleepy Concord—'one of the dullest little towns in Massachusetts,' according to the elder—to lead a vagabond life in Europe for eighteen months—'poking round strange cities,' in the words of the younger. The two women pursue their respective arts, writing and painting, and grow independent, meanwhile witnessing 'two revolutions, an earthquake, an eclipse, and a flood.' Best of all, these intrepid correspondents aren't just any pair of innocents abroad. They are the novelist and witty social observer Louisa May Alcott—by 1870, so famous that she vies with the splendors of England, Italy, and Switzerland for the attention of her fellow travelers—and her youngest sister May, the fledgling artist for whom this European tour would prove pivotal in a career that culminated in a Paris Salon exhibition within the decade. Daniel Shealy's expertly edited volume will leave readers with 'heads full of new and larger ideas, [and] hearts richer in the sympathy that makes the whole world kin,' as Louisa herself wrote of this inspiring sisterly sojourn.

—Megan Marshall, author of The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism

Little Women Abroad is a major contribution to Alcott studies . . . In providing public access to May Alcott's letters for the first time, the volume gives a voice to a woman artist whose accomplishments are becoming increasingly well appreciated.

Children's Literature Association Quarterly

About the Author/Editor

Louisa May Alcott (Author)
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT (1832–1888), a novelist and poet, is perhaps known as the author of the "Little Women" trilogy: Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys. She was a committed abolitionist and feminist throughout her adult life.

Daniel Shealy (Editor)
DANIEL SHEALY is a professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. He is the editor of Alcott in Her Own Time and has also been involved in numerous publications related to Alcott’s fiction, letters, and journals.