History Imagined

What happened to Louisa May Alcott in Walpole?

In the summer of 1855 the Alcott family, including 22-year-old Louisa May, were forced to move to Walpole, N.H., due to poverty — a kind family member’s charity gave them a rent-free home in the small rural town. Those few historical facts are nearly all that is known about Alcott’s life in Walpole — mysteriously, her letters and journals reveal very little of what occurred during that time.

Perhaps nothing out of the ordinary happened, but many have wondered if she was hiding some scandalous secret. In “The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott” [Amy Einhorn Books/G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $24.95] Kelly O’Connor McNees imagines that Alcott fell in love with a local (and engaged) man, suffered heartbreak and ultimately chose a writing career in Boston over marriage and family at great personal cost. All of this, proposes McNees, could be the real story behind Alcott’s famous fictional pair Jo and Laurie. Though much in “Little Women” is based on Alcott’s life and family, whether Jo and Laurie’s tempestuous near-love affair was solely the product of Alcott’s imagination or not may never be known. This novel offers a romantic, and yet tragic, answer to that literary mystery.

–Erica Thoits

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