- Little Women: An Annotated Edition by Louisa May Alcott ed. by Daniel Shealy, and: Marmee and Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother by Eve LaPlante, and: My Heart Is Boundless: Writings of Abigail May Alcott, Louisa’s Mother ed. by Eve LaPlante
The study of Louisa May Alcott, her writings, and her extraordinary cultural context reached a high point of sorts in the previous decade, with the publication of the brilliant and sympathetic Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father (2007) by John Matteson, a dual biography about the intertwined lives of Louisa and Amos Bronson Alcott. That book won acclaim from academic and popular audiences and later collected the Pulitzer Prize in biography. Then came more, including the PBS documentary Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind “Little Women” (2009) directed by Nancy Porter, and its biographical book tie-in authored by Harriet Reisen. The current decade in Alcott scholarship has had its ups—Richard Francis’s Fruitlands: The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia (2010), a beautifully written and astonishingly well-researched account of the utopian community where the Alcotts lived in the early 1840s—but also some downs, such as Susan Cheever’s misguided and sometimes factually inaccurate Louisa May [End Page 279] Alcott: A Personal Biography (2010). Still, new discoveries and work on Alcott and her family continue to generate popular and academic interest. The 2012–13 academic year saw the publication of three important and genuinely engrossing contributions to our understanding of Alcott and her writing, books that attest to our enduring fascination with this author and her most famous novel, Little Women.
The most recent of these volumes is Daniel Shealy’s Little Women: An Annotated Edition. President of the Louisa May Alcott Society and Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Shealy is a widely admired and prolific Alcott scholar, who has edited or coedited eleven books about his subject—everything from her Journals and Selected Letters to her Fairy Tales and Fantasy Stories to The Alcott Sisters’ Letters from Europe, 1870–1871 and more. His extensive experience editing Alcott’s texts and devotion to scholarship about her work in many ways make Shealy the ideal scholar to prepare an annotated edition of Little Women. His new edition of this beloved novel does not disappoint.
In one respect, this Annotated Edition is just the latest in a complex history of the novel’s various versions, from the original Roberts Brothers printing of the first part in October 1868 to the present, as Shealy knows as well as anyone. In other respects, however, this new volume seems to capture and encompass many key parts of the novel’s long textual and cultural history. The “Note on the Text” explains in a concise way the history of the first edition published in two volumes in 1868–69 by Roberts Brothers, as well as its editing and repackaging as a lavishly illustrated Christmas book in 1880 and as a more compact “regular edition” the following year. Shealy chooses the text of the original edition as the basis for his own, “since later changes made by Roberts Brothers clearly work against the spirit of the novel” (xi). Still, his Annotated Edition also includes a partial list of textual variants (599–606), a piece of back matter that identifies some of the most interesting changes made and illustrates the differences between the original edition and the less slangy and more refined text of 1880–81. These are not the only versions of Little Women that Shealy makes part of his own edition, however. In an introduction (1–29) that quietly synthesizes a great deal of research, we learn about the novel in its prehistory with illustrations...