Saturday, July 31, 2010

Louisa May

Last night I was at loose ends, so I started flipping through all the rich material in the Norton Critical Edition of Little Women: snippets from Alcott's journals, relevant editorial correspondence, contemporary reviews, and modern critical analysis. It was a VERY illuminating experience for a writer facing her own impending deadline and beset by her own self-doubts.

I had already known that Alcott undertook the writing of Little Women only reluctantly, after her editor asked her to write "a girls' book" - "Never liked girls, or knew many," she grumbled. I hadn't realized that this same editor was quite unappreciative upon receiving the opening chapters: "Sent twelve chapters of "L.W." to Mr. N. He thought it dull; so do I." In a much later self-comment on her own journal, she wrote, ""the 'dull' book was the first golden egg of the ugly duckling."

What most astonished me was that she wrote the entire second half of the book - Meg's wedding, Laurie's failed courtship of Jo, Laurie's successful courtship of Amy, Beth's heart-rending death, Jo's romance with Prof. Bhaer - all in two months. She began the second part of Little Women on November 1st, 1868, reporting to her journal, "I find I can do a chapter a day, and in a month I mean to be done." And indeed, she sent the full manuscript to the publisher on New Year's Day - proud that she had resisted readers' pleas for her to mate Jo and Laurie: "I won't marry Jo to Laurie to please any one."

I will no longer complain about my deadlines. If Louisa May Alcott could write a chapter a day, I can certainly write a chapter every two or three days. And if her "dull" book did so well, maybe I shouldn't despair quite yet of the dullness of mine, but just keep on writing.

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