Sunday, 31 December 2017

Louisa May Alcott, Orchard House, and Little Women

Did you enjoy the BBC adaptation of Little Women over the Christmas holiday? I did.
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to visit Orchard House, Concord, Massachusetts, where Louisa May Alcott lived for twenty years from 1857. The exciting thing is that this is where she set the story, based on her family life during the American Civil War.
Most of the contents of the house are those that belonged to the Alcotts,  so it is like wandering through the home of the March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, too. You can even see the shelf desk that Louisa's father built for her writing, and Jo sat at a similar one in the BBC dramatisation.
Louisa was very fortunate to grow up amongst some prestigious authors, visiting Ralph Waldo Emerson's library, walking with Henry David Thoreau and putting on plays in Nathaniel Hawthorn's barn!
She and her sisters also acted out her melodramas in the dining room for friends who used the parlour as an auditorium. Always a tomboy, she would take the extravagant male parts, and I wonder if the russet-leather boots that Jo wears in the book were based on some Louisa had too?
I particularly liked standing in Orchard House and imagining the girls all dressed up in their costumes.  It's a shame that Heidi Thomas left these theatricals out of her adaptation; I was looking forward to seeing the girls' Christmas Night play!
Faced with family poverty, Louisa took on all sorts of jobs to earn some money: as a teacher, a governess and even an household servant. However, through it all, she kept up her writing, starting with poetry and short stories, just like Jo March, which were published in popular magazines. She also wrote books, including Hospital Sketches, based on her letters home during the Civil War when she spent some time working as a nurse in Washington DC.
In 1867, her publisher asked her to write a book for girls which she dashed off in just three months at her shelf desk in Orchard House, creating Little Women which has been loved by generations of girls ever since. A lot of this is down to the captivating character of Jo March, a girl who thought her own mind and lived her life her own way, just like Louisa.

For more information about Louisa May Alcott and Orchard House, you can visit


  1. What a lovely article, Jean - thanks for sharing it. I loved the adaptation, although I had to keep forgetting the film version. But I liked the authentic detail and the actors in this one. How lucky to have seen the house!

  2. Thank you, Rosemary. It's well worth a visit!