A scholar discovers stories and poems possibly written by Louisa May Alcott under a pseudonym

Lifestyle Fashion

When first contacted by Chapnick about the writings, Gregory Eiselein, president of the Louisa May Alcott Society, said he was curious but skeptical.

“Over my more than thirty-year career as a literary scholar, I’ve received a variety of inquiries, emails, and manuscripts that propose the discovery of a new story by Louisa Alcott,” Eiselein, also a professor at Kansas State University, said in an email interview. “Typically, they turn out to be a known, though not famous, text, or a story re-printed under a new title for a different newspaper or magazine.”

But he has come to believe that Chapnick has found new stories, many of which shed light on Alcott’s early career.

“What stands out to me is the impressive range and variety of styles in Alcott’s early published works,” he said. “She writes sentimental poetry, thrilling supernatural stories, reform-minded non-fiction, work for children, work for adults, and more. It’s also fascinating to see how Alcott uses, experiments with, and transforms the literary formulas popular in the 1850s.”

Another Alcott scholar at Kansas State, Anne Phillips, said she was “excited” by Chapnick’s scholarship and said his paper makes a “compelling case” that these were her writings.

“Alcott scholars have had decades to compare her work in different genres, and that background is going to help us evaluate these new findings,” she said in an email interview.

“She reworked and reused names and situations and details and expressions, and we have a good, broad base from which to begin considering these new discoveries,” she said. ”There’s also something distinctive about her writing voice, across genres.”

This isn’t the first time that scholars have found stories written by Alcott under a pseudonym.

In the 1940s, Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern found thrillers written under the name A. M. Barnard was an Alcott pseudonym. She also wrote nonfiction stories, including about the Civil War where she served as a nurse, under the pseudonym Tribulation Periwinkle.

It wasn’t unusual for female writers, especially during this period, to use a pseudonym. In the case of Alcott, she may have wanted to protect her family’s reputation, since her family who though poor had wealthy connections that dated back to the American Revolutionary War.

“She might not have wanted them to know she was writing trashy stories about sex and ghosts and whatever,” Chapnick said.

“I think she was canny,” he continued. “She had an inkling that she would be a famous writer and she was trying to experiment and she didn’t want her experimentation to get in the way of her future career. So she was writing under a pseudonym to sort of like protect her future reputation.”

At the American Antiquarian Society, a researcher eagerly awaited the arrival of Chapnick earlier this month. For them, this find is validation that their collection of nearly 4 million books, newspapers, periodicals, manuscripts and pamphlets is a boon to researchers studying early American history. Many of their holdings are salvaged from attics, antique shops, book fairs, garage sales.

“We’re keeping these things for a reason. We’re not just keeping them to hoard them and pile them up,” Elizabeth Pope, the curator of books and digitized collections at the society. “We’re thrilled when people can find stories in them.”

For Chapnick, the collections offer the possibility of finding additional Alcott stories — including those written under other pseudonyms.

“The detective work is fun. The not knowing is kind of fun. I both wish and don’t wish that there would be a smoking gun, if that makes sense,” he said. “It would be great to find out one way or the other, but not knowing is also very interesting.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *