Friday, November 30, 2012

Mark Twain—Greatest American Writer Period. End of Argument

Note:  This first appeared in this blog in a slightly different form on November 30, 2010 and again last year.  Just can’t get enough of Mark Twain…

Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born on November 30, 1835 in the insignificant village of Florida, Missouri shortly after the memorable appearance of Haley’s Comet.  His family soon moved to the very significant and bustling river port of Hannibal where he grew to be a lad of a more than standard issue impulse to mischief and a disdain for authority.  He vastly preferred idling along the river front to school work, but was quick and clever with words.  After his father died, his family sent him to apprentice at the age of 15 to the Hannibal Journal, a newspaper owned by his older brother Orion. He graduated from printer’s devil to typesetter and occasionally contributed unaccredited comic sketches to the paper. 

By the time he was 18 he itched to get out from under his family’s thumb and headed east where he easily found work as a type setter in New York City, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and St. Louis.  In his spare time he haunted libraries and educated himself.  Returning home in 1857 he fell in with legendary Mississippi River Pilot Horace Bixby on a trip to New Orleans and studied with him for two years until he earned his pilot’s license. For almost two years he plied the river earning a princely salary of more than $250 a month and the prestige of the most important job on the river.  

When the Civil War closed the river, the young man briefly joined his Hannibal friends in a company of Confederate Volunteers.  Without hearing a shot fired Clemens quickly determined that the boring drudgery of a soldier’s life was not for him.  When his brother Orion secured appointment as secretary to the Republican governor of Nevada territory, the two set out on an adventurous trip by stage coach to the west. 

Clemens tried his hand as a gold miner in Virginia City, but soon decided it was too much work.  He went back to newspaper work for the Territorial Enterprise.  His tendency toward scathing satire often got him in trouble and he often wrote under various pseudonyms, including one incorporating a term from depth sounding on the Mississippi, Mark Twain.  That one stuck.  But he soon had too many enemies with horsewhips and—worse—pistols and decamped for San Francisco in 1864.

In the City by the Bay, Clemens returned to reporting.  He also fell in with a lively literary crowd that included local color writers like Bret Harte and Artemus Ward as well a young poet, Ina Coolbrith.  Under their influence he submitted some of his sketches to Eastern publications.  When The Saturday Press in New York published his mining camp story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County in 1865 he found himself a national celebrity and much in demand.

In 1866 he took an assignment from the Sacramento Bee to visit the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii).  His accounts of that trip and his first ventures on the lecture stage recounting them, made him in demand as a travel writer.  In 1867 the San Francisco Alta California sponsored Twain, as he was now professionally known, on the Quaker City steamship tour of Europe, the Mediterranean and the Holy Land

That was a hell of a lot of living for a young man still in his early 30’s.  And Mark Twain used it all, every bit of it, beginning with Innocents Abroad; or, The New Pilgrim's Progress, his account of his European adventures, published in 1869.  It sold an astonishing 70,000 copies in the first year alone.  He followed it up in 1872 with Roughing It, yarns from his journey west, gold mining adventures, and Nevada newspaper days.

Between those two books Clemens met and fell in love with Olivia Langdon, the beautiful sister of a friend.  The Langdons of Elmira, New York were wealthy and socially well connected to a world of the Eastern liberal elite.  Despite their mutual adoration, Olivia spent much of her time trying to tame Clemens’s blaspheming tongue, cure him of his fondness for cigars, and make a decent Christian out of the admitted heretic.  

The couple spent a couple of years in Buffalo, New York where he edited and had an ownership stake in the Buffalo Express. After their first child and only son Langdon died of diphtheria at 19 months, Clemens sold his interest in the paper and with the earnings of his first two books built a handsome mansion for Olivia in Hartford, Connecticut.

The seventeen years spent in the Hartford house were the happiest and most productive of Clemens’s life.  His three daughters, Suzie, Clara, and Jean were all born there and doted on by their father.  His circle of friends widened and deepened from next door neighbor Julia Ward Howe to the editor and Christian socialist William Dean Howells.  He entertained and admired Fredrick Douglas and casually welcomed the increasing parade of fans, famous and ordinary, who made the pilgrimage to meet him.  Exposure to new ideas broadened him—and drove him further to the left politically with each passing year as he also became ever more disenchanted with smug Christianity.   He embraced full social equality for Blacks and other minorities, heartily endorsed women’s suffrage—and made one of the most widely circulated addresses by a man on the subject—and endorsed labor unions, gladly accepting an invitation to speak to the Knights of Labor.

The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today published was in 1872 shortly after settling into the new house.  It was Twain’s first foray into the novel and was written in collaboration with his neighbor Charles Dudley Warner. A satire on speculation and political corruption, the book was moderately successful and spawned a long running theatrical version featuring the blowhard promoter Colonel Beriah Sellers.  The book gave Twain the courage to try his hand at more novels.  

He turned to his own Hannibal childhood for the inspiration of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876, followed by his masterpiece, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn eight years later.  By that time Twain had matured as an artist and in addition to good fun and a rousing adventure yarn, Huck Finn, partly inspired by The Odyssey, included sharp barbs at slavery, social snobbery, mob mentality, and literary romanticism.

Among the books completed in Hartford were the novels which explored class, caste, and power—The Prince and the Pauper (1881) and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889.) The later was one of the first works of fiction to employ the notion of time travel and deserves to be considered a forerunner of modern speculative fiction. There was also more non-fiction—A Tramp Abroad based on a second trip to Europe in made in 1878 and published in 1880 and Life on the Mississippi, his 1883 look back at his time as a Mississippi River boat pilot.  There were also numerous newspaper articles and sketches as well as speeches and lectures.

Clemens was also trying his hand at business.  He started a publishing house with his nephew by marriage, Charles L. Webster & Company.  The publishing company got off to a good start when it issued the memoirs of Clemens’s friend, former President Ulysses S Grant.  Grant was dying of cancer of the jaw and out of kindness, Clemens paid him a huge advance to secure his family’s financial future.  Luckily it turned out that Grant was an exceptionally fine writer for a general and he book was a huge success.  Later projects, however, fared less well.  A biography of Pope Leo XIII sold fewer than two hundred copies ruining the company.

Clemens was also an enthusiast for new inventions and his investments in them led to disaster.  The worst was the Paige Typesetter, a promising new invention to speed up the tedious and expensive work of setting type by hand, as Clemens himself had so often done as a young man.  The invention worked tantalizingly well but was complicated and too prone to mechanical failure to be practical.  Clemens sank nearly $300,000 (equal to more than $7.5 million today) of his own money and Olivia’s inheritance on it between 1880 and 1894.  Then, just as it was about to be perfected the Linotype rendered it obsolete.

As his debts piled up, Twain wrote furiously.  He undertook any newspaper or magazine work offered and dashed of hasty, not fully conceived novels like Tom Sawyer, Detective and Puddin’ Head Wilson to try to bring in revenue.  He turned more and more to the lecture platform where he was in great demand.  His performances, mixtures of readings from his works and seemingly off-the-cuff observations were masterful monologues and would be the envy of any stand-up comic today.

None of it was enough.  Clemens’s close friend, a Standard Oil executive named Henry Huttleston Rogers stepped in and took over his finances.  He transferred all of his copyrights to Olivia to protect income from them from creditors then declared bankruptcy.  Roger personally managed the household finances with a thrifty eye on the bottom line while Clemens undertook a world girdling speaking tour to repay all of his creditors, even though the bankruptcy absolved him of his obligations to them.  The tour stretched from 1894 to 1900, but Clemens returned home with enough money to pay every one off and start again clean.

A series of personal tragedies stalked Clemens in the last years of the 19th and early years of the 20th Centuries.   The death of his beloved daughter Suzie of meningitis in 1896 was a huge blow from which he never fully recovered.  He battled increasing depression when Olivia passed in 1904.  In 1909 both his close friend Henry Rogers and daughter Jean died within months.  Only Clara remained.

The succession of deaths caused Clemens to re-examine religion.  He was already deeply skeptical, although for Olivia’s sake he had often tried to open his mind to Christianity.  Twain’s serious 1896 novel Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, by the Sieur Louis de Conte explored a topic that had fascinated him for more than 40 years.  He based the 17 year old Joan on his own Suzie and examined her more as a revolutionary heroine than a mystical figure. He considered it his best work, but the public disagreed.  

After Suzie’s death he became increasingly bitter at the notion of a God that would allow such pain and suffering in the world.  Twain last novella The Mysterious Stranger told of the visits of Satan to earth over various periods in history.  He wrote three versions over several years, but declined to publish any of them out of respect to Olivia and Clara.  A version miss mashed from all three manuscripts was published in 1924.  Now considered a classic, it was every bit as controversial as his family had feared.

Another, even more bitter, look at Christianity, Letters to the Earth was considered so shocking that it was withheld from publication for fifty years after Twain’s death.  Other manuscripts, including the complete versions of his Autobiography were held up for 100 years.  A version of the Autobiography, which Twain dictated from his bed, was published in serialized form as Chapters of My Autobiography in the North American Review in 1906 and ’07.  It was published as a book in 1927.  But the massive transcriptions contained much more material, which Twain knew to be scandalous.

In 2010 the first of three volumes of the complete Autobiography was published and became an instant best seller, making Mark Twain the first writer to have original material published and attain that status in three different centuries.  As Twain predicted, it contains “shocking” material with more promised in the remaining two volumes to be released over the next two years.  Here is a sample: 

There is one notable thing about our Christianity: bad, bloody, merciless, money-grabbing, and predatory. The invention of hell measured by our Christianity of today, bad as it is, hypocritical as it is, empty and hollow as it is, neither the deity nor his son is a Christian, nor qualified for that moderately high place. Ours is a terrible religion. The fleets of the world could swim in spacious comfort in the innocent blood it has spilled.

If his views on religion had soured, his political views had become extremely radical.  The Spanish American War and the brutal suppression of the Philippine Rebellion were the last straws.  Twain declared himself an anti-colonialist.  He co-founded the American Anti-Imperialist League in 1901 and spent the last ten years of his life crusading for justice for the “colored races of the world.”  He penned pamphlets, lectured until his health gave out and was equally as scathing to European as American imperialism.  He grew to hate war.  In 1905 he submitted his caustic War Prayer to Harpers Magazine, normally eager to publish anything by the great writer, but they rejected it as unsuitable for their female readership.  Because of contractual obligations, Twain was barred from publishing it elsewhere.  It did not see the light of day until 1923.  It has since inspired anti-war protesters from the Vietnam War to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Clemens’s views were becoming revolutionary.  He commented on his evolving views when he told an interviewer, “When I finished Carlyle’s French Revolution in 1871, I was a Girondin; every time I have read it since, I have read it differently–being  influenced and changed, little by little, by life and environment ... and now I lay the book down once more, and recognize that I am a Sansculotte! – And not a pale, characterless Sansculotte, but a Marat!”

Despite his hatred of war and violence, he endorsed the abortive 1905 Russian revolution.  “I am said to be a revolutionist in my sympathies, by birth, by breeding and by principle. I am always on the side of the revolutionists, because there never was a revolution unless there were some oppressive and intolerable conditions against which to revolt.”

He passed many of these ideas on to one of his last protégés, the deaf/blind student Helen Keller with whom he spent many hours of conversation through her interpreter Anne Sullivan, after first meeting her in 1896.  He encouraged his friend Rodgers to pay her tuition at Radcliffe.  Keller owed her awakening to social justice and socialism to Clemens and Anne Sullivan earned the title Miracle Worker from him.

Sam Clemens and Mark Twain—the two personalities now so intertwined that it  was impossible to tell them apart—died as he predicted the day after Haley’s Comet reached the nearest point to Earth on its return in 1910.  He suffered a heart attack on April 21 at Redding, Connecticut.

And Twain’s legacy?  Just this: the best damn American writer ever.  Period.  No argument allowed.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Entwined Lives of Father and Daughter—Bronson and Louisa May Alcott

The lives of Bronson Alcott and his second daughter Louisa May were so entwined that it is not surprising to learn they shared a birthday.  Bronson was born November 29, 1799 in Wolcott, Connecticut.  Louisa was born during the family’s brief stay in Germantown, Pennsylvania the same day in 1832.
Bronson’s parents were struggling farmers.  He received scant formal education even by the standards of the day.  He rebelled at the rote learning and freely applied corporal punishment of the local academies he briefly attended.  He and a cousin largely self-educated themselves, reading and discussing any books they could lay their hands on.  At 15 he went to work at the Seth Thomas Clock factory and two years later passed an exam to qualify as a school master but found no employment.  Instead he borrowed money from relatives to become a Yankee peddler in the South, where he was horrified by exposure to the peculiar institution.  After two years he gave up the occupation still owing his father for a loan to pay off his debt on unsold stock because “service to mammon” injured his soul.
He turned back to teaching and secured a position in Cheshire, Connecticut.  He immediately began reforms inspired by writings of the Swiss education reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi which he had somehow stumbled upon.  He made the school house more comfortable by building backs to the scholar’s benches, adding more lanterns for illumination, keeping the fire in the stove roaring sufficiently to keep water from freezing on New England mornings, and providing each scholar with an individual slate.  He avoided rote learning and refused to discipline the students with force.  It wasn’t long before his methods were receiving favorable notice by a few, and strong denunciation by most.  Parents began to withdraw their children.  The same fate awaited him the following year in another Connecticut town.
But his efforts got the support of the Rev. Samuel May, the only Unitarian minister in staunchly orthodox Connecticut.  May would go on to a long career as a leading minister, writer and editor, and an unflinching abolitionist.  The extended May family was among the most influential in Unitarianism.  May introduced Bronson to his sister Abigail.  Abby was smitten by the handsome, idealistic teacher.  The rest of her family was not—they did not believe he could ever support a wife and family.
Bronson moved to Boston in 1828 to start his Salem Street Infant School.  Less than two years later without her parents’ approval Samuel married the couple in a ceremony at King’s Chapel.  Predictably, Alcott’s school was soon failing.
Alcott attracted the attention of a wealthy Quaker who invited him to establish a school in Germantown.  At first, things went well.  The Quaker benefactor provided a house rent free and helped recruit students, even paying the tuition of some who could not afford it.  But he soon fretted that rural Germantown was too backward for his advanced ideas and went to Philadelphia to try his ideas out there.  Unable to get a school started there, he returned to the Germantown school, but without the use of the house.  The Alcott’s first daughter Anna was born there and Louisa followed in 1832.
By the time Louisa was born, the family was in dire straits again.  Their benefactor died and with him both the conduit into the Quaker community for students and financial aid.  In 1832 Alcott returned to Philadelphia and started another school which attracted public scorn for his unconventional methods. 
Deciding that Boston was more fertile ground for liberal education, Alcott wrote the pre-eminent Unitarian clergyman William Ellery Channing and convinced him to support his efforts.  Channing agreed to use his influence to attract students and agreed to allow his own daughter to attend.  With high hopes, Alcott opened the Temple School with 20 pupils from some of Boston’s most influential families.
In a relaxed atmosphere in a room with comfortable furniture and decorated with paintings and busts of inspiring figures from Plato to Channing Alcott conducted classes as “conversations” between teacher and pupils and encouraged original thought and expression by his pupils.  In addition to encouraging original writing by his students instead of copying grammar drills, Alcott included conversations on “spiritual matters” in his curriculum.  He engaged Elizabeth Peabody as his assistant and she was soon taking notes on his instruction methods which she published in a well received book, Record of a School: Exemplifying the General Principles of Spiritual Culture, in 1835.  Peabody was so close to the family that when another daughter was born she was named Elizabeth Peabody Alcott.
Alcott and Elizabeth had a falling out during the preparation for a follow-up book and her sister Sophia took over the duties of transcribing some of the class room conversations for the 1836 book Conversations with Children on the Gospels.  The book contained excerpts of Alcott asking the children whether they thought they should accept the accounts of medicals in the Bible as literally true, questioning the virgin birth of Jesus, frankly discussing circumcision with his co-educational students,  and, perhaps most shocking of all, telling them that they each were a part of  God.  The public uproar was enormous.  Alcott was denounced in the press.  An irate lawyer brought up 500 copies of the book for “scrap.”  Parents withdrew their children.  Channing abandoned him.  His only public defender was another Unitarian minister James Freeman Clark.  Abby Alcott was so angry with the Peabody sisters that she dropped her daughter’s middle name and substituted Sewall.
Still, Alcott tried to keep the school open with the help of Margaret Fuller as his assistant.  But she moved to Providence, Rhode Island and the student body dwindled to 11 before he had to close the school in 1841.
But Alcott’s time in Boston drew him into the circle of the most advanced thinkers, poets, preachers, and writers.  Introduced by Elizabeth Peabody to the circle around Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alcott became a member of the Transcendental Club at its second meeting and was the host of the third.  Emerson became very fond of the eccentric teacher who returned almost worshipful regard.  In 1840 Emerson convinced the family to move near him in Concord.  With loans from Emerson and Samuel May, the family rented Dove Cottage near Emerson’s home. Shortly after settling in the family’s fourth daughter Abby May Alcott was born.  She would later simply use the name May.
Alcott divided his time between trying to write a philosophical treatise, with encouragement and editorial assistance from his mentor, and educating his daughters in daily lessons which Louisa fondly remembered for their warmth, encouragement, and her father’s wonderful evocative oral reading.  In many ways, despite constant financial worry, it was an idyllic life.  But Alcott’s writings were too cryptic even for Emerson to whip into shape for publication as a book.  Largely as favor, Margaret Fuller, by then editor of the Transcendental journal The Dial published extracts from his Orphic Sayings that left even its sophisticated readers scratching their heads.
In 1841 Emerson sponsored Alcott on a trip to England where he met to admirers who had opened an Alcott House, a school using his methods.  Charles Lane and Henry C. Wright tried to convince Alcott to stay in England, instead he convinced them to accompany them back to the United States.
Alcott thought he had founded a soul mate in Lane, who he brought into the Alcott home, ostensibly to help with the chores but mostly to spend time together in the kitchen exchanging philosophical observations and hatching plans.  Lane, an ardent abolitionist like Alcott, encouraged him to refuse to pay the Concord poll tax in protest to plans to annex Texas as a slave state.  Alcott was gleefully anticipating arrest when he learned that a benefactor—probably Emerson at Abby plea—had paid the tax for him.  The symbolic gesture, however, encouraged his young friend Henry David Thoreau to make the same protest a year later resulting in his being jailed overnight and inspiring the writing of On Civil Disobedience.
Together Lane and Alcott plotted the establishment of a utopian community.  Lane was wealthy enough to pay for almost the entire purchase price of a few acres of scrub land and depleted orchard in Harvard, Massachusetts that they hopefully named Fruitlands.  Alcott was set to make payments on the last $300 of the purchase price in two installments over the next two years.  Plans for the farm included creation of a consociate family which would be as much as possible completely self-sufficient and independent of the corrupt influence of the world.  Members would agree to follow a strict vegetarian diet and to till the land without the use of “enslaved” animal labor.
The Alcotts and Lane moved into a house on the land in the summer of 1843.  None really understood the labor of farming, much less the backbreaking work necessary to break the ground without horses or oxen.  They soon relented and rented some enslaved animals, but still found little time to actually work the land themselves between flights of philosophical fancy.  Few recruits joined the consociate family and Alcott left in the middle of the meager harvest to try to recruit new members at meetings across New England.  Only 11 others tried to join and most soon left.  By winter the family was literally starving.  Lane resented Abby and the children and tried to convince Alcott to abandon them to undertake a pure, abstentious life.  They quarreled and Lane left to live with the Shakers.  By January 1844 the experiment was over.  Alcott could not make the scheduled payment on the land and his brother in law, obviously at Abby’s insistence, refused for once to loan him the money to continue.
Young Louisa was 10 years old that year, but the hard winter made a deep impression on her.  Years later she would satirize the experience in Transcendental Wild Oats published in 1873.
The family moved back to Concord where Emerson and Samuel May again secured a house for them, The Hillside, directly across the street from Emerson.  The years spent there were recalled by Louisa as the happiest of her life.  Many of the incidents recounted in Little Women, including the family theatricals that she orchestrated, were drawn from this period.  Her mother received an inheritance which Samuel May set up in a trust fund so that Bronson could not use it on another scheme, providing some tiny financial security to the family for the first time. 
While her father spent his time improving the property and puttering on the six acre garden plot, Louisa spent much of her time at the Emersons, where she quietly worshiped the Sage of Concord or The Master as she frequently called him.  He allowed her free reign of his large library and took time to engage her in conversation.  Secretly smitten, she began writing Emerson letters modeled on Goethe’s Correspondence with a Child.  She never gave them to him and later burned them out of embracement.  But years later she shared the secret of their existence with Emerson, who was flattered.  When she was twelve years old, Louisa was at Emerson’s door to receive his heartbroken news that his beloved son and her playmate Waldo had died.  Louisa began writing stories for her sisters and had her own transcendental moment of epiphany walking in the nearby fields.
Bronson made his home available to runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad and was increasingly active with the most radical abolitionists.  He also enjoyed the informal salon that Emerson kept in his parlor.  Abby, however, felt isolated.  She made few friends.  Even Emerson’s wife was distant.  She yearned for Boston so in 1847 the family put the house up for rent and moved next door to Elizabeth Peabody’s influential Boston bookstore.  It was just the first of a series of boarding house addresses in the city.  Anna and Louisa began to work as teachers, tutors, governesses, and took in sewing to help support the family. 
Louisa determined to help her family with her income as a writer in the popular press. In 1849 a Flower Fables collection of stories she wrote for Emerson’s daughter Ellen years earlier was published to moderate success, although the publisher only paid his inexperienced writer $35.  Her first popular romance story, The Rival Painters, A Tale of Rome was written the same year but not published until 1852.  Despite her elevated education, she was not writing genteel poetry or religious essays, the respectable options for women of the time.  Instead she was allowing her romantic imagination run wild and producing heart pounding thrillers for a female audience. 
Louisa began to attend services by Unitarian abolitionist Theodore Parker, an associate of her father’s.  Parker welcomed her into his home and greatly influenced her.  She also became attracted the women’s movement that began with the Seneca Falls declaration.
By 1853 the family was back in Concord in a house they named Orchard House.  The Hillside House was taken over by Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife the former Sophia Peabody.  All became members of the Alcott social circle.  In 1860 Bronson was appointed superintendent of the Concord Schools.  With a steady income for the first time in years and support from Louisa’s writing, the family was reasonably secure. 
These were eventful years.  Elizabeth, the youngest daughter, died in 1854, a blow to all immortalized in the death of Beth in Little Women.  The same year Anna married John Pratt.  Louisa divided her time between Concord and rooms in Boston where she found occasional employment and spent her time writing for publication, all the while sending most of her income home.  Her potboilers written as A. M. Barnard were finding homes in increasingly important periodicals.  By 1863 she had won a $100 prize and had her first story published in the nation’s leading magazine, Frank Leslie’s illustrated.  She also worked on the manuscripts for “serious” novels including one based on her own experience as a youthful breadwinner called Success, published over a decade later after she became famous as Work.
The Civil War mobilized the family.  Bronson lectured in support of Union efforts and the Lincoln administration on the Lyceum circuit.  All of the women contributed to home side efforts to aid soldiers and their families through the work of the Sanitary Commission.  During the winter of 1862-63 Louisa volunteered as a nurse at the Union Hotel Hospital in Georgetown, Virginia.  After only three month, she was taken by typhoid and nearly died.  Her father went to Washington to bring her home where she was nursed back to a semblance of health, although she was never again “robust.”  Later her treatment mercurous chloride for the illness was blamed for her continuing ill health. 
Louis published Hospital Sketches about her experiences in the Boston Commonwealth which were so well received that the memoirs were published as a book in August 1863.  This brought Louisa her first public acclaim under her own name.  Within a year she published two more books, The Rose Family: A Fairy Tale and the semi-autobiographical Moods (revised and reissued twenty years later.)
At the end of the War, Louisa finally got her long dreamed of trip to Europe as a genteel traveling companion for Anna Ward.  While in Paris she met 21 year old Ladislas Wisniewski, a handsome Polish exile.  Despite their language difficulties they engaged in a passionate affair—at least on the pages of Louisa’s letters.  She called him Laddie.  The two met again in London but for whatever reason this romance the only one ever documented between Louisa and a man, ended when she returned to the States. 
Photographs show that as a young woman Louisa was attractive with large, dark eyes.  And she was certainly witty and articulate.  She could have attracted any number of suitors, but evidently staved them all off, determined to dedicate herself to the support of her dependent family.  Later in an interview she would say, “I have fallen in love with so many pretty girls and never once the least bit with any man.”  Despite this there is also no evidence of any romantic relationship with any women.  All of her romance, she poured into the thrillers that she continued to write as A. M. Bernard.
Upon her return to the States, Bronson, acting as Louisa’s agent, contacted publisher Thomas Niles to propose a book of short stories instead, impressed with her recent work as the editor and principle contributor to the children’s magazine, Merry’s Museum, asked for a novel for girls.  At first reluctant, Louisa began work in 1868 under a tight deadline.  The first part of Little Women was published that fall and was a huge success.  The publisher demanded a follow up and Part Two, The Good Wives was published the next year.  Subsequently both parts were issued together.  The material was largely autobiographical, set in familiar Concord, but moved up in time to the Civil War.  Perhaps to explain the family’s struggles with poverty while maintaining the father as a noble character, Louisa made him and Army officer away at war.  Instead the novel lauded the resolute Marmy and her brood.  Louisa herself was tom boy Joe.  Mr. Lawrence, the kind hearted wealthy neighbor who took an interest in the family was partially drawn from Emerson while his grandson Laurie was inspired by her lost love Laddie.  The German Professor Fritz Bhaer was a stand in for Goethe and the German Romantics that inspired the Transcendentalists.
With the huge success of Little Women, Louisa went to work with more episodes of the March family saga to meet the insatiable public demand.  Little Men, in which Jo and her Professor run a progressive school for boys, Louisa got to vindicate her beloved father’s teaching methods and philosophy.
Between episodes of the March chronicles, Louisa published thrillers as Bernard including Behind a Mask, or a Woman's Power and The Abbot's Ghost, or Maurice Treherne's Temptation.  She actually preferred these books to the children’s books that made her famous.  She felt trapped by the genre. 
Meanwhile Bronson, taking advantage of his daughter’s new found fame, finally found a publisher for some of his own work—some of which was heavily edited by her to be readable.  Tablets (1868), Concord Days (1872), New Connecticut (1881), and Sonnets and Canzonets (1882) were moderate successes, but the family still relied on Louisa for support. 
Just before Abby Alcott’s death in 1877, Louisa bought Henry David Thoreau’s last home for her sister Anna and her parents.  Bronson never returned to Orchard House. He was devastated by the loss.  Louisa tried to help him with memoirs of his life with Abby, but the two could not continue and Louisa burned most of her mother’s letters.  She divided her time between the Concord house and Boston.
The same year Louisa anonymously published her last “adult” serious novel, A Modern Mephistopheles and was surprised when critics suggested that it was written by the son of Nathanial and Sophia Hawthorne.  Later that year she accompanied her sister May to Europe where the younger woman was able to establish herself as an artist.  May stayed in Europe where she met and married fellow artist Ernest Nieriker.  Weeks after giving birth to a daughter she named Louisa, May died 1879.  In September the girl arrived in Boston to be raised by her aunt.  Nick named Lulu, the child became the center of Louisa’s life.  She later published a collection of the bedtime tales she made up for the girl.
Bronson managed to begin one last school, the Concord School of Philosophy, in 1879.  It was an adult education school where students could enroll for brief periods for serious conversations on philosophy.  It attracted several noted persons.  The school lasted for nine years, outliving its founder.  In 1882 he was one of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s final visitors and helped plan the funeral for him.  It was a blow to both father and daughter, now in increasingly fragile health themselves.  Bronson suffered a stroke soon after.
Louisa established a home in Boston for her father, widowed sister Anna, her two sons, and little Lulu.  She legally adopted Anna’s adult son John Pratt so that he could be the executor of her estate and manage her royalties for the benefit of her family.
Although Louisa’s failing health was long attributed to mercury poisoning, examination of locks of her hair have disproved that.  It is now thought that she likely had the autoimmune disorder Lupus.  After trying various spas for “the cure” Louisa settled into a Roxbury nursing home. 
On March 1, 1888 Louis visited her father in the Boston house for the last time.  Both knew he was dying.  “I am going up,” he said. “Come with me.”   “Oh, I wish I could, she told him.  On March 4 he died.  Three days later Louisa died in Roxbury.  She evidently decided to go along.