During a literary pilgrimage to Concord, Massachusetts a few years ago, I visited Orchard House, the home of Louisa May Alcott. Louisa lived there with her parents and sisters in the only permanent residence the Alcotts ever knew. Upon entering the two-story farmhouse, I immediately left the twenty-first century and stepped back in time.
Nearly all the furnishings in the home belonged to the Alcott family. The kitchen offered a glimpse into the life of the Alcott women, who not only used the room to prepare meals, but did laundry as well. Since Bronson Alcott insisted on a strict vegetarian diet, the family often dined on fruits and vegetables, which came directly from the gardens around the surrounding property. Bronson remained adamant that all living things mattered – including animals. Whether the rest of the family shared his sentiments remains unclear. But it would not seem likely that the Alcott sisters would protest their father’s wish to preserve all lifeforms.
The dining area not only served as a place for the family to engage in serious conversation, but it also became a stage where Louisa and her sisters performed plays for guests. The study still houses many of Mr. Alcott’s books along with his desk and chair. But perhaps the most fascinating part of the tour takes place upstairs in Louisa May’s bedroom – the room in which she did much of her writing.
Mr. Alcott built the half-moon desk where Louisa would pen her beloved novel Little Women. Like so many other books, Little Women has always held a special place in my heart. I delighted to the adventures of the March sisters, while identifying with the autonomous spirit of Jo. Seeing the desk where the story came to life gave me pause. I tried to imagine Louisa drafting her manuscript as she gazed through the window during her morning writing ritual. What must it have been like to write a story that would transcend literary history? Although Little Women went on to become a success that gave Alcott financial freedom, she had no way of knowing that her words would still resonate with readers a century after her death.
My tour ended with a trip to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, the final resting place of not only the Alcotts, but also their literary neighbors Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne. I stood at the foot of Louisa’s grave in awe of a woman who did not allow the confines of society to deter her from being a writer. She refused to adhere to a publisher’s advice that she should stick to teaching – a remark that undoubtedly had more to do with her being a woman than anything else. She held tight to her pen and wrote incessantly for the rest of her life, paving the road for women writers along the way.
-Tara Lynn Marta