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Companion (Parallel Novel*) Read

Read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

A coming-of-age story set during and after the Civil War in Massachusetts, featuring the four daughters of the March family. The book as it is currently published was originally two volumes: the first, Little Women or, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, and the second, Good Wives.




5 Things You Don’t Know About Louisa May Alcott

Books About Louisa May Alcott

Alcott in Her Own Time
edited by Daniel Shealy

A Hunger for Home: Louisa May Alcott’s Place in American Culture by Sarah Elbert

The Journals of Louisa May Alcott edited by Joel Myerson and Daniel Shealy. Madeleine B. Stern, associate editor

L.M. Alcott: Signature of Reform edited by Madeleine B. Stern

Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson

The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott edited by Joel Myerson and Daniel Shealy. Madeleine B. Stern, associate editor

Louisa May Alcott: From Blood and Thunder to Hearth and Home by Madeleine B. Stern

Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen

Some Additional Information about Louisa May Alcott

Major works by Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott Timeline 

Visit the historic home of the Alcott family, where Louisa May Alcott wrote and set Little Women

IMDB Listing of movie and TV versions of Alcott’s works

About Louisa May Alcott  


Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen

Tells the story of this remarkable woman’s quest to rescue her family from poverty and to find wealth, fame, and happiness for herself.  Readers are provided a glimpse into the life that influenced many of Alcott’s books. 



Listen to Harriet Reisen’s interview on The Diane Rehm Show – October 27, 2009.

Watch Harriet Reisen discuss her book Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women at the Boston Public Library – November 12, 2009. CSpan Video Library. 

Book Reviews

Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen

“Every now and then, there appears a writer who has tracked a subject for so long through space and time that the resulting product ranks it superior to any of the facile interpretations or extended magazine articles that currently pass for biography. Such is the case with Harriet Reisen . . . Ms. Reisen is a master storyteller. Chapters are never formulaic. With compassion and insight, she propels readers on to the next adventure, sacrifice, tragedy and triumph.”
Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, The Washington Times

“As Harriet Reisen's enchanting biography reminds us, Alcott patterned the March family on her own and Jo on herself . . . [Her life] is richly examined in Ms. Reisen's full and vivid portrait.”
Melanie Kirkpatrick, The Wall Street Journal

“There may be better American novels, but Little Women surely ranks among the most cherished . . . Fans will adore Harriet Reisen’s sympathetic biography Louisa May Alcott. With charming verve, she details Alcott’s remarkable if difficult life.”   
USA Today

“Drawing heavily on family letters and journals, Reisen’s intimate biography . . . is a moving and sympathetic look at the Alcotts and their extraordinary cultural milieu.”
Julia M. Klein, Obit Magazine

“Harriet Reisen puts 20 years of study into a highly readable story. She casts a revealing new light upon an ambitious woman who was very much like her literary alter ego.”
Joyce Saenz Harris, The Dallas Morning News

"Louisa May Alcott's classic Little Women has been something of a rite of passage between mothers and daughters for generations. Mothers present their little girls with their very own copy of the book. And eventually, some lazy vacation day or rainy weekend is given over to a viewing of one the film versions of Alcott's book, whether it's the 1933 Katherine Hepburn version, the 1949 June Allyson vehicle, or the modern 1994 Winona Ryder interpretation. But while Little Women was, in part, autobiographical, the full story of the life and times of Louisa May Alcott is not so well known. Author and screenwriter Harriet Reisen has taken on that challenge, and the result is her comprehensive and eminently readable work Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women . . . Her book is at once sweeping and personal . . . Reisen's devotion both to scholarship and Alcott herself makes the book truly an interesting and engaging read . . . There are so many stories seemingly effortlessly woven into the book: not just Louisa's life but life in Boston in the 1800's, the anti-slavery movement, the Civil War, the transcendentalist movement, Louisa's father Bronson's life as a teacher and philosopher."
Victoria Shouldis, Concord Monitor

“A lively, engrossing portrait of Louisa May Alcott's life that will appeal to the legions of women who grew up worshipping the book . . . [Alcott’s] spirit shines through in Reisen’s retelling.”
Meghan Barr, Associated Press

“Reisen’s lifelong fascination with Little Women and the woman who wrote it has produced an absorbing narrative, in many ways the best ever, of Alcott’s own life . . . The utterly compelling force of Alcott’s personality has never been better described. I found the book compulsively readable; I couldn’t put it down.”
Robert Richardson, author of Emerson: The Mind on Fire and Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind

“Brilliantly researched . . . Her biography will occupy an essential place on any Alcott bookshelf.”
John Matteson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father

“A beautifully written, significant, and fascinating work. Harriet Reisen does with this biography what Alcott did with her writing—gives us a memorable and inspiring gift full of humanity, heart, and soul.”
Winona Ryder, producer and star of Little Women

“[Reisen’s] story equals—and maybe bests—her beloved book about the lively March sisters.”
Lisa Shea, Elle

"Reisen delivers an in-depth portrait of the spirited, sentimental, imaginative, realistic woman whose childhood vow was to 'be rich, famous, and happy.' Reisen draws extensively from Alcott's prodigious output of literary works, travel sketches, articles, journals and letters, as well as the recollections of her contemporaries . . . Reisen deftly weaves the story of Alcott's life into the rich social, cultural and historical fabric of mid-19th-century New England. The author's insightful examination reveals Alcott as a compulsive writer who peppered her stories with external details and internal currents of her life; an ardent abolitionist who served as a Civil War army nurse; a self-espoused spinster who cherished her independence but harbored a schoolgirl romantic attachment to Thoreau and a midlife crush on a young Polish pianist; a thoroughly modern feminist who wrote about the power struggle between the sexes and championed women's suffrage; and a middle-aged woman who relied on opiates to cope with her failing health. An absorbing portrait of the protean author whose 'life was no children's book.'"
Kirkus Reviews

"Reisen's writing is lively and appealing. She analyzes Alcott's best-known works—Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys—as well as Pauline's Passion and Punishment, Behind a Mask, and Perilous Play, the pulp fiction Alcott wrote anonymously or as A.M. Barnard. Drawing extensively from Alcott's journals and letters as well as those of her family members, Reisen portrays Alcott's life with precision and sympathy yet does not hide her flaws. This compelling biography allows readers to know Alcott and appreciate her as 'her own best character.' Highly recommended for . . . readers interested in American women writers and women's studies."
Kathryn R. Bartelt, University of Evansville Libraries, Indiana, Library Journal

"Harriet Reisen's Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women does valiantly portray the beloved author as a stalwart woman whose life, as Reisen succinctly puts it, was no children's book. The daughter of impecunious transcendentalist Bronson Alcott and long-suffering Abigail May, as a girl Louisa Alcott watched her father preach esoteric uplift while practicing the penury that impoverished the family. Bronson's redeeming trait, Reisen speculates, may have been temporary insanity. The sadder case was Alcott's mother—the model for Marmee in Little Women—an intelligent woman harnessed to a man in search of the ineffable and, on occasion, young female acolytes. Louisa appointed herself the Golden Goose of these needy nurturers. Churning out what Reisen calls the chick-lit of its day to provide her mother and sisters the material comforts she never had, Alcott also used her imagination, according to Reisen, to escape the confines of ordinary life, although for Bronson Alcott's daughter, ordinary life was not all that ordinary; Reisen calculates that the family moved at least 30 times by Alcott's 20s. The ordeals of childhood were transmuted into rich literary endowments, Reisen explains. Alcott also wrote to earn parental approval; no longer was she a tomboy with a temper, though a careful reader can detect the anger beneath the surface of her most placid stories . . . Reisen's rich empathy for Alcott never falters and her chronicle of Alcott's exhausting attempt, as one friend remarked, to fill vacant niches in all things, whether in her family or in the world of popular literature, is heart-rending. As Reisen notes, Alcott simply wore herself out. Devotees of Little Women may be shocked that its self-medicating, troubled creator was not a jolly J.K. Rowling, though likely many of them know this. What they may not realize is that the redoubtable Alcott, who chose to be a free spinster and to paddle her own canoe, was decidedly strong but, alas, never free."
Brenda Wineapple, Publishers Weekly

Watch Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women

An inspirational documentary film follows Alcott’s life from a childhood of dire poverty through her quest to find fame and money through her books. The film was co-produced by Nancy Porter Productions, Inc. and Thirteen/WNET New York’s American Masters, and a biography of the same title was written by Harriet Reisen.

Visit the filmmakers’ Web site and PBS American Master Web site for more information.

Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women is the recipient of numerous awards and film festival selections, including:

Booklist’s Editors’ Choice: Best Video of 2009
CINE Golden Eagle 2008
Grand Award: Providence Film Festival
Audience Choice Award: Cape Cod Filmmaker Takeover
Best Feature Documentary: L.A. Reel Women Int’l Film Festival
Best Family Feature: Garden State Film Festival

Rhode Island International Film Festival
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Guangzhou Documentary Film Festival
Santa Fe Film Festival
Through Women’s Eyes Film Festival


Louisa May Alcott from Nancy Porter Productions on Vimeo. Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women (2009)

Louisa May Alcott:  The Woman Behind Little Women

Lesson Plans


A mix of media and teacher instruction helps students connect selected events of Alcott’s life with their historical backdrop and with her works. Video clips from the film Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women are provided with related discussion topics for teachers to adjust based on their classroom’s curricula, educational level, and available time. Resources from the web and the book Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women provide background for teachers and the more motivated or advanced students. Students in class chart each event along a timeline (the graphic organizer) as a reference for writing assignments.

You may also find our lesson plan for secondary schools useful. Please feel free to download the lesson plan and complimentary organizer, below.

* Parallel novels are works of fiction that exist in or derive from other works but focus on different characters and aspects of the original work and/or are told from a different perspective.