Sunday, January 17, 2016

With a Sister Like This

I wrapped up my year of actually finishing books I start and reporting on them with a novel about Louisa May Alcott's sister May.

I've long loved Louisa. She was imaginative. Gutsy. Subversive.

And imperfect.

I always knew she was imperfect. Of course she was imperfect. No matter how cool people are, they are never perfect.

I wasn't prepared, though, for what I discovered a couple of weeks ago and then confirmed this week.

While reading the novel, I learned that May Alcott had some of her drawings of literary and patriotic scenes around town published in a book called Concord Sketches. It's very rare; not many were printed. Louisa wrote the introduction, which was apparently not flattering to May at all.

I had to see it for myself. Louisa's introduction. May's drawings.

A quick search for images of the book itself on the Internet failed me. Then I discovered there existed a copy of the actual book just miles from me, deep in the heart of Special Collections at the BYU library.

I went there this past week to see it for myself.

And confirmed the worst.


Louisa totally thrashed May!

"These sketches," she wrote, "from a student's portfolio [May was teaching art by this time. Ouch!], claim no merit as works of art [Ouch!!], but are only valuable as souvenirs [Ouch!!!], which owe their chief charm to the associations that surround them, rather than to any success in the execution of a labor of love [Ouch!!!!], prompted by the natural desire to do honor to one's birthplace."

Maybe Louisa wrote what she wrote as a joke and never meant for it to be published? Maybe she didn't think the book would ever make it to print? The introduction did not include an attribution. Maybe Louisa didn't write it at all?

I can wish.

Because with a sister like this, who needs critics?

Disillusioned as I am, though, I won't stop loving Louisa. If we stopped loving everyone who isn't perfect, we'd have to stop loving everyone. Plus, this happened nearly 150 years ago. Time adds a mythic patina to legends like Louisa.

But still.

Poor May.


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