Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Anna Maclean - author of 'Louisa and the Missing Heiress.'

Today I'm thrilled to host author, Anna Maclean. Her latest book 'Louisa and the Missing Heiress' has the unusual hook of having a writer, who is a household name, as heroine. Anna is also offering a $20 eVoucher to one lucky person who leaves a comment during her book tour. So without further ado I'll hand over to Anna to reveal a little known side to Louisa May Alcott.
APOLOGIES - my mistake, but Anna is offering a prize of a Victorian cup and saucer, for the winner of the prize draw, and not a voucher as I stated. Sorry for any confusion! Totally my error.
Grace x

The Secret World of Louisa May Alcott

One of the joys of writing about Louisa May Alcott is that there is so much about her many people don’t know!  Say Louisa May Alcott, and most people think  of Little Women.  But in fact, Louisa had a long and good career before she wrote that book for children. She wrote ‘blood and thunder’ stories, often under a non de plume or  simply as ‘anonymous.’  They were stories full of very grown-up adventures, romances and gothic tales.  Because they were somewhat racy for the time (and because she was a lady from a good family) she didn’t write them under the name of Louisa May Alcott…but they are hers, and very distinctive.
            Louisa couldn’t publish racy materials under own name for another important reason people often aren’t aware of:  she and her family sometimes broke the law, in their fight against slavery and so it was important not to call attention to herself in a controversial way.  In Boston, before the Civil War, it was illegal to harbor and assist run-away slaves, and the Alcott’s often assisted slaves who were making their way to safety in Canada. If they were caught, they could be fined five hundred dollars (a huge sum, for them) or even imprisoned.  So, it was important to live somewhat quietly and without undue attention, especially on the parts of the daughters of the family. Women were expected to know their place, and that was at home.
            Those were two parts of Louisa I wanted to introduce to people when I began writing Louisa and the Missing Heiress:  the author with an  imagination full of characters, some of them shady and of dubious character, and the abolitionist and believer in women’s rights, ready to risk her safety and security for others and for justice.
            Louisa was a ‘good’ daughter,  very similar to Jo March, but when we read Jo March closely we see the rebellion, the stubbornness, the determination to be independent rather than become a wife.  Those are very much Louisa’s qualities.  We may think we know Louisa May Alcott, but she had great depth and I think much of her life is still unknown to us.  She had to work so hard to preserve her good reputation and her family’s safety there must have been much she kept hidden.
            Little Women certainly was a spring board for Louisa and the Missing Heiress, but I decided very quickly not to stop with that initial image of the dutiful daughters gathered around the family hearth, supporting each other and their mother when their father is away.  I wanted to take Louisa into some of those areas she didn’t write about as Lousia May Alcott, into families where not all children are loved or treated well, where doing good sometimes requires breaking the law, where some pretty awful things happen to innocent people.  In other words, into the true world rather than the rich and lovely and usually benign world she constructed in her children’s novels.  Louisa knew how to write to comfort and entertain children; but she also knew how to write to amuse adults and further a political goal.  That was the Louisa I worked with, the one I wanted to introduce to readers.

Author - Anna Maclean.

Artist’s biography
Jeanne Mackin is the author of several novels:  The Sweet By and By (St. Martin’s Press), Dreams of Empire (Kensington Books), The Queen’s War (St. Martin’s Press), and The Frenchwoman (St. Martin’s Press).   She has published short fiction and creative nonfiction in several journals and periodicals including  American Letters and Commentary and SNReview. She is also the author of the Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers (Cornell University publications)  and co-editor of  The Norton Book of Love (W.W. Norton),  and wrote art columns for newspapers as well as feature articles for several arts magazines.  She was the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society and her journalism has won awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, in Washington, D.C.  She teaches creative writing at Goddard College in Vermont, has taught or conducted workshops in Pennsylvania, Hawaii and New York and has traveled extensively in Europe.  She lives with her husband, Steve Poleskie,  in upstate New York.


From Louisa and The Missing Heiress by Anna Maclean

The clock chimed four-thirty. I sighed and stirred, tapping my foot more quickly under the concealing hem of my brown linsey-woolsey skirts. Where was our hostess? Surely she could have tried on every hat in Boston by now.  Had she forgotten? Dot had never been the quickest mind – she had wept over fractions and torn her hair over South American rivers – but to completely forget her own welcome-home tea party!
            I looked outside the room into the hall.  The huge, ornate coat tree was close enough to the parlor that every time I looked in that direction and saw Mr. Wortham’s velvet coat hanging there on its hook, I had the eerie sense that someone else was standing there, watching.  Something strange, hostile, dangerous, floated through that house where newlyweds should have been so happy.
            Much as I wished to see Dot, I decided it was time to leave. Abba was waiting for me at home with a basket of clothing to clean and mend for the women’s shelter and other tasks with which society could not be bothered.  Mr. Wortham was standing at the bay window, looking out into the street.  I went to him.
            “I do hope Dot is all right.  This is not like her.”
            “I fear a year in Europe may have changed her,” he said.  “It is liberating to travel, you know.”  But he was frowning and his dark eyes seemed darker than usual.


Thank you, Anna, for visiting today. I wish you every success with your latest book which looks very exciting! Dont forget to leave a comment for a chance to win that voucher!


  1. This was very interesting. I had no idea that she wrote stories before Little Women. And the little blurb from your book has me hooked. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Wow, I knew none of this about Louisa May Alcott. Very very interesting. And the excerpt is fabulous.

  3. ah, thanks! I'm always excited to share Louisa and her secrets with others. Grace, I'm also a cat lover! Don't get my started with the cat stories. This is a lovely, lovely site, so thanks for inviting me.

    Anna Maclean

  4. Sharon and Tara, so glad you could visit and thanks for leaving a comment.
    Anna, an absolute pleasure to host you today, especially as you are a fellow cat lover!
    Grace x

  5. Very interesting post. I've read Little Women and other books by Louisa May Alcott but never really thought about the woman behind the books. I had no idea her family was that involved in the abolitionist movement.


  6. Louisa's involvement with abolitionist movement was complicated and intense. Her father, Bronson, was very involved in the Anthony Burns case, when that former slave, escaped to Boston, was returned to the south by the Boston city leaders. Bronson and the others fought the decision, almost to the point of bloodshed!

    Anna again

  7. Little Women was one of my favorite books growing up. I loved this post.

  8. What would I do for a Victorian teacup and saucer? Leaving a comment is the least of it!

    I have not studied much about Louisa, so this was a very interesting post to me. Thanks!


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