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Alcott, Louisa May - Little Women, Little Men, Jo's Boys

Louisa May Alcott

Little Women, Little Men, Jo's Boys

"The Library of America has done a great service to Alcott lovers and nineteenth-century literature scholars alike by bringing Louisa May Alcott's March family trilogy together in a single, beautifully crafted volume. Insightfully edited by the incomparable Elaine Showalter, this is the best combined presentation of Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys that we could possibly have asked for."
—John Matteson, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father
Overview  |  Note on the Texts  |  Reviews  |  Table of Contents

This volume contains three novels by Louisa May Alcott: Little Women; or, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy (1868-69), Little Men: Life at Plumfield with Jo's Boys (1871), and Jo's Boys, and How They Turned Out (1886). The texts of the novels have been taken from the first American editions.

The initial suggestion for Little Women came from Thomas Niles, an editor at Roberts Brothers in Boston, who proposed in September 1867 that Alcott "write a girls' book" for the firm. She began work on the novel in May 1868, with only modest expectations for it: "Never liked girls or knew many, except my sisters; but our queer plays and experiences may prove interesting, though I doubt it," she noted in her journal. By early June, however, she had sent Niles a manuscript of the first 12 chapters. After showing the book to some early readers, Niles was convinced the book would "hit," and he recommended she add a final chapter, to allow for a sequel. Alcott sent another 10 chapters in late July, along with her first corrected proofs. Her sister May illustrated several scenes in the novel, which she sent to Niles to be engraved. She read proofs of the finished book in August, finding it at last "better than I expected." Roberts Brothers published the first volume of Little Women; or, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy in early October. By the end of the month, the first printing had sold out, and Alcott had agreed to write a second volume to continue the novel.

Alcott began "Part Second" of Little Women on November 1, hoping to complete a chapter a day. On November 17, having written 13 chapters, she found herself "so full of my work, I can't stop to eat or sleep, or for anything but a daily run." She sent her finished draft to Roberts Brothers on January 1, 1869. In private letters, she complained about one of the demands her publisher and her readers made of her for the sequel: her character Jo, she felt, "should have remained a literary spinster," but they wanted to see her married. Alcott complied, but made "a funny match" for Jo. She also expressed disappointment with the illustrations for the second volume, commissioned by Niles from Hammet Billings, but her readers were "clamoring & the book can't be delayed," so she allowed Niles to include them. Roberts Brothers published Little Women; or, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy (Part Second) in April 1869.

British editions of both volumes of the novel appeared soon after it was published in Boston. Alcott had not been able to secure copyright for her work in Great Britain, and a number of publishers took advantage of the opportunity to reprint it without her consent; in several cases its second part was given a new title, such as Little Women Wedded (Sampson Low, 1872), Little Women Married (Sampson Low, 1873), Nice Wives (Weldon & Co., 1875), or Good Wives (Nisbet, 1895). In 1880, with Alcott's permission, Roberts Brothers combined the two parts of Little Women in a single-volume edition, newly illustrated by Frank T. Merrill. In doing so, the publisher revised Alcott's texts: the chapters were renumbered consecutively, and spelling, punctuation, paragraphing, wording, and phrasing were altered in numerous instances, particularly where Alcott's diction was informal or unconventional. On earlier occasions Alcott had rejected suggestions that she revise her work, and no available evidence suggests her direct involvement in these revisions, though she was at least informed about them: in an 1883 letter to Alcott, Niles attributed increasing sales of her books to the combined effect of advertising, illustration, the new single-volume format, and "the change in style."

The text of Little Women printed here is that of the separate 1868 and 1869 Robert Brothers editions. Both editions were reprinted several times before 1870, and a number of changes in punctuation and spelling, along with a few verbal revisions, were made in those printings. Some of these changes are among the corrections of typographical errors incorporated in the present volume and listed at the end of this Note. (Two of them, at 96.23 and 289.32 in this volume, were first corrected by Anne K. Phillips and Gregory Eiselein in their Norton Critical Edition published in 2004.)

In January 1871, Alcott informed Niles that she was at work on a new novel about the March family; within a few months, she had finished 18 chapters. Niles suggested Little Men; or, the History of Jo's Boys for the title. Determined to avoid the piracy to which her earlier work had been subjected in Great Britain, Alcott made efforts to see that British copyright for the book would be secure: she negotiated terms with her British publisher, Sampson Low, in advance, and arranged to be personally present in England for the publication of the novel, on May 15. The first American edition was published by Roberts Brothers on June 1. It is unclear which edition was set from Alcott's manuscript, or whether Alcott, traveling in Europe while the novel was in press, was able to read proofs of either edition, but the differences between the two in spelling, punctuation, and an occasional word or phrase suggest that Sampson Low revised Alcott's original usages for a British audience. The text printed here is that of the first printing of the first American edition of Little Men: Life at Plumfield with Jo's Boys.

Alcott had promised Niles a concluding volume in her Little Women series as early as 1882, but ill health frustrated her attempts to begin work on the novel, to be called Jo's Boys, until March 1886, when she completed an initial outline. Finally feeling able to write, she made rapid progress: the first 15 chapters were delivered to Niles in June, and the finished manuscript in July. Roberts Brothers published Jo's Boys, and How They Turned Out in October 1886; a British edition (Sampson Low, 1886) was prepared from the American proof sheets. The text printed here is that of the Roberts Brothers first printing of Jo's Boys.

This volume presents the texts of the original printings chosen for inclusion here, but it does not attempt to reproduce features of their typographic design. The texts are presented without change, except for the correction of typographical errors. Spelling, punctuation, and capitalization are often expressive features, and they are not altered, even when inconsistent or irregular.

Copyright 1995–2011 Literary Classics of the United States, Inc.
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