Monday 30 August 2021

The Other Alcott

Finished August 28
The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper

This is a tale based on May Alcott, Louisa May Alcott's youngest sister. May lived in the shadow of Louisa, and in the shadow of the character Amy from little women. The book begins just as Little Women is published and Louisa is receiving the first reviews. May did the illustrations for the book (which are included at the back of this book), and some of the reviews spoke negatively about the illustrations. Louisa tried to protect May from these, but May did take them personally. Louisa was supporting the entire family with her writing, including many years of art instruction and living expenses for May. Hooper has done a great deal of research for this novel and the main elements from May's life are here. In the afterward, she explains what characters and events she changed, but they are pretty minor. The two sisters were close, but both ambitious and passionate about their art, which made them both sometimes resentful of the time they had to take care of the family that they both loved dearly. May lived in a time where women artists struggled to get access to art instruction, let alone make a living at it, and it was only through the support of other female artists, particularly American ones, and a chance encounter with John Ruskin, that she finally took the risk to sell some of her work and begin to support herself. While Louisa was almost completely focused on her writing, May also longed for a marriage with a spouse who would support her artistic ambitions. We see her engaged in romances, but she had trouble finding someone who lived up to her dreams in this way. May studied not only in nearby Boston, but also in Rome, London, and Paris, and her work was accepted twice into the famous Paris Salon exhibition. She was in her late 30s when she finally met the love of her love, a Swiss man named Ernest Nieriker, who was much younger than she was. They married quickly and moved to Paris. She was just beginning to fulfill her dreams both professionally and personally when tragedy struck. 
I grew up reading and enjoying Louisa May Alcott's writing, and really enjoyed getting to see a bit of her personal life and that of one of her sisters. I wasn't aware of May's being an artist, and that she had known many of the other female artists of the period, including the more famous Mary Cassatt. The details of the education that was offered in art, and the struggles to succeed that women had more than men of the time was very interesting. I particularly found it interesting that one of her main sources of income through her art was doing work in the style of Turner, both copies of his pieces and ones of her own using a similar style, focused on the light and colour that he used. This article gives more information on her as an artist including some images.  As I read, I was hoping that May would take the risks and get recognized for her talent, and that she would meet a man worthy of her. This book really captured me, and gave me insight into the real people portrayed here.

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