Thursday, April 15, 2010

"A Double Life"

Last night I finished reading "A Double Life", a collection of five short stories by Louisa May Alcott that were published under a different name during her life time because of their content. They are thrillers or "Blood and Thunders" which happen to be one of my favorite kinds of book.

Most literary critics consider these stories drivel. She pumped them out for various magazines because that was what sold and didn't even put her name to them. What is typically regarded as her serious work are her children's stories, particularly "Little Women". Because it was based on her life as a child "Little Women" is said to reveal the true Louisa May Alcott.

There is another school of thought however that says her thrillers, with all their on stage murders and and barbarian princes, reveal the darker side of her that was suppressed by Victorian society. After all, "Little Women" was never her idea. It was written on commission at the suggestion of her publisher. (So was "A Long and Fatal Love Chase" which is probably my favorite of hers) So which was the real Louisa?

Probably both. Some prefer her more innocent realism stories while other prefer her darker sensational tales. The point is Louisa May Alcott wrote for money. Does that mean she was never a real artist? Is everything she ever wrote crowd pleasing drivel with no other purpose?

I choose to think not. She wrote some things I really enjoy. The concept of the author's deep inspiration and intense attachment to their work is inspiring but perhaps it is asking little too much. In the end it is the result that matters and a true craftsman can make even their most detached assignments writhe with inspiration.


  1. Great post, and something to think about. I definitely think that "selling out" (at least in regards to making art for money) isn't the huge deal everyone makes it to be-- great work and creativity can still come from a great artist, regardless the source of their inspiration. I still got A's on my essays in school even though I really didn't care what the deeper thematic undercurrents of The Scarlet Letter were. But I had more fun, and still got A's, when we got to write poems or short creative pieces on the subject of our choosing.

  2. "sellout" and "real artist" are phrases I'm not fond of... some things may be more commercial, and can be written such... we criticize people for being narrow-minded but then go an jump on the real artists for selling out... irony alert.

    PS -- I love 'writhe with inspiration.'