Journal of Louisa May Alcott

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louisa may alcott

Louisa May Alcott, the American novelist best known for her novel ‘Little Women’ is widely regarded as one of the greatest storytellers for children. Born on 29 November 1832 in Pennsylvania, Alcott often drew from her family and the world around her. The March family in ‘Little Women’ bears remarkable similarities to the Alcott family. The character of Beth in her novel was based closely on her own sister Lizzie. Beth, like Lizzie contracted scarlet fever and succumbed to it three months short of her 23rd birthday. She died in March 1858. The Alcott family then lived in Concord, Massachusetts. Massachusetts reportedly was one of the worst affected in the scarlet fever epidemic of 1858.  In this journal entry Louisa May Alcott records the death of her dear sister in a manner at once heartwarming and profound. Thespaceink pays tribute to the ace novelist and storyteller on her 190th birth anniversary. 

February.–A mild month; Betty very comfortable, and we hope a little.

Dear Betty is slipping away, and every hour is too precious to waste, so I’ll keep my lamentations over Nan’s [affairs] till this duty is over.

Lizzie makes little things, and drops them out of windows to the school-children, smiling to see their surprise. In the night she tells me to be Mrs. Gamp, when I give her her lunch, and tries to be gay that I may keep up. Dear little saint! I shall be better all my life for these sad hours with you.

March 14th.–My dear Beth died at three this morning, after two years of patient pain. Last week she put her work away, saying the needle was “too heavy,” and having given us her few possessions, made ready for the parting in her own simple, quiet way. For two days she suffered much, begging for ether, though its effect was gone. Tuesday she lay in Father’s arms, and called us round her, smiling contentedly as she said, “All here!” I think she bid us good-by then, as she held our hands and kissed us tenderly. Saturday she slept, and at midnight became unconscious, quietly breathing her life away till three; then, with one last look of the beautiful eyes, she was gone.

A curious thing happened, and I will tell it here, for Dr. G. said it was a fact. A few moments after the last breath came, as Mother and I sat silently watching the shadow fall on the dear little face, I saw a light mist rise from the body, and float up and vanish in the air. Mother’s eyes followed mine, and when I said, “What did you see?” she described the same light mist. Dr. G. said it was the life departing visibly.

For the last time we dressed her in her usual cap and gown, and laid her on her bed,–at rest at last. What she had suffered was seen in the face; for at twenty-three she looked like a woman of forty, so worn was she, and all her pretty hair gone.

On Monday Dr. Huntington read the Chapel service, and we sang her favorite hymn. Mr. Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Sanborn, and John Pratt, carried her out of the old home to the new one at Sleepy Hollow chosen by herself. So the first break comes, and I know what death means,–a liberator for her, a teacher for us.

April.–Came to occupy one wing of Hawthorne’s house (once ours) while the new one was being repaired. Father, Mother, and I kept house together; May being in Boston, Anna at Pratt Farm, and, for the first time, Lizzie absent. I don’t miss her as I expected to do, for she seems nearer and dearer than before; and I am glad to know she is safe from pain and age in some world where her innocent soul must be happy.

Death never seemed terrible to me, and now is beautiful; so I cannot fear it, but find it friendly and wonderful.

The text was reproduced from Projectgutenberg

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