Thursday January 10, 2013

MANCHESTER CENTER -- More than 150 years after the initial publication of the classic coming-of-age novel "Little Women," new details about the lives of the author, Louisa May Alcott, and her family, which formed the basis for much of her fiction, have come to light in two new books by Boston-area-based author Eve LaPlante.

"Marmee and Louisa" and "My Heart is Boundless" are the latest releases from LaPlante, although "My Heart" is not an original piece, but a collection of forgotten writings by Abigail May Alcott, Louisa's mother. LaPlante will read from and discuss the books tomorrow at Northshire Books in Manchester Center at 7 p.m.

"When I started (writing) I thought, what else could be said what was so eye-opening is that there is this whole side to this family that hadn't been explored," LaPlante said.

The source material, letters and other writings thought destroyed, had been discovered years prior but received little scholarly attention.

"A few scholars had looked at them, but nobody knew how much was there," LaPlante said.

"(They were) hiding in plain sight."

Some of the pieces, particularly Abigail's diaries, were originally given to Louisa by Abigail, and she turned them into some of her most famous works. But as her death approached, Louisa destroyed part of the writings, as did her father, likely for the sake of the family's privacy.

"It's quite amazing," LaPlante said. "I think she was extremely prolific We have a lot, but a lot were burned."

Some of the pieces are well-preserved and nearly complete, such as a correspondence between Abigail and her brother.

"When you read the letters you feel like you're getting inside the head of these very intelligent, very frustrated women," LaPlante said. "It's kind of inspiring to read Abigail's work. And it really illuminates Louisa's work."

Other pieces are less complete. Abigail's diaries were cut up for the most part. Even the reassembled portions still bear cut marks from when they were almost destroyed.

While "My Heart" is a collection of works by Abigail, "Marmee" looks to put the pieces together and analyze the content LaPlante found, as well as tell the life story of these women.

"I hope (readers) will see more of the authentic family," LaPlante said. "These are real people who were struggling but they managed to conquer it and I think it's inspirational."

"Marmee" identifies connections between Louisa's novels and the letters and diaries featured in "My Heart." Additionally, it uses the evidence found within those writings to clear up misconceptions about Louisa's life. One such misconception was the education of Louisa. It had been previously thought that her father had been the primary educator for Louisa, but these writings reveal that Abigail took a much larger active role in her daughter's learning.

LaPlante believes it's important to read about the lives and struggles of these women because many of the issues they faced in the 19th Century still plague women in the 21st, such as full equality and respect.

LaPlante is touring and writing articles related to her research in the coming months. Some articles will deal with the Alcott family history in Portugal, where LaPlante was recently visiting for research purposes.