Louisa May Alcott lived a double-literary life.
The world knew her as Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women and other widely popular and deeply-loved books that have been read by children for generations. These she called “moral pap” and said she wrote them only for the money.
An extremely small circle of people knew her as A.M. Barnard, author of what she termed “blood and thunder” sensational novels, the kind she wanted to write for all of her writing career. She was ashamed of these novels and worked to keep her connection with them a secret.
That secret held for nearly 90 years after death in 1888.
In the mid 1970s, while helping Madeleine Stern research a biography of Alcott, Leona Rostenberg discovered a large, unknown cache of papers at the Houghton Library at Harvard University that indicated that Alcott had written works no one knew about. They included Behind a Mask and A Long Fatal Love Chase, novels that featured strong, independent women and lavish, involved plots. Behind a Mask was published in serial form in 1866, two years before Little Women.
These were the kind of novels that Jo, her fictional alter ego, wrote in Little Women.
The success of Little Women turned Alcott away from writing sensation novels, and she never acknowledged the authorship of these blood-and-thunder works. In fact, she destroyed many of the letters that tied her to these books and asked others to do so as well.
But these books give us a valuable insight into this highly important and interesting literary personage.
Many biographies of Louisa May Alcott exist. An exceptionally readable one is by Susan Cheever, Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography, published in 2010.
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