Literary Daybook, March 6

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.


the Salon Books Editors
March 7, 2002 1:00AM (UTC)

Today in fiction

On March 6, Sean and Janet discuss obtaining a sample of Louis Martin's medicine.
-- "Terminal" (1992)
by Robin Cook

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to fictiondays@yahoo.com.

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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1888, Louisa May Alcott died, at the age of 56 and just two days after her father, writer-reformer Bronson Alcott. On her last visit to her father she had knelt beside his bed and asked him what he was thinking. When he pointed, and said, "I am going up -- come with me," her response was, "Oh, I wish I could." She had been born on her father's birthday, had become seriously ill just as he too was dying and had always viewed her life as being yoked to his, for better or worse. As a child she was a tomboy and something of a favorite, and as a young woman she was manly looking and almost 6 feet tall; when she volunteered as a nurse in the Civil War, father would chuckle to friends on the streets of Concord that he was proudly sending his only son to war. Bronson's idealism and wild schemes created such penury in the family that Louisa, the oldest, pledged to herself that she would make both her own and her family's living, and that she would do it by writing. The achievement of this goal lay through a steady stream of potboilers and "Little Women" spinoffs, and late in life Alcott despaired that she had thrown her talent away being "a literary nursery-maid who provides moral pap for the young." She felt her immense popularity as another entrapment, and would stay indoors rather than face a public she imagined thinking: "There's Louisa Alcott. I wonder where she's going, what she has got on, how she does, what she is thinking about and why she does not make me her bosom friend." In her debilitated last decade she sought relief from her physical and psychological woes in opium, electricity, magnetism, milk cures, occultists and fruitless attempts to "dawdle and go about as other people do" instead of write. Having nursed her mother until her death, she was now chief caregiver to her bedridden father, though this often meant either firing those nurses who were inattentive or appeasing those who were abused by his moods. "You are a philosopher and must not be upset by small trials," she once scolded him. "Yes, I am," he said, apologizing to the nurse, "I was cross, I confess, forgive me -- I am so old." When added to her other burdens, playing Cordelia to her father's Lear left Louisa May Alcott thinking such black thoughts near the end that she carefully expurgated her own diary; after death her survivors destroyed even more. That comments such as "Shall never live my own life" survived such tidying up gives us some indication of what did not.

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.


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