Louisa May Alcott's "topsy-turvy" life

A new PBS documentary shows her hidden side

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published December 28, 2009 6:29PM (EST)

As our own Laura Miller said in "The Magician's Book," there are two kinds of readers: "those who liked 'Little Women' and those who preferred 'The Phantom Tollbooth.'" But whichever team you happen to play for, tonight, rather than curling up with another episode of "Two and a Half Men," why not watch "Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women" on PBS's "American Masters"?

In tandem with Harriet Risen's biography of the same name, director Nancy Porter's film looks to be a lively portrait of a woman who was uncommonly clever and ambitious in a time when women were rarely prized for being either. And though she's a beloved literary heroine to generations for the book her editor described simply as "a girl's story," Alcott, it turns out, was also a hash-smoking, free-thinking, pulp fiction-writing one-of-a-kind American icon. Imagine the fanstastic blog she'd have if she were alive today.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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