Monday, September 24, 2012

Louisa May Alcott On "The Girl Question," Etc.

by Stephen J. Gertz

A two-page, four-sided autograph letter signed by Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) recently came into the marketplace and immediately left after $4,500 changed hands.

Dated December 30th but without noted year, reference to a recorded  engagement/marriage dates it to 1881, later in Alcott's life, when, as a semi-invalid, she cared for her niece, Louisa, after her sister, May, died in childbirth in 1879. Here referred to as "the precious baby," Alcott is on guard: measles is sweeping through her neighborhood.

Good help, as always, is hard to find, and Alcott devotes attention to "the girl question," seeking  trustworthy and reliable domestic help.

Sickness and poor weather occupy her thoughts but do not prevent Alcott from expressing with delightfully sharp sarcasm her dubious opinion of a friend's belief in the healing properties of homeopathic medicine. Nor on Concord's less than thrilling cultural milieu: a pastry made from coffee grounds is declared to be "the next maddeningly exciting event in Concord." A woman of enormous mental energy her boredom is evident, her wry, ironic wit is palpable.
                                                                                                December 30th

Dear Mrs. Talbot

Much obliged for your reply on the girl question.

I had already been to Hollis St. to look up a woman who advertised. She was gone, but another was found who had a good character & and sent me to her last misses to confirm it. So she is to try for a week & if she suits 'all is quiet on the Potomac,' for a time at least.

If she doesn't suit and your girl is still to be had I shall be glad to try her. This domestic upheaval has prevented my running over to see how you were. Better I hope. The weather is not just what one wants for invalids but it's better than the warm damp days we have had.

Poor Mrs. Willis is enjoying measles & very sore throats, & neighbors all bout are in like case, so I mount guard over the precious baby as I don't want her to add any other worry to the teething trial.

Can't Dr. Solhal [?] invent something to make the ---- [pain?] easier?

Wish I had a million for the Hospital Mrs. Willis said yesterday, 'Well if my sore throat does prove to be diptheria I shall go at once to the Homeopathic Hospital & there I shall be taken good care of.' "Hear, hear," says I, and Mrs. Willis said no more about her homeopathic messes in which she firmly believes.

Mrs. Hosmer dined with me today looking very tired after a long spell of nursing, for Florence has been very ill with the poor eyes and does not leave her room yet. A ground coffee pastry is the next maddeningly exciting event in Concord.

Did you know that [Samuel] Ripley Bartlett was engaged to [Eva] Myrtle Whitcomb? Also Sallie Bartlett has a son. These thrilling facts are all the news I have to offer.

Hope you like rambling notes for here is a pleasing mixture. Love to the lads & lasses & much to yourself.

                                                             Yours truly,

The Mrs. Talbot that Alcott here wrote to was Emily Fairbanks Talbot (1834-1900), a philanthropist, and, with her husband, Dr. Israel Tisdale Talbot, a homeopathic physician (the practice of which Alcott here scorned) and dean of Boston University's School of Medicine, was a contemporary proponent of women's suffrage, a goal which Alcott shared and championed. 

Signed letters written in Alcott's  hand are not rare; twenty-nine examples have come to auction since 1976. But they remain highly desirable and prices continue to rise. This letter, for instance, was last seen at auction thirty years ago, on April 15, 1982, when it fetched a mere $95 at Hamilton's.

ALCOTT, Louis May. Two-page, four-sided Autograph Letter Signed (ALs). Paper measures 9 x 7 inches. Date December 30, [1881].

Images courtesy of Aleph-Bet Books, with our thanks.

Of related interest:

Sisters in Opium: Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Louisa May Alcott.

When "Little Women" And "Little Men" Get Together, Hubba-Hubba.

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