After the dedication of my #LetterMo writing challenge efforts have faded gently away, I have decided to return to the compendium of historic letters that I mentioned in one of my earlier entries. Having struggled to post at least one item of correspondence every day for a month, I can truly say that I stand (pen poised) in awe of the sheer effort involved in letter writing pre-Microsoft Word technology. After all, even keeping up with just a few relatives in the last century would have been a Herculean task. But thank goodness that so many people did just that, providing a mine of information and insight that would otherwise have been lost to later generations.
One of the epistles in The World’s Great Letters is one from Louisa M Alcott to her sister Anna and while it could not be claimed to hold huge historical importance, it does give you a glimpse into the life of a would-be writer who was struggling to support her family. Alcott was also mired in domestic chores as well as suffering the frustration of waiting for editors to reply to her story submissions.
Alcott’s letter, written around 1861 describes the trials and tribulations of fashioning a decent bonnet (a social necessity) with only one dollar to spend; the contents of Alcott’s ribbon box supplemented the lack of cash. She makes the whole enterprise into an entertaining anecdote for Anna Alcott, but she clearly would have loved to be able to go out and buy a smart piece of headgear. She describes her attempts to trim the one-dollar bonnet thus:
I extracted the remains of the old white ribbon (used up, as I thought, two years ago), and the bits of black lace that have adorned a long line of departed hats. Of the lace I made a dish, on which I thriftily served up bows of ribbon, like meat on toast. Inside put the lace bow, which adorns my form anywhere when needed. A white flower A.H. gave me sat airily on the brim, – fearfully unbecoming, but pretty in itself, and in keeping. Strings are yet to be evolved from chaos. I feel that they await me somewhere in the dim future.
All this occurred before Alcott struck gold with the phenomenally successful Little Women, which was published in 1867. At that time, she was still a ‘young woman with one dollar, no bonnet, half a gown and a discontented mind’ as she described herself. In one of those moments of literary serendipity, I spotted Louisa May (Martha Saxton, 1978) while rummaging in the Trinity Booksale on Saturday. I was meaning to re-read Little Women after seeing the sell out production last month at Dublin’s The Gate Theatre. As Little Women and its sequels reside on the landing I can justify doing just that, but I will have to make (yet another) exception for reading the Louisa May Alcott biography. But, one of the joys of reading is that you never know what is going to be around the next corner of the bookshelf!
What have you discovered this week? And how is your Reading Challenge going? Drop a line in the comment box…