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The Other Alcott, by Elise Hooper

Our book review today comes from one of our Library Assistants in Keynsham. She has reviewed ‘The Other Alcott’ by Elise Hooper read by Cassandra Campbell. She downloaded this as an eAudiobook through the BorrowBox app.

I was browsing BorrowBox looking for a book to ‘read’ on the train while commuting a few months ago and was intrigued by the title and checked it out. I was in for an enjoyable and revealing listen.

The extra dimension of having a narrator brings an audio book to life and her skill in this case added to my enjoyment. Cassandra Campbell used an attractive soft Boston accent, easy to listen to, and she enabled me to enter the society and culture from which ‘Little Women’ came.

May Alcott, the youngest of the family, stylish, creative and outgoing was sister that ‘Amy March’ is based on in ‘Little Women’ (1868). May did not welcome her characterisation as Amy (portrayed as selfish and spoilt) and her original illustrations for her sister’s book were rejected by the public and much criticised.

This experience spurred May on to lead her own life and she embarked on art lessons in Boston much against the wishes of her family and friends. This later led to studying in Paris and London and she was the only American woman to be exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1877.

The story of how she managed to submit the painting just on time had me enthralled. May also, like her older sister also wrote, and she published a very well received book based on her travels and studies in Europe.

Note the ‘how to do it cheaply’! Louisa Alcott helped fund May’s travels and studies but May always had to budget carefully and her reliance on her sister led to tensions and at times even estrangement. Sibling rivalries and responsibility for ageing parents is a universal theme so it is fascinating to see this operate in such a close and talented family.

May’s amazing life, in which she achieved so much, was also a love story, not only for her art and her family, but she was happily married at the age of 38 to Ernest Nieriker a 22-year-old Swiss tobacco merchant and violinist. A thoroughly modern woman. The only sadness was her early death but even in this there is a ‘happy ending’. I’ll let you find that out for yourself.

I do hope this encourages you to take a punt and explore BorrowBox, you will find some gems or maybe you can reserve this title. The author’s research is excellent and not only opens a door on to a children’s classic, but a world of developing feminism and women in art and literature. Highly recommended.

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