American Writers Supplement I, Parts 1 & 2 by Leonard Unger

By Leonard Unger

Covers Jane Addams to Sidney Lanier

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She disliked the "lionhunters" who soon came in even greater numbers to the family's Concord, Massachusetts, home. She could not always avoid them, however, and the ensuing encounters were usually painful to her, and sometimes to her visitors. Alcott herself records how one little girl wept violently and could not be comforted that this sharp-featured, dark, middle-aged woman was the author of Little Women. This anecdote is not as predictable and slight as it first seems. Until recently, most of Alcott's critics have been less perceptive or open than that little girl who so frankly registered her shock at the discrepancy between the literary persona and the reality of Louisa May Alcott.

The alienation and sickness she suffered during the war derived not from drift and indecision but from her blunt determination never to participate in a military effort. The decision in 1889 had put her in touch— with neighbors and associates whose friendship became a sustaining stream. The decision in 1917 cut her off—from many former friends, from associates in the settlement movement (many of whom accepted with mounting enthusiasm the hope that the mobilization of human resources that war entailed could be turned to the reconstruction of society when peace arrived), and, most severely damaging, from the larger American community.

They were her safest contribution to the Alcott legacy; and in safety lay neither Alcott's chief interest nor promise. What makes Work powerful is Christie's constant quest for a career that will represent, stabilize, and even substitute for her inner life: Work is the saga of the search for an object. " Like Alcott, Christie tries in turn being an actress, a maid, a nurse, a companion, and she is always a full-time hero-worshiper. Despite her ever-active aspirations, the most haunting, truest material in the book is her intermittent loneliness, her drift toward death—there are four suicide attempts including her own—and her constant fight, with the critical help of other women, against depression.

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