If you’ve watched the latest adaptation of Little Women, you can’t have missed the reference to the Brontë sisters. That quick mention is not fortuitous at all. There is in fact an invisible thread that links Louisa May Alcott to the Brontës, especially Charlotte. But what can four sisters born in Pennsylvania and four siblings who lived on the Yorkshire moors have in common?
Jane Eyre was published in 1847, when Alcott was only about fifteen. The novel was first printed in America one year later, in 1848 by Harper & Brother. Jane Eyre became a great success and Louisa loved that book so much that it became, by her own admission, one of her favourite novels. Charlotte’s novel left a mark on Alcott’s imagination, influencing her writing, her stories and her characters. But her interest in the oldest Brontë sister grew stronger when, in 1857, she started to read the biography written by Elizabeth Gaskell. Louisa wrote down in her journal: “Read Charlotte Brontë’s life. A very interesting, but sad one. So full of talent; and after working long, just as success, love, happiness come, she dies. Wonder if I shall ever be famous enough for people to care to read my story and struggles. I can’t be a C.B. but I may do a little something yet.”
Louisa May Alcott was struck by Charlotte’s life because she could see much of her own life in her story. They both grew up in a family with four children, and both families were committed to strong moral principles- Louisa’s father, Amos Bronson Alcott, was a philosopher and educator interested in trascendentalism and Abigail May, Louisa’s mother, was a political activist. Unfortunately, Alcott’s father couldn’t support the family on his own, for this reason the four sisters had to work as teachers, governesses, maids, and provide for their family – just like the Brontës. Louisa’s mother herself commented that the struggles of the Brontës reminded her of her four daughters.
The author of Little Women, wasn’t only inspired by Charlotte Brontë as a writer, she was also interested in her life as a woman. Biographers say that in 1857, Alcott went through a very difficult moment when unable to find a job and help her family, she started to contemplate suicide – 1857 was also year when Louisa read Charlotte’s biography, and it was then that she wrote about the admiration for Charlotte and the desire to become as famous as her despite life’s challenges. It would be nice to think that somehow, Charlotte Brontë helped such an important writer as Louisa May Alcott not to give up, and inspired her to become one of the most read American writers in the world.
If you liked this article you should also read: Charlotte Brontë and Charles Dickens in London, Virginia Woolf and Emily Brontë: Two Kindred Spirits