Alcott’s reputation as a morally upstanding New England spinster, reflecting the conventional propriety of mid-19th century Concord, Massachusetts, is firmly established. Raised among reformers, iconoclasts and Transcendentalists, the intellectual protégé of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, Alcott was actually a free thinker, with democratic ideals and progressive values about women – a worldly careerist of sorts. Most surprising is that Alcott led, anonymously and under the pseudonym A.M. Barnard, a literary double life not discovered until the 1940s. As Barnard, Alcott penned some thirty pulp fiction thrillers, with characters running the gamut from murderers and revolutionaries to cross-dressers and opium addicts – a far cry from her better-known works featuring fatherly mentors, courageous mothers and impish children.
Originally broadcast in 2009, Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind ‘Little Women’ is the first film biography about the celebrated author and reveals a remarkable woman, ahead of her time, who was much more than a writer of children’s books. Combining elements of documentary, drama and animation, the film stars three-time Obie winner Elizabeth Marvel (Homeland, House of Cards) as Alcott and Tony and two-time Emmy winner and Oscar nominee Jane Alexander (The Great White Hope, Warm Springs) as Alcott’s first biographer Ednah Dow Cheney. With dialogue taken exclusively from writings or firsthand reports of conversations, the film is shot on locations including Orchards House in Concord, Emerson’s house in Concord, and Fruitlands in Harvard, site of the Alcott’s utopian experiment. Interwoven with dramatic scenes are interviews with Alcott scholars Sarah Elbert, John Matteson, Joel Myerson, Daniel Shealy, Madeleine Stern, Dr. Leona Rostenberg, Jan Turnquist, and novelist Geraldine Brooks.
New classroom resources for educators are also available on PBS Learning Media with video segments, discussion questions, and accompanying activities examining Louisa May Alcott’s life and work.