Alcott herself took a more skeptical view of her enterprise. She was reluctant to try her hand at a book for girls, a kind of writing she described later in life as “moral pap for the young.” Working on it meant exploring the minds and desires of youthful females, a dismal prospect. (“Never liked girls or knew many,” she wrote in her diary, “except my sisters.”) While writing Little Women, Alcott gave the fictional Marches the same nickname she used for her own tribe: “the Pathetic Family.” By the final chapter of Jo’s Boys, the second of two novels that followed Little Women, Alcott didn’t try to hide her fatigue with her characters, and with her readers’ insatiable curiosity about them. In a blunt authorial intrusion, she declared that she was tempted to conclude with an earthquake that would engulf Jo’s school “and its environs so deeply in the bowels of the earth that no [archaeologist] could ever find a vestige of it.”
Why now? Why is this piece being published in The Atlantic now? Something feels afoot here.