Friday, May 18th, 2012...9:30 am

You’ve Got Mail: Little Women II: Wedding Marches

Jump to Comments

Portrait of Louisa May Alcott. AC85.Al194.889l (A)Because Little Women is embedded in the American mind as a classic children’s book, readers often forget that Louisa May Alcott always viewed herself as a professional author who wrote in order to make money, much of which went to help support her parents and sisters, and later, nephews and a niece. Between 1868, when Little Women was published, and 1886, when Alcott recorded her last royalty statement, she received $103,375 from her publisher, Roberts Brothers. During that same stretch they printed 846,291 copies of her books, and between 1868 and 1898, when the firm was bought by Little, Brown, and Company, they printed 597,827 copies of Little Women in all its various formats. In comparison, Henry James earned $58,503 during the same period, and Herman Melville was paid, from all American and British sales of his books, $10,444.33 during his entire lifetime.

Louisa May Alcott. Letter to Thomas Niiles, 1869. MS Am 1130.4 (29)

Mr Niles,
I can only think of the following titles. “Little Women Act Second”. “Leaving the Nest. Sequel to Little Women”.

Either you like. A jocose friend suggests “Wedding Marches” as there is so much pairing off, but I dont approve.

Suggestions gratefully received.
yrs truly
L. M. A.

Thomas Niles, a partner in Roberts Brothers publishers, had, on 16 June 1868, expressed his delight in reading the manuscript of Little Women, suggested the title for the book, and asked Alcott to make plans for sequels (MS Am 1130.8 (1)). On 25 July, he asked for an additional chapter alluding to “something in the future,” as well as commented that the printer has queried Alcott’s “girls talk” (MS Am 1130.8 (2)). In this letter (MS Am 1130.4 (29)), written after the popular success of Little Women was obvious, Alcott continued her dialogue with Niles by suggesting possible titles for the second volume, finally published with the prosaic title Little Women Part Second (although in Great Britain, it was called Good Wives).

[This post was contributed by Professors Joel Myerson (University of South Carolina) and Daniel Shealy (University of North Carolina, Charlotte), guest curators of the current Houghton exhibition Louisa May Alcott: Family Life & Publishing Ventures. The exhibition is being held in conjunction with the centennial celebrations at Orchard House, the Alcott home in Concord, Mass.]

This post is part of a weekly feature on the Houghton Library blog, “You’ve Got Mail,” based on letters in Houghton Library. Every Friday this year a Houghton staff member will select a letter from the diverse collections in the Library and put that letter into context. All posts associated with this series may be viewed by clicking on the You’veGotMail tag.