Deborah Weisgall has written about the arts for publications including The New York Times and The Atlantic and is the author of A Joyful Noise: Claiming the Songs of My Fathers and The World Before Her.
Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.” This is how Louisa May Alcott begins Little Women. She wrote it in 1868, when she was 35, after months of urging by Thomas Niles, a Boston publisher who wanted a story for girls. She had not had much luck with a serious novel, she needed money, and it was part of a deal that her father, Bronson Alcott, had proposed. If Louisa said yes, Niles would agree to publish Bronson’s philosophical treatise, Tablets. A dutiful daughter, she couldn’t say no.