My Heart Is Boundless Writings of Abigail May Alcott, Louisa’s Mother
Author: Abigail May Alcott; Editor: Eve LaPlante Publisher: Simon & Schuster Website: www.evelaplante.com Available in: Paperback, 250 pages. $15.00 (ISBN 1476702802) Audiobook. $20.00 (ISBN 1452610479) E-book. $10.00 (ASIN B007WT32SY)
About My Heart Is Boundless
Until now, everyone believed that Abigail May Alcott, the model for “Marmee” in Little Women, left behind no written records because her family burned all her private papers after she died. In fact, hundreds of pages of Abigail’s letters and journals survived, not only in relatives’ attics and friends’ farmhouses but also in university archives, where for more than a century they have been hiding in plain sight. These papers, collected and edited by her great niece Eve LaPlante, reveal the inner life of “a witty,…captivating writer” [Publishers Weekly] whose “moral conviction and strong character kept her engaged in social issues” [Kirkus]. Abigail May Alcott, one of America’s earliest abolitionists, suffragists, and social workers, was truly a woman for our time.
Topics to Consider 1.Abigail May Alcott had
dreams familiar to many women today. She desired an education, power and independence,
and a voice in the world. In what ways did she succeed in realizing these
goals, in her own life and vicariously through her daughters?
three-year-old daughter Louisa in an 1836 letter, Abigail wrote that “Louisa’s
father was eating a piece of Gingerbread. She wanted a piece of his (having
finished her own). He told her she could not have any more until afternoon, she
must wait patiently. Do you know what patience is? said he. Yes, said Louisa,
it means wait for ginger bread. I could not do better than that myself!” How
does this reveal the characters of this mother and daughter? 3.In 1854, twenty-two-year-old Louisa May Alcott called Abigail “My
earliest patron, gentlest critic, [and] dearest reader.” Why did she describe her mother this way, and how does it
illuminate their relationship?
4.In her private
writings, Abigail expressed strong opinions about motherhood and domestic life.
Discuss such comments as: “I feel like a noble horse harnessed in a yoke, and
made to drag and pull instead of trot and canter;” “I am so weary that I take
my baby and turn my back to the window and annihilate for the time being
everything but my husband, children, cooking stove, workbasket, and the Dial. I have got into such a mill trot
that if anybody should ask me the way to Boston I should say it was in the
oven, or if I had read the last Liberator
I should reply it wanted darning;” “What a volume could be written on the
Heroines of private life!;” and “The claims of my children keep me from
5.There is a curious
quote in Abigail’s October 1849 “Report as Visitor to the Poor” of
Boston: “I hope a sewing-machine will never be invented.” Why did she feel this way?
6.Abigail had a biting
wit, as displayed, for instance, in these quotes: “In this world of folly and
fashion, a man’s hat is the most essential part of his head” and “I wish women
displayed more brains and less jewelry.” What does her humor tell us about her,
and how is it reflected in her daughter Louisa’s life and work?
7.Until the publication
of My Heart Is Boundless, Abigail was
ignored as a writer and thinker, while her husband’s and daughter’s journals
and letters were published and widely discussed. Why was she so long neglected?
8.Abigail reported to
her brother, “I say to all the dear girls, keep up, be something in yourself. Let the world feel at some stage of its
diurnal revolution that you are on its surface, alive!” Why was it so important
to her to encourage girls in this way?
9.Do you agree with
Alcott biographer Madelon Bedell that Abigail was “in some ways… a better
writer than her more famous daughter”?
10.How does the story of
this nineteenth-century woman resonate for you as a modern reader? In what ways can you identify with Abigail May Alcott? Do you face any of the challenges she
About Author and Editor
Abigail May Alcott (1800-1877) was an early social worker, abolitionist, and suffragist. Her great-great-great-grandniece Eve LaPlante is the author of several books, including Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother (2012).
“One of the Top 25 Books of the year… Many of [Abigail's] reflections and worries and prayers ring as sonorously today as when Abigail wrote them nearly two centuries ago: how to find one’s voice, how to live true to one’s ideals, how to engage with life’s problems... and how to raise the next generation.” — Seattle Times
“A compelling documentary portrait of the real Marmee, whose life provided the impetus for Little Women and who emerges here as a noteworthy woman in her own right.” — Kirkus Review
““Eye-opening and vibrant… Abigail is resilient, loyal, ‘theatrical, poignant, passionate, and often satirical,’devoted to liberty and Louisa’s literary efforts. Sleuth and scholar LaPlante has immeasurably enriched American letters by reclaiming ‘an American writer and thinker who has for too long been ignored.” — Booklist
“Abigail was a tart observer, especially of gender inequalities... Throughout her journals, Abigail is charmingly blunt, confessing, among other things, her ‘disrelish of cooking’ and her ‘enjoyment’ of her separations from her husband.” — “Fresh Air,” NPR
“Fascinating, warm and lively… [T]his remarkable woman... [was] a witty, eloquent, thoughtful, and captivating writer... Her desire to provide work and just wages for the poor... ring[s] a startlingly contemporary bell. Though one could certainly read this volume on its own, LaPlante’s companion biography, Marmee & Louisa, will undoubtedly help to fill in gaps.” — Publishers Weekly