[Invincible Louisa]: A Review

Hello bookish friends,

I am excited to share my thoughts today on my first book read in 2018! Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs is a Newbery Award winning biography of Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women.

I can’t remember how I came across this book. Perhaps it was in connection with my goal to read more Newbery books. Regardless, this was a great book to start my reading year with!

Initial Thoughts:

  • I’m into biographies lately, and I really enjoyed this one. Learning more about my favorite authors is becoming a bit of a favorite pass time for me. I loved reading about how her life influenced her writing, especially all the familiar characters and scenes in Little Women.
  • I want to go back to Concord so bad! I have been to Concord once when I was in college. And we visited Nathaniel Hawthorne’s house with the amazing tower writing room (I was a bit obsessed). But I have not yet visited Orchard House. A trip to revel in the literary sites is higher on my bucket list now!
  • I have shifted my Classics Club list a bit to include more from Louisa May Alcott and a collection of work by Ralph Waldo Emerson. After reading this biography, I am more intrigued by his work.
  • After finishing this biography, I decided to start my Classics Club reading with Little Men in 2018!

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Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs won the Newbery Medal in 1934 for it’s gorgeous portrayal of the life of Louisa May Alcott. Goodreads summarizes, “As Louisa grew, she started to understand the difficulties her parents had faced, and continued to face. Determined to help her parents, Louisa set out on a number of employment opportunities — teaching, sewing, nursing, writing — bringing in meager wages, however hard she tried. . . . A particularly cunning publisher, Mr Thomas Niles, urged Louisa to write a book for girls. Louisa wrote about her own mother and sisters. Little Women became a sensational hit around the world. . . . In this book, Cornelia Meigs tells us the full story of the Alcott (March) family. An unbelievable story of a brave, loving family, even more wonderful than Little Women.”

This book was a bit slow to get into for me but once I got going, I loved the easy style and storytelling. This is nonfiction so it doesn’t offer the high intensity plot-driven pace of some popular novels. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good plot driven page turner as well. It was nice to read something a bit slower paced as well to balance out my reading. But this book does offer a compelling and positive story about Louisa’s long road to literary success. We get many specific details about her life including her family’s many moves, her many jobs, and her many writing endeavors. What a difficult and joyful life Louisa led!

“It was [Bronson’s] sure belief that God would always provide for those who loved Him. Anna believed it also, with a difference. She thought that God expected people to help themselves as far as they could and not to lay the whole burden upon Him.”

“From [their mother] the girls learned to see that when all else fails, courage is the only thing left to cling to, courage and faith in God.”

Invincible Louisa, pages 33 & 49

I was fascinated by the different experiences that built Louisa into the person who was able to write Little Women. Her whole life seemed to prepare her for it! Some of my favorite parts to read were about her seemingly idyllic childhood surrounded by love and support of family. Although they didn’t have a lot of money, the Alcott’s cared deeply for each other and Louisa’s love for her family inspired and pushed her to work hard. I also found her time as a nurse during the Civil War intriguing. I haven’t read a lot about what it was like to nurse during that time and the conditions were terrifying at times! How grateful I am for modern medicine that prevents conditions and diseases like Louisa endured! Her stories about the men she met and cared for sound fascinating.

“Determination can take the place of patience, if earnestly applied.”

“Life goes on after sorrow, in spite of sorrow, as a defense against sorrow.”

Invincible Louisa, pages 63 & 86

Louisa May Alcott and her literary success is proof to me that writing is about hard work and persistent effort. There is no big secret to writing a story or even a novel. You just need to write it. You need to put forth the effort to create something. I love that Louisa drew from her experiences for so much of her writing, from Little Women to her short story collections about the Civil War and other novels about her extended family and experiences in Boston, her life inspired all her writing. It actually gave me a lot of confidence to write a novel one day (one of my big goals in 2018 is to draft a novel, yikes!). Louisa wasn’t trying to write the “perfect” novel. She was simply writing about the ones she loved for the ones she loved. I hope to follow her example!

As a bit of a literature nerd myself (I do have a BA and MA in English, after all), I was fascinated by the incredible literary circles in Concord during Louisa’s life! She rubbed shoulders with some of the great literary minds of her time–Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Louisa’s father, Bronson Alcott. I loved the way the interacted and supported each other. How I would have loved to listen to some of their literary and educational conversations by the fire. I especially enjoyed the role Emerson had in Louisa’s life and how his mentorship helped guide her writing.

“Fame during a lifetime is something to win, but fame and affection which are to last a hundred years are rare indeed.”

Invincible Louisa, page 174

This Newbery Medal is very well deserved. This is a biography for children and for adults. It tells thoughtful stories and gives intriguing background on an author who became immortalized through her work. In fact, I think Louisa fans and people who haven’t read Little Women would enjoy this book. And everyone will finish it wanting to read more from Louisa May Alcott. A great way to begin my reading this year!

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Have you read any biographies of your favorite authors? 
What did you think?

19 thoughts on “[Invincible Louisa]: A Review

  1. Pingback: [March]: A Review – greenish bookshelf

  2. Pingback: [Little Men]: A Review – greenish bookshelf

  3. Wonderful review, Jane! This is on my To Be Read list as I am on a quest to read all the Newbery Medal winners before the 100th is announced in 2022. However, I’ve never read any of Alcott’s works… Do you think that’s important before picking this up? I started to read Little Women in December 2016 but I ended up DNF’ing it mostly due to being too busy. I guess I could always return to it, but it never really captured me…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You inspired me to do the same on the Newbery winners! I’m aiming to finish by the end of 2022–giving myself a bit more time 🙂

      I don’t think you need to read Alcott’s work before this biography. In fact, it may inspire you to read her novels! I actually just finished Little Men which I decided to read after loving this biography. It might be the inspiration you need to read Little Women!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. D’aw. Thanks! Yeah– 100 books are a LOT of books to read! I have to read ~20 a year to make it through at this point. Even though some are short (Missing May, which I’m reading right now, is only 89 pages), some are much longer! It’s definitely going to be quite a challenge.

        You’re right! Hopefully this biography will be an inspiration to read Little Women. Fingers crossed!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: January Wrap-Up and February TBR – greenish bookshelf

  5. Jillian

    Okay, I have two book recommendations: Mr. Emerson’s Wife by Amy Belding Brown (contemplates what it was like to be married to Emerson), and My Heart is Boundless: Writings of Abigail May Alcott, Louisa’s Mother (the journal of the real MARMEE!!)

    I adore Little Men. I hope you enjoy it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I read this ages ago (I think), but sadly don’t remember it. Maybe it’s time for a reread! I love Alcott’s work, after all, so why not read her biography? I am secretly charmed, too, at how she promotes Emerson’s work in Rose in Bloom and works educational reform into many of her works. She was surrounded by so many fascinating figures and it’s fascinating in turn to see her engage with their ideas in her own work.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I visited Concord over a decade ago. On purpose to see Orchard House. I remember the house being big and I remember enjoying the visit. But I can’t seem to remember much else about it. (There was so much history packed into that trip… Boston, Plimoth Plantation, and the cotton mills at Lowell.)

    Sigh. I’ll just have to go back.

    Liked by 1 person

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