03 December 2006

CHRISTMAS BOOK(S) REVIEW: A Louisa May Alcott Christmas and Louisa May Alcott's Christmas Treasury

Some years ago Stephen Hines found the Louisa May Alcott short story "Patty's Place" in an old children's magazine. Alcott was very much in the news at that point as one of her previously unknown adult "blood and thunder" stories had been found and recently published. "Patty's Place" was renamed "A Quiet Little Woman" and sold as a gift book with two other Christmas tales. A few years later, Hines published "Kate's Choice," another story with Christmas providing the pivotal scene (a story a bit akin to Eight Cousins) with two other Alcott Christmas stories.

In 2002, the aformentioned six stories as well as some others, for a total of nineteen stories and poems, were published as Louisa May Alcott's Christmas Treasury. Two years later, Harper Festival paperbacks published A Louisa May Alcott Christmas with twenty stories and poems.

The two books have some overlap: the same ten stories appear in both. One story is known as "What Love Can Do" in the Hines book and "How It All Happened" in the Harper paperback, and the wording is slightly different. The Harper paperback "cheats" a bit since the first two stories, "An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving" and "The Silver Party," are actually Thanksgiving stories. Also, there is a piece called "Cousin Tribulation's Story" that is basically the tale of the March girls giving away their breakfast in Little Women with different names to the characters (and the father character appearing).

The collection in the Hines' book is rather marred by his heavy-handed afterwards to several of the stories where he moralizes endlessly by explaining what Alcott was trying to get across and comparing the situations in her stories to her real-life. Very snooze-making and I don't think Alcott requires afterwards to explain herself! One of the stories in the Hines' volume is the Christmas chaper from Little Women and "Becky's Christmas Dream" is curious in that it's the same basic story as "Patty's Place/A Quiet Little Woman," but shorter and with fantasy dream elements where Patty's story is played straight. "Gwen's Adventure in the Snow" is also misplaced, as it is not a Christmas story, but simply a winter story.

However, if you are an Alcott fan, both these books are worth finding, although I advise you look for a used copy of the Hines book as it is quite pricy. I do wish some nice publisher would put out an omnibus volume of all Louisa May Alcott's short stories for children, from her contributions to Merry's Museum and St. Nicholas (including the "Spinning Wheel Stories") to the tales in her final books like the Aunt Jo's Scrap Bag volumes and Lulu's Library. I'd certainly be interested in purchasing something like that!

Incidentally, I rewatched the American Girls' movie Samantha: An American Girl Holiday last night and have read all the books, and I find it amusing to note the modern "rewriting" of history as regarding orphan children being adopted. Alcott's stories about orphans, especially "Becky's Christmas Dream" and "Patty's Place," more correctly show the children as being lucky enough to be taken into a household as a servant and kindly treated: given good clothing, schooling, and respected, but as a servant, not as a member of the family. Children from orphans' homes in the 1800s were rarely adopted as "children," they were adopted as help. Situations like Anne of Green Gables, where the child actually becomes a member of the household, were quite rare. Had the Samantha books been written in Alcott's time, Nellie O'Malley and her sisters probably would have received good treatment and schooling at Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia's home—but they wouldn't have been family members, they still would have been servants.

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