“Welcome to Our Home!”: Staging Practices at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House

Klara Stephanie Szlezák

1. 399 Lexington Road, Concord, MA: Historic House, Writer’s Abode, Tourist Site1

In March 2009, the popular travel guide series Lonely Planet published a volume called New England Trips providing a broad range of themed itineraries through the six New England states. One of these itineraries is called “Literary New England,” leading the traveler on a three- to four-day trip with stops at libraries, inns and tearooms named for famous writers, as well as at houses where New England writers used to live, thus taking into account the long tradition and central role of literary tourism in New England. One of the writers’ houses that the guide suggests for a stop is the Alcott family’s house in Concord, Massachusetts. With over 50,000 visitors per year (Orchard House Website), the Alcotts’ former house, officially called Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House,2 is one of the most popular and successful literary sites. The Lonely Planet invites the traveler to visit there with the following comment: “Louisa May Alcott wrote her famous semiautobiographical Little Women in her home Orchard House, which is now part of a small estate of historical buildings called Louisa May Alcott Homes” (New England Trips 53). This short note establishes two major facts about Orchard House: one, that it is a house where a famous writer wrote a famous book;3 and two, that it is a historical building and thus of general interest.

What the guidebook text does not say about Orchard House, and what seems much more noteworthy for the purposes of a cultural analysis, is that one of the house’s major functions is that of a stage. When it comes to determining the cultural significance of the house and the ways in which it functions in a twenty-first-century tourist landscape I would argue that both its literary association and its historicity are mere prerequisites and preconditions for the staging of traditions. I argue that the staging of traditions is a central characteristic of the house and lies at the heart of present-day interest in the house and thus its survival in times when many comparable sites struggle severely to stay open.4

When using the term “staging,” I use it in Erika Fischer-Lichte’s sense as “an aesthetic and anthropological category,” including in its meaning both the process and the result of staging, i.e., a ‘staged reality’ (Fischer-Lichte 19):

Used simultaneously as an aesthetic and an anthropological category, the term “staging” refers to creative processes through which something is designed and presented—processes which in a specific way link the imaginary, the fictitious, and the real (empirical). Since such processes can be found in the most diverse cultural domains […], the term staging functions as a striking interface in the interdisciplinary discourse […]. (Fischer-Lichte 21; my translation)5

As Fischer-Lichte points out, designing and presenting something that turns out to be hybrid in nature—situated somewhere between fact and fiction—is the defining feature of cultural staging processes. Considering the starting point of staging processes (as they pertain to historic sites), practices of staging initiated by later generations rather than by the writers themselves prove to be more frequent and lasting.6 The decisive shift occurs when a house is transformed into a museum. With reference to historic houses in general, Patricia West in her book Domesticating History claims that “when a house becomes a museum, its function changes radically. That function is shaped by the exigencies of the period in which the museum is founded, in particular by the political issues so meaningful to those defining its public role” (xi). The functional shift from individual or nuclear family home to institution, from private to public, thus can be seen as a trigger for staging processes whose particular form depends on their respective historical and cultural contexts.

In the introduction to the 2008 essay collection Writers’ Houses and the Making of Memory, Harald Hendrix points to the same developments within the more specific context of writers’ houses and contends that

[t]he transformation into monuments and museums marks a second process of memory-making characteristic of writers’ houses. […]. [These semi-religious rituals of worship contribute to the making of cultural memory] in a selective way, privileging some aspects and interpretations of the authors’ work and persona over others. These cults, moreover, are highly susceptible to manipulation. Indeed, they are often the products of initiatives by persons or institutions interested in constructing a particular kind of public memory or a commercially exploitable tourist attraction. (1)

Therefore, both Hendrix and West highlight the idea that the staging processes in historic/writers’ houses are dependent on agents—“persons or institutions”—who make decisions within a certain socio-political climate and who favor a specific sort of public memory. Hendrix, however, adds the idea that motives for staging, or “manipulating” a writer’s house in a certain way may just as well be economic in nature. I would argue that determining the motives behind the decisions to stage a house in a particular way is not a matter of “either-or” but one that integrates both factors, political and economic. They both influence what is staged and how it is staged.

2. A Closer Look: Orchard House a Century After

2.1 An Apt Candidate

In order to investigate the extent to which West’s and Hendrix’s claims are pertinent and to what extent the houses can actually be conceived of as instances of staging, I will now give a closer reading to Orchard House, home to the Alcott family between 1858 and 1877. I noted earlier that the house’s historicity and its literary association alone are not sufficient to explain its present-day cultural relevance.

When the Alcott family moved into the house which they named Orchard House in 1858, the house was already old for American standards: it was built between 1690 and 1710, originating in the colonial times of New England. Orchard House ceased to be inhabited by the Alcotts in 1877, it was rented out and sold several times in the following years. The Women’s Club of Concord purchased the house in 1910, subsequently the Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association was established and eventually transformed the formerly private home into a museum in 1911. Historically, this transformation can be contextualized in the period of the ‘Colonial Revival’7 between the Centennial celebrations in 1876 and the first two decades of the twentieth century. It was characterized by “a longing for stability and roots” (Lindgren 6) and prompted the emergence of a more intensively pursued preservation movement (Schindler 33-34). All over New England, as elsewhere in the United States, historical societies and patriotic organizations sprang up “as economic upheaval and increased heterogeneity fueled middle-class interest in a mythologized American past that was stable, virtuous and above all, culturally uniform” (West 42). At the turn of the century, New England, and thus the town of Concord, was no longer idyllically pastoral nor was its population as homogeneous any longer, making the invention and subsequent tradition of a stable and reliable mythology about the past indispensable to the New England narrative. According to Eric Hobsbawm, “invented traditions” are

taken to mean a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past. In fact, where possible, they normally attempt to establish continuity with a suitable historic past. (1)

The quote suggests to read historicity and literary associations as obvious prerequisites to the staging of traditions at Orchard House. The Alcotts’ former residence thus proves an apt medium for the promulgation of traditions: it displays continuity with the past through its old age and grants relevance to this past through the house’s colonial and literary association. The ground is thus prepared for the “set of practices” whose purpose it is to communicate cultural values, relying on recurring, and as such recognizable, visual and material constellations. In addition, the symbolic nature of the house as a cultural emblem turns the house into a widely acknowledged and choice object for cultural inscription since, as Dell Upton reminds us, “Americans are obsessed with houses—their own and everyone else’s” (17). Their intrinsic symbolic dimension makes them representative of larger social units such as the family, the community, or even the nation.

The socio-political motives for turning Orchard House into a platform for staging “old stock” New England cultural values in times of change and disruption overlap with economic motives. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the crisis experienced in New England was not only social and ideological, but also economic. While Industrial centers had developed in the Great Lakes area and further west, New England’s position as America’s industrial center was on the decline. At the same time tourism was emerging as a new industry and gained momentum as the means of transportation and middle-class wealth increased. In her book Inventing New England, Donna Brown asserts that

[…] by the last quarter of the century, an entirely new kind of tourism was shaping the region. This new tourism was driven by a profound ‘sentimentalization’ of New England, a new vision of the region expressed in an extensive literature—from history and journalism to novels and short stories—and in architectural and landscape reforms that began to transform the appearance of many towns and villages. Out of these diverse cultural movements emerged a mythic region called Old New England—rural, preindustrial, and ethnically ‘pure’—a reverse image of all that was most unsettling in the late nineteenth-century urban life. (8-9)

Orchard House, just as other writers’ houses and as other historic houses and museums all over New England (and elsewhere in the United States), had to rely on visitors to ensure their survival. Therefore, in order to attract tourists an appearance and narrative that fit into the generally accepted myth of Old New England were indispensable. Yet as Brown aptly concludes toward the end of her book: “Tourism is not destiny, imposed on a community or a region by its geography or its history. Tourist industries were built by people. […] in every case, the industries were the product of human choices, made not only by visitors, but by natives as well” (203). The choices that were made in order to integrate Orchard House into the New England tourist landscape were also the choices that influenced the staging of Orchard House. And by no means is the economic and tourism dimension of staging at Orchard House only to be seen from a historical perspective. Literary tourism, as a particular kind of heritage tourism, has become increasingly popular, and “the scope, scale and rapid development of this phenomenon over the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries” (Watson 3) make writers’ houses objects worthy of entrepreneurial attention.

A closer culture historical reading of the Alcott residence begins with the material, objectified exterior. As the house was erected around 1700, in terms of architectural style it is considered a colonial New England house. Clifford Clark’s summary of regional vernacular features affirms the classification of Orchard House as representative of this building type:

Simple in design and sturdily built with large ten- or twelve-inch-square timbers pegged together with mortise and tenon joints, the traditional rectangular, two-story house could easily be recognized by its three- or five-bay exterior, consisting of one or of a pair of windows on either side of the central door. […] Typical examples of these houses, often with a rear wing added later, can be found throughout New England. Heating was provided either by a central core of fireplaces, by fireplaces on the interior walls between the front and back rooms, or by chimneys at both gable ends of the house. (4-5)

In addition, white as a color for houses went largely out of fashion in the 1840s and 1850s, when browns and earth colors were preferred for their soft and natural look (Clark 17).

Fig. 1. Front View of Orchard House.

Fig. 2. Side View of Orchard House.

The simple design, the soft brown paint, the central chimney, the two stories and the five-bay front, as well as the ell (an “extension of a house at right angles to the main structure”; Foster 347) added to the back make it plainly visible that Orchard House, at least as far as its architectural structure and exterior8 are concerned, is a prime example of a New England colonial-style house, retaining its original appearance except for some minor alterations and maintenance work.

In addition, having served as a home to one of America’s most prominent literary families, Orchard House was an ideal candidate for staging traditions. As a staged site, however, Orchard House proves to be a multilayered construct.

2.2 Setting the Scene, Multiplying the Reference

The title of this essay quotes the motto of a monthly special tour through Orchard House—“Welcome to Our Home!”— which shall be helpful in showing how staging affects several levels of presentation and interpretation and how it blurs the boundaries between these levels. Staging raises the question of whose house it is that the visitor is coming to. The use of the first-person pronoun and the exclamation mark in the tour motto already hint at the staged character of the house and its performance of tradition: the visitors are directly addressed, invited in, and thus made participants in the shared experience of Orchard House. What is most remarkable about this short phrase is the reference of the word “our.” Whose home is it that the visitor is coming to?

Most obviously, “our” refers to the Alcott family. By the 1910s, when the house was turned into a museum, both the philosopher and educator Bronson Alcott and the revered writer Louisa May Alcott were trade names of the American literary canon, reputed and popular not only in New England but nation-wide. Before moving to Orchard House, the family had resided in twenty-two other homes. They stayed at Orchard House for twenty years, longer than anywhere else, and even during the Alcotts’ lifetimes, literary pilgrims desiring to meet the writers or learn about them had come to their Concord home to pay their respects (Orchard House Website). So this long-term residence evidently suggested itself as a museum designed to memorialize the Alcott family. Material culture played a major role in staging their biographies. The life of the Alcott family—which, besides Bronson and Louisa May, comprised Mrs. Alcott and the daughters Anna, Elizabeth, and May, as well as other family and household members at various points in time—is presented with the help of objects they had actually used. When rearranging and opening the house, the Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association managed to retrieve most of the original furniture so that today 80 percent of what is displayed in terms of furnishing was owned by the Alcotts. Staging the Alcotts’ domestic life is only one aspect, however; the bigger challenge is the staging of their literary work since this requires the visualization of the invisible processes of literary production.

Sabiene Autsch outlines a number of recurrent strategies used in writers’ houses which enable the visitors to imagine the revered author writing in this very place and which provide for the setting in which the visitors can soak up the “sacred” aura of the place. The staging repertoire consists of the desk itself, maybe the chair the writer used to sit in, a pen or writing quill, an ink pot, a notebook, spread-out manuscripts, books, and reading glasses. The results of such scenic arrangements are located somewhere between text and image, between original and reproduction, between past and present, and between being aware of the writer’s presence and his or her absence (Autsch 50). Recreating the authentic place and the atmosphere which inspired the writers to produce their great works is the obvious aim of such a presentation. Ideally, then, visitors who come to experience the authentic place and to spiritually encounter the admired person there, should not be aware of the staged character of the rooms. According to Fischer-Lichte, in order to be effective staging is not supposed to be recognizable as such (19). Yet the devil is in the details: Two examples at Orchard House may suffice to show how the initially desired effect of such staging can be not entirely achieved. Two of the seven rooms on display at Orchard House are dedicated to literary production: Bronson Alcott’s study and Louisa May Alcott’s chamber. The staging of Bronson Alcott’s study, sometimes also called the library, is oriented along a stereograph showing Bronson Alcott reading at the desk (<www.concordlibrary.org/images/ABAlcott.jpg>). Comparing the room as displayed today with the situation observable in the stereograph belays the great care with which an authentic scene has been recreated from the only photographic document available.

Bronson Alcott’s Desk in His Study

Fig. 3. Bronson Alcott’s Desk in His Study.

Yet, what is striking about the way the desk is arranged, apart from the fact that it is very tidy and well-ordered in comparison to the stereograph, is the way the books are positioned: unlike in the picture, today the books are placed on his desk with the backs of the books pointing away from the chair, i.e., from where the writer would have been sitting. It seems improbable that people would turn books away from themselves when working at their desk, and therefore the arrangement rather appears as a concession to the visitor circling around the desk (as well as a protective measure for the display), offering a glimpse at Bronson Alcott’s favorite volumes, without the visitors leaning over the carefully set up props on the desk. Yet it is an arrangement that makes the scene seem implausible, giving away the staged nature of the room.

A similar discrepancy characterizes the presentation of the chamber where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women around 1868. There are two desks in the room: one that she used while writing Little Women (cf. Fig. 4a), and a second one, which resembles a desk that she purchased after Little Women was published (cf. Fig. 4b). While the former is of primary literary historic interest given that she wrote her most widely known work there, the latter is the one that draws more visitor attention. Again, the visitor is confronted with the typical utensils presented to evoke the process of literary production: A sheet with Louisa May’s handwriting on it, a book she might just have peeked into, a candle by whose light she might have been writing until the morning hours, her inkstand.

     

Fig. 4a. The Desk Little Women was written on.   |   Fig. 4b. Second Desk in Louisa May Alcott’s Room.

While the scene may have seemed authentic at first sight, it turns out to be but staged. The giveaway is a portrait of the writer above the desk which reveals that the room has undergone a process of staging. Most likely intended to enhance the effect of a connection to the writer by visually stirring up her presence—though interestingly enough not above the desk on which she wrote Little Women—, the position of the portrait annihilates any attempt at authenticity since it breaks the illusion of Louisa May Alcott still inhabiting the room: it seems improbable that the writer who was known and praised for her modesty would have a painting of herself hung in her own room. Therefore, the portrait is an unmistakable sign of posteriority which destroys the effect of immediacy otherwise claimed by the presentation. Yet, no matter how successful the staging, the Alcotts' biography and their literary production are not the only subjects of staging at Orchard House.

Fischer-Lichte emphasizes in her definition (of staging) that owing to the selective and interpretative character of the process, staging usually results in a particular link of the fictitious and the real. In the case of Orchard House the fictitious element does not only originate from the selection process of objects displayed, it is enhanced on the plot level by the intricate relationship between the Alcott and the March families, grounded in the autobiographical nature of the novel.9 The fact notwithstanding that Louisa May Alcott wrote many more and, as numerous critics believe, more notable works, her name is primarily associated with Little Women to this day. People come to see the ‘actual setting’ of the novel, uncritically projecting the Marches’ home onto the Alcott’s—and consequently Orchard House is showcased to satisfy this wish, as evident from the way the house is advertised: In its simultaneous reference to both the ‘real-life’ and the fictive inhabitants, the signpost that guides tourists to the place at the same time invites the visitors to disregard the distinction of the two levels of representation. Eventually, therefore, “our” may also be read as referring to the March family.

Fig. 5. Signpost in Front of Orchard House.

Throughout the tour of the house, the distinctions between historical personage and fictitious character are blurred. From a Museum Studies viewpoint, Orchard House straddles the dividing line between a historic site, which by definition is “a structure or location of significant historic connections, often associated with a famous person or event […]” (Burcaw 16), and a theme park, whose major purpose it is to entertain rather than convey historical knowledge, if necessary by relying on artificial, i.e., fictitious, elements (Schindler 108). For an illustrative example of creating plot similarity through material culture, I chose the piano in the dining room. At Orchard House, a piano is placed in the dining room and a portrait of Elizabeth Alcott hangs above it. In the novel, the piano is associated with Beth March; her playing the instrument and becoming immersed in music alleviates the pain caused by a weakly body and a failing health.

Fig. 6. Piano in the Dining Room.

The way in which the piano, symbolizing the fictitious Beth, and the portrait of the historic Elizabeth are combined suggests to equate the two figures. It coaxes the visitor into believing an imagination based on the novel created at this very spot by material remains through the superimposition of the picture of Elizabeth at the piano and Beth playing for her family, staging the imagined scene as authentic. The family history supports such a critique: As it turns out, even if the piano was originally placed in this spot the scene evoked by the arrangement of instrument and portrait—Elizabeth playing the piano right there—could never have occurred because Elizabeth had died in March 1858, four months before the Alcotts moved into Orchard House. Staging here confirms the classificatory muddle of theme park and historic site.

Yet another dimension to what is being staged at Orchard House and thus to the reference of the possessive “our” originates in the specific regional context of the house’s location. The colonial architecture and origins of Orchard House as well as its connection to the Alcotts and to the novelput the writer’s house in the larger cultural framework of the ideology surrounding the New England home. Staging at Orchard House evokes values associated with “the colonial” as a more virtuous, rural (if not pastoral), pre-industrial New England and connects them to values inscribed in Little Women, such as domesticity, modesty, and morality. These ideals merge in the notion of “home” as sentimentalized in nineteenth-century New England art and literature—not only in Little Women but in works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and others:

The home the New England authors described and many people yearned for was envisioned as large, commodious, welcoming, and sheltering—a place where the fire never went out. It was a center of personal and community values: a physical reflection of strength, frugality, hard work, rugged individualism, neighbourly trust, and community concern. […]. The well-thumbed Bible and the worn threshold, the carefully stitched sampler and the chest of snowy linen redolent with the scent of crumbling lavender were important in the definition of place […]. Most important, the spinning wheel, the kitchen fireplace, the tall case clock, the cradle, and the butter churn became domestic icons, celebrated in poetry and paint for generations yet unborn. A home that contained such items provided identity for it had lived in by one’s ancestors and contained relics of their daily life […]. (Nylander 6)

A home thus envisioned materializes at Orchard House with the help of various material objects and staged scenes, carefully chosen and arranged throughout the house. For a last example, I will show how the fireplace as an icon of domesticity, as the source of warmth and light, is staged at Orchard House to the effect described above. Given the structure of the house there are many fireplaces; they are pointed out during the guided tour, and the fireplace in the parlor is singled out as the gathering point and center of family life.

Fig. 7. Fireplace in Louisa May Alcott’s Room.

The fireplace in Louisa May Alcott’s room is not only equipped with the necessary tools, but wood is placed within the fireplace as if a fire was to be lit any minute. Ironically, the Alcotts themselves switched to heating with a coal furnace during the later years of their residence in Orchard House, since 1871, apparently dissatisfied with heating a house by fireplaces only. Notwithstanding the improbability of its practical use, the symbolic value of the hearth remains vivid and is therefore staged with the help of andirons, a poker, a bed warmer, and wooden logs that will never be used for a fire but enhance the sense of immediacy and authenticity for twenty-first-century visitors.

3. Reaching Out and Drawing In: The Orchard House Experience

As I showed above, over the course of its development, staging processes at Orchard House were initiated, influenced, and reshaped by changing historical contexts such as Colonial Revival or New England’s economic crisis as well as the subsequent emergence of tourism as a major industry. Another significant aspect to be considered when analyzing Orchard House as a staged site is the rise of living history in museum conceptions. At Orchard House especially the monthly “Welcome to Our Home!”-tour relies on living history as a museum concept: a tour guide, dressed in period costume, presents herself as a member of the Alcott family, playing the part of a nineteenth-century character. Before the tour visitors are routinely asked to refrain from making reference to inventions or events that date later than the middle of the nineteenth century so as not to disrupt the illusion. Here the notion of Orchard House as a staged scene enters a whole new dimension, with the tour guides turning into actors and the visitors into the audience and/or co-actors. When Tim Edensor states that “[t]ourist performance is socially and spatially regulated to varying extents” (63), a living history tour guided by a costumed actor through the enclosed space of a historic building, with a predetermined ‘route’ and preceding instructions, figures as a prime example of a socially and spatially highly regulated performance, which opens up a whole other range of questions and approaches lying beyond the frame of this paper.

The in-depth analysis of the material culture exposed in situ has shown that Orchard House is not merely a “historic building” but a consciously constructed site that through purposeful staging is imbued with various layers of signification. The fusion of mythic Old New England traits and the notion of genuineness, of the Alcotts’ harmonious family life and the fictitious elements taken from the widely familiar novel Little Women leads to an appeal of Orchard House that transgresses regional boundaries and periodization. Ultimately Orchard House is staged as the quintessential American family home, which not only offers an opportunity to connect to the past but which also reaffirms traditional notions of white, small-town, nineteenth-century family life. Since houses are perceived as symbols for larger social units, values thus inscribed into the single house can be perceived as relating to larger contexts. Orchard House—just as other New England writers’ houses— harbors and puts on display values and traditions that are, despite appearing old-fashioned, obviously still universal and widely attractive, as the large numbers of yearly visitors indicate. The houses’ initial role as literary shrines has become extended in the process to encompass broader implications of supposed traditions of American domestic and intellectual life, which I believe calls for closer examination.


1 I would like to thank Jan Turnquist, Executive Director at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, for the permission to publish the photographs of Orchard House and for providing access to the house, valuable information, and patient support, as well as the staff of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House for helping me with my on-site research.

2 For reasons of simplicity I will refer to Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House in the following by only using ‘Orchard House.’

3 Yet, as remains unmentioned in The Lonely Planet, the literary significance of Orchard House does not only stem from its association with Louisa May Alcott as the author of Little Women, but also from its association with Amos Bronson Alcott as a major philosopher and educator—both of them being established names in the traditional American canon.

4 While I consider this assessment to hold true for a wide array of New England writers’ houses that are open to the public today, for reasons of scope and detail I will focus on Orchard House as a case study.

5 In the original: “Als ästhetische und zugleich anthropologische Kategorie zielt der Begriff der Inszenierung auf schöpferische Prozesse, in denen etwas entworfen und zur Erscheinung gebracht wird—auf Prozesse, welche in spezifischer Weise Imaginäres, Fiktives, und Reales (Empirisches) zueinander in Beziehung setzen. Da derartige Prozesse in den unterschiedlichsten kulturellen Bereichen ablaufen […], funktioniert der Begriff der Inszenierung als ein markanter Schnittpunkt im interdisziplinären Diskurs […]“ (Fischer-Lichte 21).

6 Harald Hendrix distinguishes between instances in which the writers decorate their houses in specific ways as a means of self-expression, as an “autobiographical technique” (4), and cases in which later generations “project their meanings and memories” (5) on the writer’s residence.

7 The term ‘Colonial Revival’ has been used in different ways: Kenneth L. Ames rightfully claims that the term may not only be understood in the narrow sense, as referring to a limited “discrete phase of American architectural and furnishings history,” but can also be understood in a broader sense as “encompassing virtually any variety of artifactual interaction with visions of colonial America,” that is as “a persisting and pervasive component of American culture with antecedents reaching surprisingly far back into the American past” (3).

8 It should be noted at this point that my usage of the term ‘exterior’ is limited to the building as such, neglecting aspects of natural surroundings, landscape, and gardening on the grounds. Being fully aware of the importance of aspects such as the Concord natural environment, (the remainders of) the Alcotts’ horticultural enterprises, and the efforts of later generations in preserving and designing the grounds both for the interpretation of the site and for (a questioning of) the notion of ‘authenticity,’ I nevertheless have to do without any considerations pertaining to this area, since this would reach beyond the scope of this paper.

9 A biographical reading of the novel, no matter how simplifying and fallacious this approach may be, has been common practice in the secondary literature. Elizabeth Lennox Keyser, for instance, claims that “Little Women, though it finally becomes Jo’s story, contains portraits of all four Alcott sisters: Meg March, like Anna Alcott, is domestic; Jo, like Louisa, is a tomboy and writer; Beth, like Elizabeth, is frail; and Amy, like May, is charming and artistic” (59); Barbara Sicherman speaks of the “well-publicized autobiographical status of Little Women,” tracing this reading of the novel back to the immediate context of its first publication (252). While her critics debate the degree to which Little Women is based on Louisa May Alcott’s and her family’s own lives, they agree that certain elements of the novel derive from what she observed and experienced in her own family—for instance the family constellation, family members’ character traits, or also some of the domestic scenes

Illustrations

Fig. 1: Front View of Orchard House. K.S. Szlezák.

Fig. 2: Side View of Orchard House. K.S. Szlezák.

Fig. 3: Bronson Alcott’s Desk in His Study. K.S. Szlezák.

Fig. 4a: The Desk Little Women was written on. K.S. Szlezák.

Fig. 4b: Second Desk in Louisa May Alcott’s Room. K.S. Szlezák.

Fig. 5: Signpost in Front of Orchard House. K.S. Szlezák.

Fig. 6: Piano in the Dining Room. K.S. Szlezák.

Fig. 7: Fireplace in Louisa May Alcott’s Room. K.S. Szlezák.

Works Cited

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“Bronson Alcott in Study of Orchard House.” The Concord Free Public Library. Web. 06 Jan. 2011 <www.concordlibrary.org/images/ABAlcott.jpg>.

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Foster, Gerald. American Houses: A Field Guide to the Architecture of the Home. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. Print.

Hendrix, Harald. “Writers’ Houses as Media of Expression and Remembrance: From Self-Fashioning to Cultural Memory.” Writers’ Houses and the Making of Memory. Ed. Harald Hendrix. New York: Routledge, 2008. 1-11. Print.

Hobsbawm, Eric. “Introduction: Inventing Traditions.” The Invention of Tradition. Ed. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983. 1-14. Print.

Keyser, Elizabeth Lennox. Whispers in the Dark: The Fiction of Louisa May Alcott. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1993. Print.

Lindgren, James M. Preserving Historic New England: Preservation, Progressivism, and the Remaking of Memory. New York: Oxford UP, 1995. Print.

New England Trips. Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet, 2009. Print.

Nylander, Jane C. Our Own Snug Fireside: Images of the New England Home, 1760-1860. New York: Knopf, 1993. Print.

Orchard House: Home of the Alcotts Website. Web. 06 Jan. 2011 <http://www.louisamayalcott.org/>.

Schindler, Sabine. Authentizität und Inszenierung: Die Vermittlung von Geschichte in amerikanischen historic sites. Heidelberg: Winter, 2003. Print.

Sicherman, Barbara. “Reading Little Women: The Many Lives of a Text.” U.S. History as Womens History: New Feminist Essays. Ed. Linda K. Kerber, Alice Kessler-Harris, and Kathryn Kish Sklar. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1995. 245-66. Print.

Upton, Dell. Architecture in the United States. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998. Print.

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