Researcher discovers Alcott really ‘hustling’

Chapnick believes he found 20 stories, poems author wrote under pseudonym

- By Michael Casey

The author of “Little Women” may have been even more productive and sensationa­l than previously thought.

Max Chapnick, a postdoctor­al teaching associate at Northeaste­rn University, believes he found about 20 stories and poems written by Louisa May Alcott under her own name as well as pseudonyms for local newspapers in Massachuse­tts in the late 1850s and early 1860s.

One of the pseudonyms is believed to be E.H. Gould and includes a story about her house in Concord, Massachuse­tts, and a ghost story along the lines of the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol.” He also found four poems written by Flora Fairfield, a known pseudonym of Alcott’s. One of the stories written under her own name was about a young painter.

“It’s saying she’s really like ... she’s hustling, right? She’s publishing a lot,” Chapnick said on a visit to the American Antiquaria­n Society in Worcester, Massachuse­tts, a national research library of pre-20th century American history and culture that has some of the stories Chapnick discovered in its collection as well as a first edition of “Little Women.”

Alcott remains best known for “Little Women,” published in two installmen­ts in 1868-69. Her classic coming-of-age novel about the four March sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy — has been adapted several times into feature films, most recently by Greta Gerwig in 2019.

Chapnick discovered Alcott’s other stories as part of his research into spirituali­sm and mesmerism. As he scrolled through digitized newspapers from the American Antiquaria­n Society, he found a story titled “The Phantom.” After seeing the name Gould at the end of the story, he initially dismissed it as Alcott’s story.

But then he read the story again.

Chapnick found the name Alcott in the story — a possible clue — and saw that it was written about the time she would have been publishing similar stories. The story was also in the Olive Branch, a newspaper that had previously published her work.

As Chapnick searched through newspapers at the society and the Boston Public Library, he found more written by Gould — though he admits definitive proof they were written by Alcott’s has proven elusive.

“There’s a lot of circumstan­tial evidence to indicate that this is probably her,” said Chapnick, who last year published a paper on his discoverie­s in J19, the Journal of Nineteenth­Century Americanis­ts. “I don’t think that there’s definitive evidence either way yet. I’m interested in gathering more of it.”

When first contacted by Chapnick about the writings, Gregory Eiselein, president of the Louisa

May Alcott Society, said he was curious but skeptical.

“Over my more than 30-year career as a literary scholar, I’ve received a variety of inquiries, emails and manuscript­s that propose the discovery of a new story by Louisa Alcott,” Eiselein, also a professor at Kansas State University, wrote in an email. “Typically, they turn out to be a known, though not famous, text, or a story reprinted under a new title for a different newspaper or magazine.”

But he has come to believe that Chapnick has found new stories, many of which shed light on Alcott’s early career.

“What stands out to me is the impressive range and variety of styles in Alcott’s early published works,” he said. “She writes sentimenta­l poetry, thrilling supernatur­al stories, reform-minded nonfiction, work for children, work for adults, and more. It’s also fascinatin­g to see how Alcott uses, experiment­s with, and transforms the literary formulas popular in the 1850s.”

This isn’t the first time that scholars have found stories written by Alcott under a pseudonym.

In the 1940s, Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern found thrillers written under the name A.M. Barnard was an

Alcott pseudonym. She also wrote nonfiction stories, including about the Civil War where she served as a nurse, under the pseudonym Tribulatio­n Periwinkle.

It wasn’t unusual for female writers, especially during this period, to use a pseudonym. In the case of Alcott, she may have wanted to protect her family’s reputation, since her family, though poor, had wealthy connection­s that dated to the American Revolution­ary War.

“She might not have wanted them to know she was writing trashy stories about sex and ghosts and whatever,” Chapnick said.

“I think she was canny,” he continued. “She had an inkling that she would be a famous writer, and she was trying to experiment, and she didn’t want her experiment­ation to get in the way of her future career. So she was writing under a pseudonym to sort of like protect her future reputation.”

At the American Antiquaria­n Society, a researcher eagerly awaited Chapnick’s arrival in early January. For the society, this find is validation that its collection of nearly 4 million books, newspapers, periodical­s, manuscript­s and pamphlets is a boon to researcher­s studying early American history. Many of its holdings are salvaged from attics, antique shops, book fairs, garage sales.

“We’re keeping these things for a reason. We’re not just keeping them to hoard them and pile them up,” Elizabeth Pope, the curator of books and digitized collection­s at the society. “We’re thrilled when people can find stories in them.”

For Chapnick, the collection­s offer the possibilit­y of finding additional Alcott stories — including those written under other pseudonyms.

“The detective work is fun. The not knowing is kind of fun. I both wish and don’t wish that there would be a smoking gun, if that makes sense,” he said. “It would be great to find out one way or the other, but not knowing is also very interestin­g.”

 ?? CHARLES KRUPA/AP PHOTOS ?? Pope points out a writing by “E.H. Gould,” which may be one of Louisa May Alcott’s pseudonyms.
CHARLES KRUPA/AP PHOTOS Pope points out a writing by “E.H. Gould,” which may be one of Louisa May Alcott’s pseudonyms.
 ?? ?? Max Chapnick looks as Elizabeth Pope gestures Jan. 9 toward an article at the American Antiquaria­n Society in Massachuse­tts.
Max Chapnick looks as Elizabeth Pope gestures Jan. 9 toward an article at the American Antiquaria­n Society in Massachuse­tts.

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