Louisa May Alcott

 

 

I am reading Louisa May Alcott’s Hospital Sketches (1863) in the 1960 Harvard University Press edition edited by Bessie Z. Jones, which, if you can get your hands on it, is the best available edition, but there are many editions in print.

Read it. It’s around 90 pages long, not counting the introduction.

It is marvelously written. I know a good writer when I see one.

My mother loved Little Women. She read it as a girl, could not put it down, and was tremendously affected by it.

My wife read and loved it.

As have countless other women. It is an enduring classic (which I have never read).

I have always thought, without really knowing, that I would have found Alcott, had I read her, to be old fashioned and dated; her plots perhaps contrived, her novels sentimental, her writing flowery.

Her style is of its time, she uses many words that have become antiquated, but can she ever write! Richness of vocabulary, sharpness of observation, penetrating insight, a capacity for wit (including self-deprecation) and the sardonic insight, deftness of characterization, sympathy for human suffering without mawkishness, a sharp eye for human failings and stupidity as well as callousness (including that of hospital personnel), felicity with words, and a distinctive style. A gift for imagery: metaphor and simile. So much for the unsuspecting reader to admire and delight in.

The book is a first-person account of her experiences as a nurse in U.S. Army hospitals in Washington, DC during the Civil War.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

    April 2018

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