As a girl, I wanted to live next door to the March family of Little Women. Who wouldn’t want to romp through Concord with Jo and her sisters and be served warm gingerbread by Marmee? As a next best thing, I recently visited Orchard House, the home of Louisa May Alcott and her family for 20 years. There, her sister May drew pictures on her bedroom walls, Anna was married in a simple gray silk gown and Louisa penned her beloved novel.
While I sent a postcard of Orchard House to my daughter, Louisa wrote home to Orchard House from her travels abroad. Written nearly 150 years ago, her letters still crackle with life and are as warm, vibrant and funny as any I could have received from the March girls if I had been lucky enough to have them as neighbors:
…Tomorrow we go on to Lamballe, where we take the diligence to Dinan, fourteen miles farther, and there settle for some weeks. I wish the boys could see the funny children here in little wooden shoes like boats, the girls in blue cloth caps, aprons, and shawls, just like the women, and the boys in funny hats and sheepskin jackets. Now I must go and get May, who can’t speak a word of French, and has a panic if any one speaks to her. The beggars afflict her, and she wants to give them money on all occasions. This p.m. we go for a drive to see all there is, as neither A. nor I are good walkers; “adoo” till by and by. I wish I could send you this balmy day.”
…We went to a ruin one day, and were about to explore the castle, when a sow, with her family of twelve, charged through the gateway at us so fiercely that we fled in dismay; for pigs are not nice when they attack, as we don’t know where to bone ’em, and I saw a woman one day whose nose had been bitten off by an angry pig. I flew over a hedge; May tried to follow. I pulled her over head first, and we tumbled into the tower like a routed garrison. It wasn’t a nice ruin, but we were bound to see it, having suffered so much. And we did see it, in spite of the pigs, who waylaid us on all sides, and squealed in triumph when we left,–dirty, torn, and tired. The ugly things wander at their own sweet will, and are tall, round-backed, thin wretches, who run like race horses, and are no respecters of persons…”
Dearest Marmee,–A happy birthday, and many of ’em! Here we actually are in the long-desired Italy, and find it as lovely as we hoped. Our journey was a perfect success,–sunlight, moonlight, magnificent scenery, pleasant company, no mishaps, and one long series of beautiful pictures all the way…
After supper in a vaulted, frescoed hall, with marble floors, pillars, and galleries, we went to a room which had green doors, red carpet, blue walls, and yellow bed-covers,–all so gay! It was like sleeping in a rainbow.
As if a heavenly lake under our windows with moonlight ad libitum wasn’t enough, we had music next door; and on leaning out of a little back window, we made the splendid discovery that we could look on to the stage of the opera-house across a little alley. My Nan can imagine with what rapture I stared at the scenes going on below me, and how I longed for her as I stood there wrapped in my yellow bed-quilt, and saw gallant knights in armor warble sweetly to plump ladies in masks, or pretty peasants fly wildly from ardent lovers in red tights; also a dishevelled maid who tore her hair in a forest, while a man aloft made thunder and lightning,–and I saw him do it!
It was the climax to a splendid day; for few travellers can go to the opera luxuriously in their night-gowns, and take naps between the acts as I did…