Like Jack London, some of Louisa May Alcott’s (1832-1888) fiction was autobiographical, with Little Women being the most notable. Although most writers don’t sell their first novel, the rest of this experience from that book is familiar.
Little notice was taken of her stories, but they found a market; and, encouraged by this fact, she resolved to make a bold stroke for fame and fortune. Having copied her novel for the fourth time, read it to all her confidential friends, and submitted it with fear and trembling to three publishers, she at last disposed of it, on condition that she would cut it down one-third, and omit all the parts which she particularly admired.
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So, with Spartan firmness, the young authoress laid her firstborn on her table, and chopped it up as ruthlessly as any ogre. In the hope of pleasing every one, she took every one’s advice; and, like the old man and his donkey in the fable, suited nobody.
Her father liked the metaphysical streak which had unconsciously got into it, so that was allowed to remain, though she had her doubts about it. Her mother thought that there was a trifle too much description; out, therefore, it nearly all came, and with it many necessary links in the story. Meg admired the tragedy; so Jo piled up the agony to suit her, while Amy objected to the fun, and, with the best intentions in life, Jo quenched the sprightly scenes which relieved the somber character of the story. Then, to complete the ruin, she cut it down one-third, and confidingly sent the poor little romance, like a picked robin, out into the big, busy world, to try its fate.
Well, it was printed, and she got three hundred dollars for it; likewise plenty of praise and blame, both so much greater than she expected, that she was thrown into a state of bewilderment, from which it took some time to recover.
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Her family and friends administered comfort and commendation liberally; yet it was a hard time for sensitive, high-spirited Jo, who meant so well, and had apparently done so ill. But it did her good, for those whose opinion had real value, gave her the criticism which is an author’s best education; and when the first soreness was over, she could laugh at her poor little book, yet believe in it still, and feel herself the wiser and stronger for the buffeting she had received.
“Not being a genius, like Keats, it won’t kill me,” she said stoutly; “and I’ve got the joke on my side, after all; for the parts that were taken straight out of real life, are denounced as impossible and absurd, and the scenes that I made up out of my own silly head, are pronounced ‘charmingly natural, tender, and true.’ So I’ll comfort myself with that; and, when I’m ready, I’ll up again and take another.”
And so will we.
The quote is from “Literary Lessons” in Part II of Little Women.
Both the picture and Little Women are in the public domain because of their age.