5 Reasons to Pick Up Little Woman in Blue

Posted September 22, 2015 by Elizabeth in book reviews/ 9 Comments

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5 Reasons to Pick Up Little Woman in BlueLittle Woman in Blue by Jeannine Atkins
Genres: Historical
Published by She Writes Press Source: Author
September 15th 2015 | Pages: 280
Purchase on Amazon | Add to Goodreads

May Alcott spends her days teaching piano and art to young ladies, but she dreams of painting a masterpiece—which many say is impossible for a woman—and of finding love, too. When she reads her sister’s wildly popular novel, Little Women, she is stung by Louisa’s portrayal of her as “Amy,” the youngest of four sisters who trades her desire to succeed as an artist for the joys of hearth and home. Determined to prove her talent, May makes plans to move far from Massachusetts and make a life for herself with room for both watercolors and a wedding dress. Can she succeed? And if she does, what price will she have to pay? Based May Alcott’s letters and diaries, as well as memoirs written by her neighbors, Little Woman in Blue puts May at the center of the story she might have told about sisterhood and rivalry in an extraordinary family.

May_Alcott_Nieriker1.   I’ve noticed that the more tabs I’ve added to a book while reading, the more I’ve enjoyed it. I tab interesting words, quotes that seem to be a theme, and things I want to know more about. The colors don’t matter. I tell you this because it’s difficult to see my tabbing impact on an e-reader, but look at Jeannine Atkins’ Little Woman in Blue. The adult years of artist May Alcott Nieriker’s efforts to become a professional artist are chronicled in a story of sisterly love, professional passion, and a little romantic love as well. I adored this book!

2. It doesn’t matter that these are actual moments in the lives of people who actually lived. It’s an interesting story. Readers don’t need to know anything about the Alcotts or history to enjoy the feelings of sibling rivalry that May feels towards Louisa. As the youngest child, May was often sent away and sheltered during times of family crisis, usually to make it easier for those behind to get on with what needed doing. It left her feeling left out and the rest of the family inadvertently seeing her as delicate, which she was not.

3. The main characters of Little Woman in Blue were so real. Louisa often came across as dour, and May as a little petulant, but I liked both and wanted them to come to an understanding of each other. Part of the problem was the big age gap between the sisters, but as adults it was all about communication, which was not their strength as a pair.

La Negress, 1879 Paris Salon
La Negress, 1879 Paris Salon 

4. The glitterati of literature and arts in the 1860s-80s are sprinkled through May’s life like little surprises in a Mardi Gras king cake. Whether she is boating with Julian, son of Nathaniel Hawthorne, or discussing their lives as female artists with Mary Cassatt, readers are treated to a behind the scenes of a time when both print and painted art was changing.

5. Little Woman in Blue is full of exciting moments in history! Louisa goes off to nurse during the Civil War, returning with a fever that almost kills her. The Paris Commune, a radical socialist revolutionary group takes over the French government, inciting riots for months, when May is traveling Europe to study art.

May Alcott accomplished more in her artistic career as a woman than many male artists of her time. She exhibited at the Paris Salon twice, was an early instructor of Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial and Minuteman statues, was the original illustrator of Little Women, and wrote a travel book for American studying art in Paris. All before the age of 40!

May's painting of Orchard House date unknown.
May’s painting of Orchard House date unknown.

American literature lovers visiting New England must put Concord, MA on their places to go. Not only can you visit Orchard House to see the amazing murals and ceiling May painted when Louisa was so ill in 1862-63, the homes of Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne are all nearby. It’s a beautiful setting with Walden Pond State Park and Minute Man National Historic Park, where the “shot heard ‘round the world” was fired.

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