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Louisa May Alcott’s “Work” at 150

150 years ago this week, Louisa May Alcott’s novel Work: A Story of Experience first appeared in print. Work was revised from an earlier draft of a novel which Alcott began in 1861.

Work is Alcott’s most autobiographical novel. In it, heroine Christie Devon faces many trials as she tries to earn an independent living, finding positions (including seamstress, nurse, servant, and governess) in which Alcott and her sisters were themselves employed as young women. Christie’s work life mirrors the economic precariousness and despair which Alcott experienced while trying to support herself and her family before she found success as the author of Little Women.

When she returned to the manuscript a decade later, now in her 40s and a wealthy, successful writer, Alcott created a more rewarding and meaningful work life for Christie. In the latter half of the novel, Christie finds happiness with a loving husband, but he is killed in the Civil War. The novel ends with Christie and her young daughter enfolded in a sisterhood of single and widowed women whose work supports each other and improves the lives of the working classes in their community.

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