Home  »  Volume XVI: American EARLY NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART I  »  § 6. Louisa M. Alcott; Mary Mapes Dodge; Hans Brinker

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

VII. Books for Children

§ 6. Louisa M. Alcott; Mary Mapes Dodge; Hans Brinker

The notable success of the period was made, however, by one whose work for adults was only mediocre. Louisa M. Alcott (1832–88) was asked by a publisher in 1867 for a girl’s book, and began her task reluctantly. But wisely deciding not to write down, she merely spoke out, with no more than the pleasant moralizing of the Alcott household, her youthful memories. Out of the incidents of her own girlhood she constructed Little Women (1868), and its abiding charm lies in its atmosphere of real life and its real portraits. It at once gained the heights of popularity and was translated into many languages. The public kept demanding other stories; and An Old-Fashioned Girl (1869), Little Men (1871), Eight Cousins (1874), Rose in Bloom (1876), and Under the Lilacs (1878) were almost as popular and as meritorious. Some of these were written for St. Nicholas, in which Mrs. Mary Mapes Dodge was nearly equalling her achievement. The two books which next to Miss Alcott’s have the most assured position are Mrs. Dodge’s Hans Brinker (1865) and Donald and Dorothy (1883). The former still remains the best story about Holland, and was awarded a prize by the French Academy; the latter runs it close for naturalness and interest. A little later these artistic successes were matched by Betty Leicester of Sarah Orne Jewett, whose work for young people has the charm and distinction of her short stories for adults. St. Nicholas became in itself a library of choice literature for children, and many of the books which this chapter mentions appeared there. It encouraged writers for younger children also, and there were now some magazines devoted to them alone. For them Rebecca Clarke (1833–1906) had already written much, under the name of Sophie May. The Little Prudy and Dotty Dimple books have quaintness and tenderness, but, as with most of the writers of her time, grow thinner as their series lengthen. These and Margaret Sidney’s Little Pepper stories are standard achievements in infantile writing. The Katy books of Sarah Woolsey, under the name of Susan Coolidge, have a similar excellence for children somewhat older, but also outlast their material.