Louisa May Alcott May Have Had Another Pen Name

Literary scholar Max Chapnick believes he's uncovered another Alcott pseudonym: EH Gould
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 12, 2024 11:57 AM CST
Hidden Work by Little Women Author May Have Surfaced
Louisa May Alcott   (Wikimedia Commons)

Louisa May Alcott was a lot like her Little Women character Jo in that she, too, wrote stories to support her family. Before Little Women was published in two parts in 1868 and '69, the poor Alcott wrote melodramatic thrillers under the pen names AM Barnard, Tribulation Periwinkle, and Flora Fairfield, allowing her to broach the topics of drug use, reverse gender roles, and class conflict without risking her literary reputation. Not all of her stories have been found. When Max Chapnick, a scholar of 19th-century fiction, heard of one such lost story, he set out to find it, as he writes in an essay published last month at the Conversation and reprinted this week in Scientific American. He believes he not only succeeded but in doing so uncovered another, previously unknown pseudonym of the author.

Chapnick initially came across mention of a journal entry in which Alcott wrote of a story called "A Phantom Face," which she claimed to have sold for $10 in 1859. He nearly overlooked mention of "The Phantom" by EH Gould, published by the Olive Branch in early 1860, while searching digital databases. But the spoof of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is "in her style" and Alcott was a huge Dickens fan, Chapnick tells the Guardian in an interview. Alcott was also known to have published a story in Olive Branch magazine in 1852. And "in one of Alcott's letters from the period, she wrote to a friend asking if the magazine ... would be interested in more of her work," Chapnick writes.

He isn't certain Gould is Alcott, "but I've encountered enough circumstantial evidence to consider it likely Alcott wrote seven stories, five poems and one piece of nonfiction under that name." The pieces appear in outlets with "connections to Alcott," including one in which Alcott published under the name Barnard. "Alcott serves as the last name of the protagonists in two of Gould's stories," while the name of Alcott's Massachusetts home, the Wayside, "is the title of a nostalgic piece of nonfiction authored by Gould," Chapnick writes. None of the Gould pieces appear on a list of stories maintained by Alcott, but neither do those mentioned in her journal, he notes. "I'll keep gathering evidence that may either prove or disprove Alcott's authorship of Gould's stories," he adds, teasing other Alcott stories and possible pseudonyms still undiscovered. (More pseudonyms stories.)

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