“Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will be delightful, old age will bring few regrets, and life will become a beautiful success.” – Louisa May Alcott
My all-time favorite episode of FRIENDS is from season three when Rachel reads The Shining and Joey reads Little Women. I happen to own two copies of Little Women myself, one a copy of the complete text and the other a children’s edition with gorgeous watercolor illustrations. It’s a book that I think every girl I knew growing up has read at least once and I don’t know anyone who didn’t love it. The Winona Ryder film adaptation makes me cry every time I watch it, and I watch it every Christmas.
The March family home in Little Women is based on Louisa May Alcott’s home of twenty years, Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts. Though it is the house the March girls grow up in, Louisa was already in her twenties by the time her family moved into and began modifying the house. More than just the house where she set Little Women, it is the house where she wrote it. As the tour guides will tell you, Louisa May Alcott spent as many as fourteen hours a day writing in her room, finishing the first part of Little Women in just six weeks (even with a word processor, I couldn’t make myself write for a full fourteen hours a day; four, maybe but I need to spend at least as much time reading each day as I do writing). Best known for Little Women and her other works for children, including Little Men and Jo’s Boys, Louisa May Alcott wrote a great many works for adults (so my To Read list just got a bit longer).
What I found most captivating about the house and the tour was all of the sketches and artwork of Louisa’s younger sister May, whom Amy was based upon. All of the Alcotts were remarkably progressive in their philosophies and practices, but Louisa and May are the focus of the house’s tour, having spent more time living there with their parents than their oldest sister, Anna (Meg). It’s more than just the paintings and pieces hanging on the walls; May sketched and painted directly on the walls of her room and her sister’s, using any and every available surface, as if she just couldn’t contain herself.
The amount of work that went into preserving the house is remarkable. The house is fortunate in having been given many of the Alcotts’ original furniture and artwork from the remaining descendants of Anna and May. While some old houses that have been converted into museums and restored for such tours can feel distant or fragile, Orchard House is remarkably lively and vibrant; it feels lived in but by people who worked hard and enjoyed life. Additional photos
Update: Orchard House has started a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a documentary about the house and its history. Check out their Kickstarter video and pledge before October 22,2014.