Did you know that the author of Little Women was also a solo female traveler? In the 1800s no less! After visiting Louisa May Alcott’s house in Concord, I’ve been a bit obsessed with all things Little Women and Louisa so when author Lorraine Tosiello contacted me to participate in a Book Blog Tour for her new book, Only Gossip Prospers, about Louisa May Alcott and her trip to New York City, I jumped at the chance.
If you’re like me and identified with Louisa May Alcott’s character Jo (Josephine) while reading Little Women (or if you’ve seen the film), you may remember that the strong-headed author took herself off to New York City for a change of pace and a place to write. It was only upon visiting the Alcott house in Concord, that I learned just how closely Louisa based her character Jo on herself, and my admiration for this author increased ten-fold. She was the definition of a strong, independent female. She was the first woman to vote in Concord, MA. And like her character, she traveled on her own to NYC.
Purchase Only Gossip Prospers: A Novel of Louisa May Alcott in New York by Lorraine Tosiello via IndieBound or Amazon
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Only Gossip Prospers by Lorraine Tosiello
Published by Pink Umbrella Books
Genre/s: Historical Fiction
Where it takes place: New York City, NY
Only Gossip Prospers is a historical fiction that reads like a travelogue of Louisa May Alcott’s winter spent visiting New York City. In 1875 Louisa, a now famous author mobbed by autograph seekers wherever she went, was seeking anonymity from her fame after Little Women became a hit, and a change of scenery to find inspiration, and write.
Upon arriving in the city, Louisa assumes a fake name to avoid being recognized, employs a newsboy as her guide, and befriends the eclectic people staying in her boarding house. She finds plenty of inspiration in the characters she meets and in her outings around the city. And, not to give too much away, she eventually learns that she is not the only one hiding her story and identity.
About the Author / Context of Writing
The real details of what Alcott did in NYC and what happened to make her leave suddenly, in actuality, we will never know. According to author Lorrain Tosiello, “Her journals give a rough sketch of the people she met, the salons she attended and a few outings that she enjoyed. She intended to stay “until I am tired of it,” but left abruptly in mid-January.” Author and local to NYC, Tosiello, has weaved together the scant facts of Alcott’s trip, her own knowledge of the city and its history, and fiction to create an entertaining tale of how Alcott’s trip might have gone.
Contact the author
- To see photos of the locations in NYC Tosiello mentions in the books, and learn about the real people that appear as characters in the story, check out the author’s Instagram @ltosiello_author
- Check out the rest of the Book Blog Tour reviews
Places To Visit Inspired By The Book
Locations in NYC:
- 5th Avenue – Louisa spends her first day in NYC walking down 5th Avenue
- Broadway – Louisa and her newsboy guide amble along Broadway
- Central Park – Louisa and some friends have an unfortunate experience in Central Park
- Murray Hill – Louisa’s boarding house is located in this area
- Randall’s Island – Louisa visits orphans for Christmas who live in an institution on the island
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In the foreground are the remnants of the New York Smallpox Hospital, active on Blackwell’s Island in Louisa May Alcott’s time. Today, it is on what is called Roosevelt Island, and stands decaying against the backdrop of New York’s Upper East Side. #onlygossipprospers #louisamayalcott #newyorkcityhistory #rooseveltisland
I often had to remind myself that this was a story about the author Louisa Alcott, not her character Jo March, and that it took place after Little Women was published, not before.
The book opens with a scene that takes place at Orchard House (Louisa May Alcott’s family’s home in Concord) which Tosiello describes just as I remember it from the tour. The scene is one with Louisa and her sisters, and so similar to the scenes in Little Women in which the March sisters are gathered in the living room doing chores that it feels very familiar. For those that have read Little Women, it feels like returning home to the second half of the book when the girls have grown and married and gathered at home once again, only then you realize that these are not the March sisters, but the real sisters they’re based on. I had to keep reminding myself through the whole book that I was not reading about the March family, but the author herself and her real family, and that the book takes place after Little Women is published and well-known by the public.
This confusion was not helped by the fact that Tosiello introduces a character so similar to Jo’s professor Bhaer that I kept thinking this must take place before the publishing of Little Women and this must be the person who inspired the novel’s character. Thankfully Tosiello’s Louisa often remarked on the strangeness of meeting someone so similar to a character that she’d written, so the confusion of the timeline was kept to a minimum.
“Herr Hahn was not the caricature of Friederich Bhaer she had been enjoying at the hotel. He was the real thing. She did not know how she had failed to see this sooner, nor how she had ever conceived of a character so perfect.”
Was Bronson Alcott, Louisa’s father, maligned by history or was he really as annoying and useless as all accounts seem to suggest?
Before moving to Concord, Bronson Alcott had moved his family to Fruitlands, a compound where he believed Transcendentalists like himself could theorize the days away and live at one with nature. Ultimately this utopia did not work out, and from all accounts I’ve read, Bronson Alcott comes out in debt and with a pretty poor reputation. Then he and his Transcendentalist friends which included Emerson and Thoreau, moved to Concord. Somehow The latter two end up as famous classic authors, and Bronson fades into history as first the master of a failed Transcendentalist school, and then the dud father of a famous female author.
While touring Concord’s Wayside House, which was once home to author Nathaniel Hawthorn, our tour guide suggested that Hawthorne would often pretend he wasn’t home when certain neighbors came around, especially when that neighbor was Bronson Alcott.
After coming away from Concord with a very negative view of Bronson, I found it entertaining that Tosiello also seemed to have a poor opinion of him as well. I wonder if she took the same tour I did.
Regarding Bronson Alcott and his wife:
“But she was burdened by a philosophical husband who had no presence in reality and had to attend to keeping her children alive rather than focus on greater aspirations, Louisa thought.”
The book often made me want to put it down and find some social justice cause to join immediately.
The book had a very strong focus on empowering young females through social justice work which they learned from older female mentors. Louisa joins her mother’s New York friends at salons and for outings to women’s prisons and orphanages to do what they can for women and children. As a young woman, I enjoyed this aspect of the book. I also found it surprising that women were so active in social justice causes in the 1800s.
The book read like a Dickens novel if it were written by a woman and took place in the United States.
Dickens books often feel like a series of entertaining character sketches, and this book had the same feel. I love Tosiello’s descriptions of the people Louisa observes. Each one is quirky and Tosiello slowly and surprisingly reveals each one of their back stories in a way that keeps you reading.
Finally, solo female travelers who stay at hostels or bed and breakfasts may relate to this book.
Although the story takes place in the 1800’s there are several aspects that are relatable to travelers today. For those that travel and stay in accommodations where meals are taken with fellow boarders, the story may feel familiar. I’ve often found when traveling that my fellow travelers all have interesting stories and are often quirky in one way or another.
The book also took me back to my own visits to NYC. I could just picture Louisa traipsing down Broadway or riding through Central Park. Personally, I have never been a fan of navigating NYC on my own, but now knowing that Louisa did it (although she often found company for her outings), I’m inspired to visit the city again, this time in the footsteps of Louisa May Alcott.
“I think you just might adore New York,” May said, folding a woolen shawl. “It has all your favorite charms: poverty, greed, child labor, horrid prison conditions. By now, I think it is more Londonier than your beloved London.”
“As Louisa climbed the high stoop to the hotel entrance, she wondered about the characters she would be able to spin from the community inside.”
“Books and literature, the best friends a woman can have!”
Unfortunately, I can’t help comparing this book with my love of Little Women, and that book is nearly perfect (except for Jo not marrying Laurie, and Beth dying.) So I’ve rated this only ⅘ stars simply because no author can compare with Louisa herself. Sorry, Lorraine!
Are you a Louisa May Alcott fan? Do you solo travel? Let’s discuss in the comments below!
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