Author Kit Bakke has written an excellent fictionalized biography of Louisa May Alcott, couched in a rather unusual format. The premise of Miss Alcott's E-mail: Yours for Reforms of All Kinds is that Bakke, in 2006, sends an e-mail to Alcott in 1887, toward the end of her life. Alcott receives the letter as regular hand-written postal mail and responds in the same manner, her missive arriving as e-mail in Bakke’s inbox. Thus begins their three-month correspondence, with Bakke proposing that she submit short biographical essays to Alcott, and Alcott comment and correct them if necessary.
It is very easy to invoke suspension of disbelief to enjoy and learn from this biography. Each chapter opens with a quote from Alcott or one of her contemporaries, such as her father, Bronson Alcott, and their neighbor, the Transcendental philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. This is followed by a letter from Bakke to Alcott, in which she responds to issues raised in the previous chapter and outlines her objectives of the enclosed essay. Each chapter ends with a rebuttal, presumably penned by Alcott.
Not strictly limited to a pure biography of Alcott, Miss Alcott's E-mail also includes the circle of Concordians she and her family associated with, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Bakke and Alcott “discuss” many subjects that were of interest to Alcott - the abolition of slavery, the women’s suffrage movement, coeducation, and “the same pay [as men] for the same good work.”
Bakke cleverly draws some parallels between her life and Alcott’s. Bakke spent several tumultuous years in the Weather Underground, rebelling and protesting the war in Vietnam. She compares this to the protests of Alcott’s peers against the slave trade:
“this sense of larger purpose, shared by the abolitionists and by the 1960s anti-war and civil rights activists, fuels the revolutionary fires and turns setbacks into rallying points on which to build the next effort.” She further points out the similarities between the commune-like nature of the Weathers’ living arrangements, such as they were, and the experimental utopian society at Fruitlands in Harvard, Massachusetts, where the Alcotts lived for a short time. Both women also worked in nursing; Bakke skillfully uses these connections to strengthen the bond between herself and Alcott, as their relationship becomes closer and their letters more intimate.
Overall, this is an enjoyable book that flows smoothly. The reader learns much about the life of Louisa May Alcott and the issues of her day; she is so much more than that which she is perhaps best known as, the author of Little Women. The concept of letters traveling through time is subtle and not at all a distraction; it is simply the framework around which the biography is built.
There are several black-and-white illustrations and photos of Alcott, her family and friends, and Orchard House, the home in which they lived in Concord. Similar photos highlight Bakke and her areas of interest. At the conclusion of the biography, Bakke offers a selected bibliography, discussion guide, chronology of Alcott’s life, and suggestions for reading Alcott’s works. Additional information and links are available at the author’s website,