By Heidi Chiavaroli
|Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House|
My fascination with Louisa May Alcott and her Little Women didn’t actually begin with the book. It didn’t even begin with the 1994 movie (the one with Winona Ryder), which I absolutely adored.
No, my preoccupation with this story—and this author—stemmed from a piece of history. More accurately, a place in history.
I remember visiting Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House as a girl in Concord, Massachusetts. Standing in her bedroom, I gazed at the very desk where she wrote her beautiful novel, Little Women. There was something special about that place, something almost magical. And right then, in that moment, I was the closest person to where it all began. I imagined Louisa sitting before me, fervently scribbling of Jo scorching Meg’s hair while trying to curl it, of Amy’s beautiful limes getting dumped out the schoolroom window, and of little Beth at the seashore telling Jo she knows the end of her life is near.
|School of Philosophy|
In that snatch of time, history seemed to meet the present. It met me. While I’d read about history in countless school textbooks, that was the moment it reached out and grabbed me. That’s the moment it began to captivate me in a way that would hold tight and never let go.
As I wrote stories surrounding the rich past of colonial Massachusetts, the Alcott family home was always in the back of my mind. I knew I wanted to go there with my stories someday. Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House after all, was no stranger to history.
The property was home for Native Americans during King Philip’s war and it saw the passing of the Royal troops on their way to Old North Bridge to secure an arms cache. It witnessed the Battle of Concord and it’s not far from Walden Pond, where poet and writer Henry David Thoreau lived for more than two years. The Orchard House property itself (which Louisa jokingly called “Apple Slump”), houses Bronson Alcott’s School of Philosophy. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Louisa May Alcott and her family are buried on Author’s Ridge along with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, is less than a mile from the property.
The amount of history saturating this beautiful land and this historic home led me to revisit both the town of Concord and the story of Little Women as an adult. What I found there stirred my heart anew. The authentic struggles, the themes of sisterhood, friendship, forgiveness, and helping the downtrodden, touched me deeply. I could imagine the March sisters in the home Louisa had written her novel. I knew these walls. They drew me to the author herself.
As I dug deep into Louisa’s biographies, stories, letters, and journals, my admiration for this untraditional but brave lady grew tenfold. When I learned of her time as a nurse during the Civil War and read of her experiences caring for a young blacksmith who would end up dying, and her subsequent near-death experience with typhoid shortly after, I felt the beautiful burden to pen a story which would springboard off of Louisa’s experiences.
|Louisa May Alcott's resting place|
The result was my dual timeline novel, The Orchard House. It’s amazing how, after I finished this story, so dear to my heart, I couldn’t quite imagine leaving Louisa May Alcott or her Little Women. So I then ventured to write my first series, a contemporary retelling of Louisa’s much-loved classic with a few twists and turns.
While I love so many things about Louisa and Little Women, the part that touches me the most is how readers today are still flocking to this story, this lady, and her home. The history, the characters, and the experiences Louisa so brilliantly pulled from life and put onto the page are marks of a truly remarkable legacy.
Heidi Chiavaroli is a writer, runner, and grace-clinger who could spend hours exploring places that whisper of historical secrets. Her debut novel, Freedom's Ring, was a Carol Award winner and a Christy Award finalist, a Romantic Times Top Pick, and a Booklist Top Ten Romance Debut. Her latest dual timeline novel, The Orchard House, is inspired by the lesser-known events in Louisa May Alcott's life. Heidi makes her home in Massachusetts with her husband and two sons. Visit her online at heidichiavaroli.com or http://www.heidichiavaroli.com/the-orchard-house/
THE ORCHARD HOUSE
By Heidi Chiavaroli
Two women, one living in present day Massachusetts and another in Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House soon after the Civil War, overcome their own personal demons and search for a place to belong.