A researcher has uncovered a trove of stories and poems he believes to have been written under a pseudonym by Little Women author Louisa May Alcott.
In late 2021, American academic Max Chapnick read about a story, The Phantom, while working on his PhD. The story is known to be Alcott’s – it features in the lists the writer made of her works – but had not yet been found.
Searching through online databases of periodicals for The Phantom, Chapnick found a story with the correct title. However, the author name was “EH Gould”, so he initially dismissed it. Yet later that night, he had a new thought: “Oh wait, what if it’s her? What if it’s just another pseudonym she was using?”
Chapnick re-read the story and realised that there were “a lot” of clues pointing to the story being Alcott’s. The story is “in her style” and is a spoof on Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. “She loved Dickens and she acted in a lot of Dickens adaptations”, Chapnick said.
He then found other stories by Gould, which also contained clues: the last name of a main character is Alcott; the title of a non-fiction piece is The Wayside, which was the name of the Massachusetts house she lived in.
The academic has identified seven short stories in total, as well as five poems and one work of non-fiction, all of which he believes could have been written by Alcott under the Gould pen name in the late 1850s and early 1860s. And Alcott was already known to use pseudonyms – for example, she wrote gothic sensation novels under the name AM Barnard.
Though the stories are “likely” to be Alcott’s, Chapnick was keen to point out that it is “also possible that it’s not her”. There is “no smoking gun”, and he could not find references to the Gould name in Alcott’s letters.
The Gould stories are experimental and “less polished” than Alcott’s later work, and incorporate gothic and melodrama as well as sentimental elements. They were published in Boston Olive Branch, a newspaper.
“The cool thing about working on Louisa is that there’s still more out there,” said Chapnick, who is now a postdoctoral teaching associate in English at Northeastern University. There are stories on Alcott’s lists and referenced in her letters that have not been found.
“I like being part of this multi-generational community of Alcott detectives”, he added. “I want more people to chime in and say, ‘Is this Gould? Is this not Gould?’ I want more people to be inspired to go into the archive.”
Alcott, who died aged 55 in 1888, is best known for her 1868 novel Little Women and its sequels Good Wives, Little Men and Jo’s Boys. Little Women has been adapted for film seven times, most recently by Ladybird and Barbie director Greta Gerwig in 2019.
An early and unfinished story of Alcott’s, Aunt Nellie’s Diary, was published for the first time in 2020 by the Strand magazine, which called for writers to put themselves forward to finish the narrative.