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Reading Series – The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott Discussion Questions

During the month of April, quite a few of us are reading or have read The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O’Connor McNees. This is a lovely imagined novel about Louisa May Alcott about where her inspiration for Jo and Laurie may have come from.

I’m giddy with excitement to have Kelly here in real time answering any questions you might have on Wednesday, April 14th at 6:00pm PT.  If you’ve read The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, or are curious about it, please mark your calendars and join us as we discuss the book with Kelly! If you have questions for Kelly, please email them to me at trish@heyladydotcom. I’ll be gathering questions for the author in anticipation of her appearance next Wednesday!

Here is a synopsis of the book, followed by a few discussion questions:

In the summer of 1855, Walt Whitman’s controversial Leaves of Grass has just been released, and the notion of making a living as a writer is still a far-off dream for Louisa. She is twenty-two years old, vivacious, and bursting with a desire to be free of her family and societal constraints so she can do what she loves the most—write. The Alcott family, destitute, as usual, moves to a generous uncle’s empty house in Walpole, New Hampshire, for the summer. Here, a striking but pensive Louisa meets the fictional Joseph Singer. Louisa is initially unimpressed by Joseph’s charms. But just as Louisa begins to open her heart, she learns that Joseph may not be free to give his away. Their newfound love carries a steep price, and Louisa fears she may pay with the independence she has fought so hard to protect.

Readers! Let’s get the discussion started! These are just a few questions to get you thinking…you don’t have to answer them all. Please feel free to add your own questions, and respond to each other’s answers, too.

1. What was your overall view of the book?  Did you enjoy it?  Was it what you expected?

2. What kind of details did the author provide that you felt added to the historical authenticity of the book?

3. Before you read this book, is this even remotely similar to what you imagined Louisa May Alcott’s life as being?

4. How did you feel about Louisa’s father? How did you feel about Louisa’s mother?

5. Do you think Louisa’s father played any role in her not wanting to get married?

6. Did you agree with Louisa that it wouldn’t have been possible to have both love and freedom?

7. What do you think the author’s message was?

8. Was the ending what you imagined and/or what you hoped for?

9. Did reading The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott make you want to reread Little Women, or perhaps pick it up for the first time?

I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott. Thanks for participating in the read along!  And don’t forget to join us on April 14th for our discussion with Kelly!

29 comments »

29 Responses to “Reading Series – The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott Discussion Questions”

  1. Nikola

    I love Little Women and I wonder how come I’ve never heard about this book before. Will try and participate on the 14th, but it’s a little hard because of the time difference.

    One thing I’ll most certainly do is read this book! 🙂

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Well I hope to see you here on the 14th, but I totally understand about the time difference! If nothing else, let me know what you thought of the book. 🙂

    [Reply]

  2. Carey

    I really loved this book, the research Kelly did was obvious and added such dimension to the story. I knew quite a bit already about Louisa May Alcott, I knew her father was a philosopher and a transendentalist. But I never gave any thought as to what that meant for family life! It was shocking to think what kind of meagre life they led because their father refused to do any kind of work that brought money in. To scrape by on what amounts to charity must have been so difficult. It is no wonder that Louisa’s mother had bouts of depression…anyone would. The sheer amount of daily chores required to keep a household of six running is exhausting just to think about.

    It says so much about Louisa’s personality that she would think to herself “I’m not having THAT!”, despite the fact that conventions of the time called for marriage and children.

    Maybe she never met a man that made her waiver in her goals…maybe she did, much as Kelly imagines. Either way, I think this book gets her personality and spirit exactly right.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    I agree, Carey, that the book seemed to get her spirit just right. Though I admit I was surprised that the family wasn’t more derisive of their father, seeing as how he purposefully kept them in poverty. It shows a lot about their father that they didn’t outright hate him. LOL

    [Reply]

    Jilleen Reply:

    I agree with both of you. I did not know much about LMA, but have read Little Women. I really liked this book and felt that a lot of research went into the book based on all this “little” details scattered throughout each page. I was surprised how much I like this book. It is not my typical genre and yet I couldn’t put it down. I am not a fast reader; however, I finished this book in 5 days.

    [Reply]

  3. Lisamm

    I really enjoyed the book too and feel much like Carey, above. I found myself getting angry with the father for refusing to work so he could think his high and mighty thoughts- I mean, how convenient to have a philosophy against working!!, while the mother and sisters worked their a**es off just so they could stay afloat.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    It showed a lot of hubris on the father’s part to not work. It was obvious that the needs of his family didn’t factor in to his philisophical beliefs. Sad, really.

    [Reply]

  4. Lisamm

    I hit ‘submit comment’ before I meant to.

    The marriage that was being modeled by her parents shaped her ideas and it’s not too surprising she didn’t want any part of THAT action!

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Lisa, I totally agree! If I saw a marriage like Louisa’s parents’, I would believe that love and marriage couldn’t go hand in hand, nor would I believe that a woman could get married and still follow her dreams. It seemed to me like Louisa’s father crippled Louisa in that aspect. Obviously marriage is no cake walk, but there’s something to be said for having someone stand by and cheer you on through life.

    [Reply]

  5. Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti

    Like most women I been a fan of Louisa May Alcott ever since I read “Little Women,” but I knew she was deeper than that semi autobiographical novel portrayed. I’ve read her book, “Hospital Sketches'” and some of her short stores as well as excerpts from her journals in an anthology, so I felt the author portrayed her real life conditions and actions very well. “The Lost Summer” was very believable and it’s love story a very plausible imagined reason as to why Alcott could describe her protagonists,Jo and Laurie, being in love so well in “Little Women,” as the author suggests.

    My only complaint was that the element of suspense was missing, as we were obviously foreshadowed as to what would happen in the end. That is always a danger when dealing with such a well known subject. I’m sure many casual Alcott readers will be surprised to learn more about her parents and sisters, and the circumstances of her family life, however, so that will make this an enticing book to read.

    I believe that an intelligent and independent woman such a Louisa must have realized that there were very few women’s rights in our country, during the era in which she lived, and if she married all her intellectual property rights would be owned by her husband. I would not be surprised if she did indulge in romantic affairs in her lifetime, although she wrote in her journals that she was often ill, sad and lonely.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    That’s an interesting point about intellectual property rights being owned by her husband. I kind of wish the author had touched on that now!

    And I have to admit, I was kind of hoping the author would end the book differently…I mean, I know it’s based on a real person who made real decisions, but can’t I just PRETEND that she could have her cake and eat it too? It just breaks my heart that she was often ill, sad and lonely. It makes me wonder what her life had been like if she’d chosen love over writing.

    [Reply]

  6. Ti

    1. What was your overall view of the book? Did you enjoy it? Was it what you expected?

    To be honest with you, I expected it to be flowery and romantic and it wasn’t like that at all. Sure, there was an element of romance but it was handled in a very adult way, and I found it to be quite charming.

    2. What kind of details did the author provide that you felt added to the historical authenticity of the book?

    I loved all of the literary references and I especially loved how the author managed to work in the books that Alcott loved at the time.

    3. Before you read this book, is this even remotely similar to what you imagined Louisa May Alcott’s life as being?

    I’d say that Louisa is pretty much how I pictured her in my mind. A strong woman with a strong sense of family but not frivolous by any means. I would have liked to have seen some pics of Louisa and her family in the back of the book though. I had an ARC so perhaps this is included in the final print.

    4. How did you feel about Louisa’s father? How did you feel about Louisa’s mother?

    Louisa’s father was so frustrating at times but I also sort of understood him. I work for a university and I see this mentality with the faculty I work with ALL THE TIME. They think themselves brilliant and fear that the everyday trifles of making a living interfere with that brilliance.

    Louisa’s mother was interesting. It bothered me how she coddled May but I could sort of understand that too. She seemed pretty patient over all but did seem to lay it on the line when she needed to. I imagine that with four daughters she’d have to have some filters in place or she’s lose her mind.

    5. Do you think Louisa’s father played any role in her not wanting to get married?

    Oh I’m sure it did. Louisa’s mother was a very intelligent woman but she almost seemed to be a prisoner in her own home. Forced to keep the household together with such little money, and little help from her husband had to have been quite a chore. But, she had children to raise and care for and she seemed to feel it was her duty to do so. I’m sure Louisa saw this as a death sentence.

    How could she possibly have the career she wants when her entire day would be spent caring for her family?

    6. Did you agree with Louisa that it wouldn’t have been possible to have both love and freedom?

    Although I could see her point, I did not agree with this assumption. I believe it comes down to the two people involved and in this case, I feel she was wrong in thinking that you cannot have both love and freedom.

    7. What do you think the author’s message was?

    Interesting question. I’m not sure. The essence of time is important at the end of the novel. What has passed cannot be retrieved but I sort of think that McNees wants the reader to know of the sacrifices that Louisa made to become the writer that we’ve all come to love.

    8. Was the ending what you imagined and/or what you hoped for?

    It is what I imagined, but not what I hoped for. I suppose I wanted to see her have it all but given her stubborn streak, it would not have been feasible or believable if that had been the case.

    9. Did reading The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott make you want to reread Little Women, or perhaps pick it up for the first time?

    I read half of Little Women some time ago and never picked it up again. I loved it, but I got sidetracked and never did go back to it. Reading Lost Summer has made me want to go back and read it from beginning to end.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Ti, I’m TOTALLY with you on the story being what I imagined but not what I hoped for. I was secretly hoping the author would alter history…

    I also agree that Louisa was wrong about only being able to have love OR freedom, but not both. That definitely depends on the people involved in the relationship, and also their intentions. I mean, surely they had birth control back then (however crude), it’s not like having kids would be automatic if she got married.

    [Reply]

  7. sarah pekkanen

    I have this book in my living room and cannot wait to dive into it.. I still have the copy of Little Women my grandmother gave me when I was about 11. I’ve read it a dozen times. If I can finish reading in time I’ll pop by for the discussion!

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    We’d love it if you could join us, Sarah!

    How cool to have the copy of Little Women that your grandmother gave you! I must admit, I have a copy of Black Beauty that my grandmother gave me, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never read it all the way through.

    [Reply]

  8. Audra

    This book is high on my TBR but I’m thrilled to see the live chat with the author! I’m a new reader to this blog so I don’t know how the chats go — do I just surf on over here before it begins?

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Yup! Just come over here on April 14th around 6pm PT, and refresh the screen to see the new comments come up. 🙂

    [Reply]

  9. zibilee

    I thought the life Louisa’s father chose to live was very strange. It almost seemed that he was just lazy and shiftless and concocted a belief system that would allow him to live with no responsibilities. I felt sad for the girls that they had to beg and borrow just to survive, and I think that might have been one of the reasons that Louisa was so gruff all of the time. I think I mostly felt sorry for their mother because the girls had the option of leaving at some point, but she had to stay no matter what.

    I also was hoping that the book would end differently than it did. I knew that it had to be historically accurate, but it was so very sad!

    I am interested in finding out if Louisa’s personality in the book was a true to life reflection. Was she always so guarded and gruff? I wondered about that the whole time I was reading.

    I am so looking forward to what the author has to say!

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    That’s a good question, Zibilee, about whether Louisa’s personality in the book was a true to life reflection. Let’s be sure to ask the author that!

    [Reply]

  10. Alyce

    I just got this book in the mail via LibraryThing and wish I had time to read it before the discussion (oh for a time travel machine or more hours in the day). I’ll have to come back and revisit this post and the one on the 14th after I’ve read the book.

    [Reply]

  11. Colleen (Books in the City)

    I love Little Women but haven’t read it since I was a child – reading this book really brought so much of it back to me. Since Little Women is based on LMA’s own life, the parallels in her relationships with her sisters and those of Little Women were obvious. I was not aware, however, of how passionate LMA was on independence and equality with men. I did feel it was a shame that she felt the need to deny herself the love she so obviously wanted in order to pursue her career as a writer. At one point, she imagines how the housework she will need to perform as a wife will interfere with her ability to devote time to writing – I kept thinking “It doesn’t have to be all or nothing!” What a relief that those choices are not ones women face today even though there are other trade-offs as women contemplate a career and family!

    [Reply]

  12. Kristi

    I really enjoyed this book – thanks for the opportunity to be part of the Reading Series! Looking forward to joining the conversation on Wednesday night.

    Louisa’s father drove me crazy in the book – it seemed almost as if his goals were a cover for being self-absorbed. I think that her father absolutely played a role in Louisa not wanting to get married. I believe Louisa may have seen the relationship of her parents as a deterrent to marriage – there were certainly examples of this in the book. I also think that it was possible that Louisa may have realized the she was similar to her father and felt the need to concentrate on herself and and her writing, without sacrificing the relationships with her spouse or future children. It’s possible that she wasn’t sure that she wouldn’t turn out just like him.

    I’m such a sucker for love that I hate to think that its not possible to have both love and freedom, so I really hope that Louisa was wrong.

    I haven’t read Little Women since I was about twelve, but I do want to read it again, with a new perspective – even though imagined – of the person behind Jo’s character.

    [Reply]

  13. Literate Housewife

    I have 20 more pages to go, but here are my answers to most of the questions:

    1. I did enjoy the book. I don’t know much about Louisa May Alcott as a woman and I was a little surprised, but happy to discover how much her family matched the family in Little Women. My one issue was a decision that Louisa made about Joseph. I really was not able to believe that this was something that she would have done.

    2. Clothing. More than anything else, I think the description of the clothes put me in the right time period. I loved the back and forth about whether or not to wear crinolines.

    3. Although I suppose it makes a good deal of sense, I really didn’t think that Little Women was about Alcott’s life at all. I need to look more into the lives of my favorite authors.

    4. Louisa’s father infuriated me. The man never should have been married. Louisa’s mother is an example of making a poor marital choice. I felt sorry for her.

    5. Would you want to get married if you were female and lived with that man? Nuff said.

    6. I do. Part of love and marriage is becoming a team and there is give and take to that (moreso now than in the past, but still…). However, I don’t think that a person can truly be free even without love and marriage. There will always be something restricting you, even if it’s just your own conscience. In Boston, Louisa may have been living on her own, but she had to pay her bills and she worried about sending money home to her family. It’s just not that simple.

    9. Most definitely! I haven’t read Little Women in ages. It also made me want to read her other novels. I am woefully behind the times.

    [Reply]

  14. Jenny

    I definitely want to read Little Women now!! Well, I’ve read at least part of it if not all a long time ago, so maybe it’s a re-read. The one part I really couldn’t understand, though, was why if she was with Joseph they had to go to NY. During their last time almost together I kept thinking why can’t he just stay in Boston with her?? I wonder if I missed something regarding that.

    Louisa’s father irritated me… I found him to be selfish, caring only for himself and not for his family. I guess that may have had something to do with why Louisa was so against marriage, because she knew she wouldn’t be able to emotionally devote herself to a husband and family.

    Trish, where do we go for the discussion tomorrow?

    [Reply]

  15. pat czarnecki

    I can’t believe she caved to Joseph, after all her talk of independence. I am Very dissapointed.

    [Reply]

  16. heidenkind

    Overall, I ADORED this book and thought it was great. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but I surprised at how charming it was.

    2. What kind of details did the author provide that you felt added to the historical authenticity of the book?

    One of the details that really struck me was putting sprigs of rosemary into the dresses so they didn’t get musty waiting to be worn. I was like, “How does the author know that!” I also loved the detail where Whitman didn’t put his name on Leaves of Grass, just his picture, and that people thought he looked like a rogue.

    3. Before you read this book, is this even remotely similar to what you imagined Louisa May Alcott’s life as being?

    I guess I imagined her more like Jo, to be honest–but now that I’ve read this book, I can see where Jo might be more like what LMA wishes she was like.

    4. How did you feel about Louisa’s father? How did you feel about Louisa’s mother?

    WELL, I think Bronson is really the central character of the book, and I found him absolutely fascinating. On one hand, I do admire his idealism, and I can even understand why he refuses to compromise that. On the other hand, I felt like he was living in a complete fantasy world and not acting very responsibly.

    As for Louisa’s mother, you got to feel her. But I don’t think she did her daughters any favors by carrying Bronson along and acting like a workhorse. It certainly gave Louisa a skewed idea of marriage. Yes, Bronson is unreasonable, but she didn’t have to accept his dictates–she didn’t have to drag her kids to a commune. She didn’t have to stay with Bronson, either, if she was so unhappy.

    5. Do you think Louisa’s father played any role in her not wanting to get married?

    Yes, but mostly in the fact that I thought Louisa and Bronson were very similar, personality-wise. They’re both completely uncompromising; Bronson won’t compromise his idealism, and Louisa won’t compromise her writing her career.

    6. Did you agree with Louisa that it wouldn’t have been possible to have both love and freedom?

    For her, probably. But other people could have made it work.

    7. What do you think the author’s message was?

    Compromise is good? I really have no idea.

    8. Was the ending what you imagined and/or what you hoped for?

    Well, I have to say I thought the ending was pretty lame. I didn’t need to hear the list of people who had died. I was happy LMA and Joseph met again, but it was pretty damn convenient he all of sudden fell in love with what’s-her-name and had a good life. =/

    9. Did reading The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott make you want to reread Little Women, or perhaps pick it up for the first time?

    No. 😛 It did make me want to read other historical novels set in America, though.

    [Reply]

  17. Jilleen

    1. What was your overall view of the book? Did you enjoy it? Was it what you expected?

    As stated in a reply above, I LOVED this book. It is not at all my typical genre and yet I couldn’t wait to pick it back up again. This book just pulled me in. The book was NOT at all what I expected. I thought I would have to force myself through it, but I had to force myself to go to work in the mornings! I am a slow reader and I finished this in 5 days. With three young children, working 60 + hours a week, it can take me a month to complete a book – so to read it 5 days should tell you plenty!

    2. What kind of details did the author provide that you felt added to the historical authenticity of the book?

    I loved the way Kelly scattered little pieces historic authenticity through every page of the book. For example, in prayer, I noticed “Almighty Friend,” charity candles, horse hair couch, description of their clothing, when she got her period – goodness! How much more historical could that be!

    3. Before you read this book, is this even remotely similar to what you imagined Louisa May Alcott’s life as being?

    Since I am not a Little Women “fan” (enjoyed the book years ago, but not my cup of tea) I didn’t have any expectations of what LMA’s life was like. However, it brought back a lot of similarities to Little Women, which put me right where I would have imagined LMAs life. It just never crossed my mind until reading the book. While reading the book, I could just picture her life so clearly.

    4. How did you feel about Louisa’s father? How did you feel about Louisa’s mother?

    LMA’s father…what to say regarding him that hasn’t been said above…..hmmm….my mom always said if you didn’t have anything nice to say….I really didn’t like him at all. I can’t believe he didn’t work and thought of himself above everyone else (that is the way he came across to me). He was lazy and selfish. He should have been caring for his family and working. I wonder how different he might have been had he had 4 sons instead fo 4 daughters. As for LMA’s mother…..At times I thought her a saint for putting up with Bronson, but I often thought she was a bit odd. I think she treated Lizzie like an infant. However, that is probably how they treated “sickness” back in the days! I was surprised when Abba stood up to Bronson when the girls where making candles. Way to go Mermee! BTW-is there a story behind that name – why not call her mom, mother, etc.?

    5. Do you think Louisa’s father played any role in her not wanting to get married?

    At first I would have said no, but the more I think about the question. I am pretty sure she would have never wanted to marry anyone like her father. I think she was a women before her time. Too smart and independent! Go LMA!

    6. Did you agree with Louisa that it wouldn’t have been possible to have both love and freedom?

    I have to agree with LMA that it would not have been possible to have both love and freedom back in the late 1800s. Today, yes. We’ve come a long way, baby!

    7. What do you think the author’s message was?

    Wow, what a question. A total guess on my part – believe in yourself and follow YOUR dreams. Be happy with YOUR choices you have made. Also, how far we have come as women. LMA – I hear your roar!

    8. Was the ending what you imagined and/or what you hoped for?

    I have to agree with the comment above. It did end the way I thought, but was hoping for something different. I am not disappointed at all. I really liked the book.

    9. Did reading The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott make you want to reread Little Women, or perhaps pick it up for the first time?

    I am not interested in reading Little Women right now. I know there will come a time when my twin daughters will want to read it – I will re-read it at that time. I do love the movie though. I will probably watch that soon!

    Trish, thank you so much for the opportunity to read this book and be part of the discussion. I truly enjoyed it. Thanks to Kelly for writing such a fabulous book. MP, thanks for all your advice.

    [Reply]

  18. Susan Gregg Gilmore

    Are we underway Trish??

    [Reply]

  19. The Life You’ve Imagined by Kristina Riggle – Virtual Book Club « Devourer of Books

    […] By the way, thanks for the inspiration for this book club go to Trish from HeyLady.net and her Reading Series for “The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott” by Kelly O’Connor […]

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