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Book Club Discussion Guide for The Other Alcott

1. At the end of Part 1, when Alice tells May that “a thinking woman…sounds dangerous,” what does she mean? What made a “thinking woman” dangerous in the late 1800s?

2. How does May change over the course of the story? What moments mark critical turning points in her journey?

3. What is your perception of the relationship between Louisa and May? How did Louisa’s financial support of May affect their feelings toward each other?

4. What were the challenges that women faced while studying art? How were these challenges different in America and in Europe?

Photo credit: Frances Benjamin Johnston, “Academy Julian, Paris, group of art students” ca. 1885

Photo credit: Frances Benjamin Johnston, “Academy Julian, Paris, group of art students” ca. 1885

5. When May marries Ernest suddenly, do you think it’s because as Louisa says, “she’s unmoored”? What do you think contributed to May’s quick decision to marry?

6. Louisa appears to send conflicting messages about May’s marriage to Ernest—she discourages her from doing it, but then sends a substantial check as a wedding present—how do you think she felt about May’s decision to marry?

7. Between their beliefs on education, abolitionism, woman suffrage, amongst other causes (Bronson was also vegetarian),  the Alcotts were viewed as radicals and seen as unconventional. What do you think it was like to grow up as part of this family? As the youngest family member, how difficult do you think it was it for May to grow up in this family? In what ways does she seem to forge her own identity, separate from that of her family?

8. What do you think it would be like to have a family member write a thinly-veiled account of your life? Since May doesn’t think Little Women was a favorable portrayal of her, how would that shape her relationship with her family?

9. Louisa struggles with the tension that exists between the success of Little Women and feeling trapped by being famous for something that she didn’t really want to write. Did you empathize with her feelings? What would it be like to become famous for something you resented?

10. At the end of the novel, the author provides a Postscript with more information about all of the characters. Was there anything in there that surprised you?

11. Of the two sisters, Louisa is infinitely more famous. Were you surprised by anything you learned about her in this novel? Were any of your previous impressions of her challenged by this new information?

12. Louisa remains dutiful to her family to the end and continues to write stories that the market welcomes so that she earn money to support her family while Mary Cassatt breaks from the establishment creates work that satisfies her? Which character can you relate to more? Do you understand the motivations behind both women?