Louisa May Alcott and Buddhism

Louisa May Alcott wasn´t Buddhist, but there were elements in Buddhist philosophy that she appreciated and intertwined with her own Christian faith. In a letter to her friend Maggie Lukens Louisa writes “I like the simple beliefs of the Buddhist, that peaceful life should be in everyone´s reach”.

Louisa believed in reincarnation, and that she had lived multiple lives and would continue living many lives. Louisa often envied her sister’s marriages and she writes that in her next life she is going to get her “award”, a husband and a family because she had done so many sacrifices in her life that she “deserves it”.

Louisa was born into New England´s transcendentalist movement. It was a Christian movement, but often the transcendentalist faced mockery and was even called heretics because of their beliefs. When Louisa was young, her father was actually accused of being Buddhist.

The transcendentalist had a very pantheistic belief about the world. They believed that God was present everywhere and that nature was his highest achievement and that nature was God´s manifestation.

Louisa believed in Jesus but to her, he represented more of the practical side of Christianity and she believed that good deeds bring fulfilment to one´s life.

In Little Women, there are references to both of these ideologies. In the book Little Men, Jo happily witnesses how her nephew Demi tells the story of Jesus and the fishermen to the orphan boy Nat. In Little Women Jo quite literally falls in love with Professor Bhaer when he defends religion against atheism. Even though Friedrich is written to be a German character, he is a lot closer to the transcendentalist philosophers like Henry David Thoreau and Emerson who Louisa both loved and adored.

Jo and Friedrich manifest the author´s ideas of practical Christianity when they want to work for their future together, same with Amy when she inspires Laurie to become more productive and leave his lazy ways. Seeing nature as divine can be seen in the books when Jo and Friedrich do long nature walks together and in the sequels, they give garden patches for their students and Friedrich speaks about the world as “God´s garden” (which is an actual quote from Thoreau).

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Illustrator, writer and folklorist. Likes cats, tea and period dramas. A host of the Little Women Podcast.

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Illustrator, writer and folklorist. Likes cats, tea and period dramas. A host of the Little Women Podcast.