Discovery of Louisa May Alcott work found under new pseudonym, researcher says by Cody Mello-Klein November 8, 2023 Share Mastodon Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Louisa May Alcott is most well known for writing “Little Women,” but Max Chapnick’s discovery of a potential new pseudonym for the author could reveal how some of her earliest work was just as subversive. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) About a dozen stories and poems believed to have been written by “Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott have been found by a Northeastern researcher. The work was written under a previously unidentified pseudonym. Alcott is known to have gone by several pseudonyms over the course of her career, including Flora Fairfield, Tribulation Periwinkle and L.M.A., but E.H. Gould is a potential new moniker discovered by Max Chapnick, a postdoctoral teaching associate in English at Northeastern. After combing through digital and physical archives, Chapnick unearthed about a dozen previously unattributed Alcott stories, poems or nonfiction works. He also found even more that Alcott had written either anonymously, under known pseudonyms or, in the case of one story, under her own name. Chapnick’s work started as part of his dissertation on 19th-century fiction and pseudoscience, before arriving at Northeastern. One section focused on Alcott because before she became known as the author of “Little Women,” she wrote a series of Gothic stories, thrillers and potboilers in the 1860s. She wrote many of them under the pseudonym A.M. Barnard, which was found in the 1940s by rare book dealers Madeleine Stern and Leona Rostenberg. Max Chapnick, Northeastern postdoctoral teaching associate in English. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University However, there are still references to stories that haven’t been found, including one called “The Phantom” that scholars have long thought could be written by her because of a passing reference to the story in her journals. Considering the focus of his dissertation, the title immediately raised Chapnick’s interest –– and hopes. “I thought if I could find it, I could put it in my dissertation,” Chapnick says. In 2021, he started hunting for the story in digital archives and eventually found it in an 1860 edition of a newspaper called The Olive Branch, housed in the American Antiquarian Society’s digital archives. The only hitch: It wasn’t written by Alcott but someone named E.H. Gould. I was like, ‘OK, it’s not Alcott, I’ll keep going,’” Chapnick says. “Then, later that night, I thought, ‘What if it is actually Alcott?’” That eureka moment sent him on a weeks-long hunt scouring the AAS digital archives and combing through microfiche in Boston Public Library in search of more work by E.H. Gould. The more he found, the more he started to find a web of connections to Alcott. “[The stories] used the Alcott name for some of the characters,” Chapnick says. “The name of her house, which was called The Wayside, was written about in one of those stories. … They were [written] in this time between two bursts of productivity where she had been asking the specific editor of these newspapers where these stories were published if she could publish there.” The physical version of “The Phantom,” which appeared in The Olive Branch in 1860 and is now housed in the American Antiquarian Society’s archive, had a fold that, when the document was digitized, obscured the first initial of the author’s name. American Antiquarian Society Writing under pseudonyms was a common practice for women like Alcott in the mid-19th century, especially if they wanted to write about more controversial topics. Chapnick describes “The Phantom” as Alcott’s take on “A Christmas Carol,” by one of her favorite writers, Charles Dickens. Instead of the story serving as just a morality tale about the evils of greed, Alcott’s story is also about the evils of exploiting women. In her telling, the Ebenezer Scrooge character “is not only a hoarder but he’s trying to strong-arm this young woman into marrying him because she’s poor,” Chapnick says. Chapnick’s discovery was almost thwarted by something as simple as a folded page. He originally searched for I.H. Gould, since the digitized version of “The Phantom” had a wrinkle folded over the page that masked the first initial. Fortunately, Elizabeth Pope, curator of books and digitized collections at AAS, found the original document and confirmed the writer’s name as E.H. Gould. “That’s why keeping those originals and having that to go back to is always so useful,” Pope says. “Having that original, being able to flatten out that wrinkle a little and see this is an ‘E’ really made all the difference.” Chapnick’s discovery is an example of how indispensable digitized archival materials have become in scholarly research, Pope says. AAS has made a concerted effort over the last 70 years to digitize the millions of materials it holds, starting with microfilm and microfiche and, more recently, using digital photography and scans. But some of the oldest materials are so delicate that AAS has had to say no to digitizing them. Those resources are still available in person, but making them digitally available in the future could open up even more avenues for researchers. “We’re particularly interested in all the stories that haven’t been told over the 200 years that we’ve been holding these materials and making them available to people,” Pope says. Chapnick is careful to say that he hasn’t found a “smoking gun” to tie the E.H. Gould stories and poems back to Alcott. But there’s enough circumstantial evidence, he says, to make it likely that she is, in fact, E.H. Gould. Chapnick aims to continue finding more evidence to make that likelihood into a certainty but hopes his discovery could help recontextualize an American literary legend, again. When Stern found the Barnard pseudonym, largely used to write Gothic stories and thrillers in the 1860s, it unlocked a wave of new feminist criticism that saw how Alcott was writing subversive, feminist literature well before “Little Women.” “Not only did she have this cool feminist stuff from the 1860s, but that is a culmination of 10 years of experimentation she did under other pseudonyms to even get to the point of [writing] these,” Chapnick says. This is also far from the end of discoveries when it comes to Alcott. “There’s a letter where she references having already published in three newspapers, and nobody has those stories,” Chapnick says. “I feel very confident that there are more stories out there that somebody else will find in the future.” Cody Mello-Klein is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on X/Twitter @Proelectioneer.