How Louisa May Alcott Disappointed Me

Unearthing the UnearthlyIt’s become fairly well known that, besides writing classics such as Little Women, Louisa May Alcott wrote a number of sensationalist thrillers and used the pen name A.M. Barnard. I had hoped that maybe — just maybe — one of these would feature an occult detective or ghost hunter character.

Sadly, no.  But here’s what I found.

One of the Barnard works is The Abbot’s Ghost; or, Maurice Treherne’s Temptation (1867). There is a mystery in this story. And there is a ghost. Sadly, there’s no detective.

We come a bit closer with a short story written under Alcott’s own name, “Jerseys; or, The Girl’s Ghost” (1884). Here, a ghostly event occurs at “Madame Stein’s select boarding-school” for girls. Sally, one of the students there, spots it first. Her sighting is corroborated, and this prompts the stalwart girl to do a more thorough investigation. I’ll just say that, sometimes, things are not what they appear to be — and that this tale is a very kid-safe kind of ghost fiction.

Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)

I was surprised to learn that Alcott (using her initials, L.M.A.) penned a mummy story! It’s a pretty good one, too, though critics have pointed out there are a number of earlier mummy stories that appear to have served as her model. Titled “Lost in a Pyramid; or, The Mummy’s Curse” (1869), this is conventional horror fiction in that it follows the victim of a supernatural entity — and one might easily argue that the supernatural entity is victimized first — but there’s no investigation into the case by any character serving as a detective.

So, unless I missed a story, Alcott disappointed me. I won’t be adding another big-name author to my Chronological Bibliography of Occult Detectives. She will not be joining the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, or Willa Cather. However, it was interesting to learn that the author of Little Women came close!


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