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Louisa May Alcott's Flower Fairies

Louisa May Alcott and Flower Fairies

Well before Little Women (1868-69), Louisa May Alcott wrote a book of stories about flower fairies that she had first told to Ralph Waldo Emerson's daughter, Ellen. The Alcott family had moved in across the street from the Emersons when Louisa was an adolescent. Ellen Emerson was about five years younger than her imaginative neighbor, Louisa.

Flower Fables, published in 1854, was Alcott's first book-length work. This later British edition has lovely illustrations by Harry Fitzner Davey. I'm particularly fond of his image of oxlips (Primula elatior). Oxlip is a plant native to Europe, but it was introduced to America in the 18th century, according to Denise Wiles Adams in Restoring American Gardens. So it is possible that the Emersons or Alcotts (though more likely the Emersons), grew it in their garden.

This illustration also taught me that cowslips, which I had always read as "cow-slips" should have been read as "cows-lips." Who knew?

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