In 1849—nearly two decades before the release of Little Women—a teenaged Louisa May Alcott wrote “Aunt Nellie’s Diary,” an unfinished story that The Strand Magazine managing editor Andrew Gulli found buried in Harvard University’s Houghton Library archives earlier this year. It will be published for the first time ever in the spring edition of the magazine.
The 9000-word tale unfolds through a series of diary entries written by Aunt Nellie, an unmarried 40-year-old woman who watches as her orphaned niece, Annie Ellerton, competes with her friend, Isabel Loving, for the affections of a warm-hearted young gentleman named Edward Clifford. Annie’s somewhat shy nature is sharply contrasted by Isabel’s lively wit and “fine gay manner,” which Nellie fears may “conceal a cold unfeeling heart.”
The protagonist’s shrewd observations about human nature (“How often are we deceived by a bright exterior, little dreaming of the darkness within,” for example) are all the more impressive when you consider just how young Alcott was when she wrote them.
“When I found out from noted Alcott scholar Dan Shealy that Alcott was 17 when she wrote this, I was so surprised. Here was someone who managed to get into the psychology of someone much older than her,” Gulli tells Mental Floss. “She created a character who was independent and way ahead of her time.”
If that description seems evocative of another, more well-known Alcott character, it’s not a coincidence—Gulli thinks Aunt Nelly “definitely has echoes of Jo March."
Unfortunately, we’ll never know exactly how Alcott intended to conclude the story; it cuts off in the middle of a sentence, with various loose ends left untied. The Strand Magazine is planning to ask readers to submit their own endings, though details of the initiative haven’t been announced yet.
To read “Aunt Nellie’s Diary,” you can order a copy of The Strand Magazine for $10 here.