Inscribed carte-de-visite.New York, Howell, May 1882 Stock Code: 137833
NotesA delightfully personal memento, a carte-de-visite inscribed on the verso by Alcott to her friend Mary Williams, "Betsey from Sairy May 1882"; with an identifying note in an unknown hand below the author's inscription: "Sairy Louisa M Alcott, Betsey Mary H. Williams". The names of "Sairy" and "Betsey" were taken from the characters of the bibulous nurse Sairey Gamp and her assistant Betsey Prig in Martin Chuzzlewit, a novel which includes Dickens's "lively satirizing of American manners and institutions" (ODNB). Alcott particularly enjoyed playing Sairey Gamp in skits for family and friends: "The scenes from Dickens dramatized by Louisa were among the best of the productions. Louisa and Anna Alcott as Sairey Gamp and Betsey Prig were inimitable, and Louisa was greatly given to quoting the language of these to worthies" (Alfred Whitman, "Laurie", 1857).
The recipient was Mary ("Betsey") Williams (née Bartholomew Houston) of Germantown, Pennsylvania, where Alcott was born on 29 November 1832 and where the Alcott family lived for two years. Louisa May Alcott returned as a published author to visit her birthplace, and stayed with Mary and her husband, Francis Howard Williams (18441922), a Philadelphia literary critic and author who was well-connected to a large circle of contemporary poets, writers, editors, and publishers, including Walt Whitman. Alcott's visit was an occasion of great moment, especially to the children of the town: "When I was a little girl, Louisa Alcott came to visit Mr and Mrs Francis Williams... and when Miss Alcott said she wanted to meet some of the girls of Germantown to compare them with Little Women, I was one of the invited. We all sat on the floor at Miss Alcott's feet and answered and asked questionsa memorable occasion for a little girl!" (Miller and Callard). Mary Williams herself wrote an account of the visit, recalling Alcott's afternoon with the girls slightly differently: "It gives a little insight in the lives of those who attain fame, to note one or two of the calls made upon Miss Alcott during her stay in Germantown. One Sunday afternoon nine girls came by permission to pay their respects to the then famous authoress, and to satisfy themselves upon some doubtful points in "Little Women." Such questions as "Did Beth really have the scarlet fever?" "Was Laurie an American boy?" "Why did he not marry Joe?" "Who was Mr. Laurence?" "Was Joe really literary," etc., etc., followed in such rapid succession that Miss Alcott could hardly find voice to answer. After the interview she was a mental wreck for some hours, so much so, that there was scant welcome for two little boys who called in the evening".
Alcott wrote from her holiday home in Nonquitt to Mary three months after sending this carte-de-visite: "We have been here since July, and are all hearty, brown, and gay as larks. John Inglesant was too political for me a reference to Joseph Henry Shorthouse's highly successful novel of 1881. I am too lazy here to read much; mean to find a den in Boston and work for a month or two; then fly off to New York, and perhaps run over and see my Betsey. I shall be at home in October, and perhaps we may see you then, if the precious little shadow gets nice and well again, and I pray he may. Lulu has some trifling ail now and then,just enough to show me how dear she is to us all, and what a great void the loss of our little girl would make in hearts and home. She is very intelligent and droll. When I told her the other day that the crickets were hopping and singing in the grass with their mammas, she said at once, 'No; their Aunt Weedys.' Aunty is nearer than mother to the poor baby; and it is very sweet to have it so, since it must be. Now, my blessed Betsey, keep a brave heart, and I am sure all will be well in the nest" (Letters, 25 August 1882). The reference to Lulu is to her niece, Louisa May "Lulu" Nieriker, whom Alcott adopted after her sister Abigail died in childbirth in 1880. Alcott also corresponded with Mary's husband Francis the following year, requesting permission for the Concord Dramatic Club to perform his play, "Higher Education," before the Lyceum in November (Letters, 10 October 1883).
The image depicts Alcott at 50 years of age, captured in 1882 by the celebrated New York photographer William R. Howell, best known for his political, society and theatrical portraiture, numbering among his sitters Cornelius Vanderbilt, George Armstrong Custer, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Sepia-toned albumen print portrait by Howell of New York (105 x 64 mm).
Slight crease to top half of image, light toning and wear, small spot along the bottom edge that does not affect the inscription or image. In very good condition.
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