The current issue of Strand Magazine (subscription) will give readers the chance to discover an obscure and unfinished Louisa May Alcott work of fiction—and to provide a conclusion themselves. Alcott's Aunt Nellie's Diary has rarely been seen since she drafted what may have been a novel or novella as a teenager in the late 1840s, per the AP. The 9,000-word fragment is narrated by the 40-year-old title character, and follows her observations as a romantic triangle appears to unfold among her orphaned niece Annie Ellerton, Annie's friend Isabel Loving, and the visiting Edward Clifford, "a tall, noble-looking" young man with a complicated past. Strand managing editor Andrew Gulli found a reference to the manuscript during an online search of Alcott's archives, stored at Harvard University's Houghton Library.
"What struck me was the maturity of the work," says Gulli. He notes the "main character is a single woman in her 40s, who defies many of the stereotypes of how women were portrayed in mid-19th century America." Because Aunt Nellie's Diary ends with various storylines unresolved, Gulli is inviting readers to complete the narrative. "We'll post guidelines in the coming weeks," he says. Alcott's reputation is defined by Little Women, the classic novel from the late 1860s about a New England family that was based on her own childhood, but she also published thrillers and children's stories. Alcott scholar Daniel Shealy says that Aunt Nellie’s Diary reflects what the author called her sentimental phase, her early immersion in such British authors as Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott. (Read more fiction stories.)