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American Masters: Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women

Airs Monday, December 28, 2009 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Elizabeth Marvel as Louisa May Alcott, who loved to run.

Louisa May Alcott
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Above: Louisa May Alcott

The author of "Little Women" is an almost universally recognized name. Her reputation as a morally upstanding New England spinster, reflecting the conventional propriety of late 19th-century Concord, is firmly established. However, raised among reformers and Transcendentalists and skeptics, the intellectual protege of Emerson and Hawthorne and Thoreau, Alcott was actually a free thinker with democratic ideals and progressive values about women -- a worldly careerist of sorts.

Most surprising is that she led, under the pseudonym A.M. Barnard, a literary double life, undiscovered until the 1940s. As Barnard, Alcott penned scandalous, sensational works with characters running the gamut from murderers and revolutionaries to cross-dressers and opium addicts -- a far cry from her familiar fatherly mentors, courageous mothers and appropriately impish children.

Watch a preview plus outtakes from the film.

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