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Photo: PBS

The Alcott family looks over the galleys of Little Women in a scene filmed at Orchard House, the Alcott family home in Concord. Pictured (l-r): Daniel Gerroll as Bronson Alcott, Marianna Bassham as May, Elizabeth Marvel as Louisa, Dossy Peabody as Abigail and Linda Amendola as Anna.

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 mid-19th-century Concord, is firmly established. However, raised among reformers, 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.

American Masters: Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women, Monday at 10 p.m. on PBS 6.

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