As It Happens

Louisa May Alcott's unfinished story has been published for the first time — and you can write the ending

Andrew Gulli, editor of Strand Magazine, was blown away the first time he read the unpublished story written by Louisa May Alcott when she was a teen.

Aunt Nellie’s Diary, penned by Little Women author at age 17, ends mid-sentence

Aunt Nellie's Diary's is a classic teen love triangle penned by a 17-year-old Louisa May Alcott, who later wrote the classic Little Women. (Jeffrey McKeever/Strand Magazine)

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Andrew Gulli was blown away the first time he came upon a never-before-published story written by Little Women author Louisa May Alcott when she was just 17. 

As the editor of Strand Magazine, Gulli has made it his life's work to unearth unpublished works of literary value, so he's read the youthful ramblings of many famous authors. Usually, he said, they're not that good. 

"But in Alcott's case, when I read this, I had to go back to one of my friends who is an Alcott scholar, and I said, 'Are you sure the date is right on this? Are you sure that she was 17 when she wrote this?'" Gulli told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"I just was very surprised by the depth, the maturity, the humour, the dialogue, the characterization. It was really a shock."

Aunt Nellie's Diary — a 9,000 word story that remains unfinished — was published for the first time this week in Strand Magazine.

Alcott is best known for her novel Little Women. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Written in 1849, it tells the story of Nellie, a protective middle-aged woman raising her orphaned niece, Annie. When Annie's friend Isabel comes to visit, the two girls fall in love with the same boy and a classic love triangle ensues. 

Gulli said he unearthed the story from Houghton Library, a repository for rare books and manuscripts at Harvard University.

The writing, he said, is intriguing and engrossing, and "way, way ahead of its time" in its complex depiction of the titular Aunt Nellie.

But it cuts off suddenly mid-sentence about 9,000 words in, with the phrase, "I begged and prayed she would."

"To me, there's something fascinating about that," Gulli said. 

The most recent edition of Strand Magazine features Alcott's incomplete story. (Strand Magazine)

Now Strand readers will have the opportunity to complete not only that sentence, but the entire story. The magazine is holding a contest encouraging people to write their own endings to Aunt Nellie's Diary

Strand Magazine will then republish the completed story with the winner's ending. He said a deadline for submissions will be posted on the magazine's website within the next week or so. 

"I like to feel that this story hasn't ended there," Gulli said. "And when you're giving an up-and-coming writer a chance to complete an ending by one of the world's most beloved authors, who can ask for anything more?"

Gulli said he can't wait to read the submissions. 

"I know it's going to mean a summer away from my family a lot, because I'm just going to have to be sifting through a lot of manuscripts. But I'm looking forward to that because, you know, I've revered a lot of these writers for most of my life, ever since I was nine or 10, so publishing a work by Alcott is a thrill," he said.

"When you open up a box of magazines and you see Louisa May Alcott, Strand Magazine, I mean, she's really good for one's ego."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Sarah Jackson. 

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