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Alcott, Louisa May.

Hospital Sketches.


Inscribed by Her Mother to a Cousin
Alcott, Louisa May.  Hospital Sketches.  Boston: James Redpath, 1863.
8vo.; green cloth, stamped in gilt; two pages of publisher's ads in the rear; foxed; hinges tender; tips worn.  
First edition.  A presentation copy, inscribed in ink on the front endpaper: Rev. Charles C. Sewall from Cousin-Abby Alcott.  Alcott and her mother were extremely close and she always gave her one of the first copies of her newly published works.  Affectionately nicknamed "Marmee," Abigail Alcott was the model for the character of that same name in Little Women.
Hospital Sketches is Alcott's personal account of working as a nurse in a Georgetown hospital during the Civil War.  After the siege at Antietam, Alcott began volunteering at the Union Hotel Hospital, which she referred to as "Hurly Burly House" and described as "bad enough to breed a pestilence."  Despite the conditions, Alcott enjoyed getting to know her patients and became close with the other nurses; she dedicated Hospital Sketches to fellow nurse Hannah Stevenson.  The typhoid outbreak in 1856 nearly killed Alcott; in the "Off Duty" chapter, she describes how being ill herself altered her perspective on her patients and made her even more sympathetic.  Ironically, the calomel administered to save her life may have given her mercury poisoning.  
According to the publisher's "advertisement" at the front of the book, "a considerable portion" of the content was previously published in The Commonwealth, a Boston newspaper, and the popularity of the installments led Alcott to compile all the sketches into one volume.  After its publication, Alcott wrote to her publisher James Redpath, expressing her happiness with how the book turned out: "Firstly we all like the book very much, & I have the satisfaction of seeing my townsfolk buying, read, laughing & crying over it wherever I go.  One rash youth bought eight copies at a blow, & my dozen would have gone rapidly had I not locked them up & solemnly signed your paper after inserting the number 12 in the blank you left, so I shall come for no moreā€¦." (Louisa May Alcott Letters, p. 88).  After the success of Hospital Sketches, Alcott's stories were in demand and several were published that same year in the collection On Picket Duty, and Other Tales (1864).  

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