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FFB: A Long Fatal Love Chase

When most people think of Louisa May Alcott, Little Women comes to mind, and indeed, that is her chief claim to fame in literary history. However, she also penned Gothic thrillers ("potboilers") under the name A. M. Barnard, a fact that was brought to light in the early 1940s by a rare book dealer, Madeleine B. Stern, and a librarian, Leona Rostenberg. This led to Stern's book Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott.

One of those thrillers is more of a Gothic suspense romance which she originally titled A Modern Mephistopheles, or The Fatal Love Chase, which she'd dashed off when publisher James R. Elliot asked her to write another novel suitable for serialization in the magazine The Flag of Our Union. After it was rejected for being "too long and too sensational", she reworked it and retitled it as Fair Rosamond, but ultimately it was shelved in a drawer.

Fair Rosamond ended up at a Harvard library, while the original was auctioned off by Alcott's heirs and eventually fell into the hands of a Manhattan rare book dealer. In 1994, a New Hampshire headmaster bought the manuscript and sold publication rights to Random House, receiving a $1.5 million advance. Random published it in 1995 under the title A Long Fatal Love Chase, and it turned out to be a bestseller 129 years after its creation.

The plot centers on lonely, trusting 18-year-old Rosamond Vivian, who lives with her unloving grandfather on an English island and falls for the suave Phillip Tempest, a man almost twice her age. After promising to marry her, he takes her off to his Mediterranean villa near Nice, but when she discovers he's secretly married and may have murdered the son he never acknowledged, Rosamond flees to Paris, assuming one new identity after another. But Phillip stalks her obsessively across Europe, even as Rosamund tries to take shelter with a Roman Catholic priest with whom she falls in love.  

Publishers Weekly observed that "This absorbing novel revises our image of a complex and, it is now clear, prescient writer,"  alluding to the novel's ripped-from-modern-headlines of domestic violence and abuse. The New York Times also noted that genius burned for Alcott following A Long Fatal Love Chase, but never again with such primitive and joyful heat and "One wonders what kind of writer she might have been had she been able to ... take her thrillers as seriously as her feminist editors and elucidators do today."

      

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FFB: A Long Fatal Love Chase

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