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Mutability and Mutual Reception: The Horoscope of Louisa May Alcott

2010 January 23
by Jackie Slevin
Horoscope of Louisa May Alcott

Born November 29, 1832 12:30 AM LMT Germantown, PA 40N02, 75W10. Source: Astrodatabank. Reference: Family bible.

Chick Lit is defined as women’s fiction written for and marketed to young women. This particular literary genre was launched after the Women’s Movement in the 1970s, earned its own category of genre fiction in the 1990s, and is now front and center in 21st century popular culture. Media moguls market the breadth of women’s experiences to captive audiences on film, bookstores, newsstands, and television. It scintillates, it sizzles, and, above all, it sells.

But despite feminism and the repercussions of liberated women in contemporary society, chick lit is nothing new. It was born in the 19th century in Concord, Massachusetts, and its creator was none other than Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women. This tale of the March family, comprised of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, mother Marmee, and absentee Father, holds a precious place in the annals of American Literature, for it was the first American saga that captured the joys and sorrows of adolescent girls who blossom into women.  Alcott captured the ethos of these timeless sisters and their neighbors with passion, brevity and wit. Her classic story was an international sensation upon publication in 1868 and has never been out of print. It has been adapted to play, musical, opera, film, and animated feature. Alcott’s photograph has graced a United States postage stamp. Alcott and her March Family Trilogy, comprised of the novels Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys, were the 19th century’s counterpart of J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series of the present time.  The profits of these novels catapulted Alcott and her family from genteel, and, eventually, dire poverty to financial independence and eventual wealth.  But life for Alcott was often far from the domestic bliss she depicted so endearingly.  (But don’t tell her pubescent readers that).

Alcott was the second of four daughters of Transcendentalist philosopher Amos Bronson Alcott and Abigail Sewall May. After moving to Concord, Massachusetts, her neighbors and social circle consisted of no less than Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Concord, the seat of American Transcendentalism movement, was such a hotbed of civil disobedience, self reliance and literary brilliance that it was dubbed the Mecca of the Mind. After the publication of Little Women, Alcott was lionized as a literary superstar and hobnobbed with the literati in the US and Europe, yet she would never associate with a more eclectic society than the one in which she was raised. Emerson was her idol and helped her select books from his personal library. He employed her as a governess to his daughter Ellen, to whom Alcott read the stories she had written.  It was Emerson’s wife Lidian who encouraged Alcott to collect them in one volume and publish them. Thus, in 1854, at age 22, Alcott published Flower Fables, her first book.  Thoreau took Alcott and her sisters on his boat on the Concord River and on frequent excursions in the woods.  Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of the Scarlet Letter, was Alcott’s next-door neighbor. But despite the prodigious talent that surrounded her on a daily basis, Alcott is the most widely read author of the nineteenth century, outselling even in her own lifetime her stellar neighbors and colleagues.

In 1942, two rare book dealers discovered that Alcott wrote under the pseudonym A.M. Barnard and published many Gothic potboilers in magazines. Alcott referred to her short stories as “blood and thunder tales,” and wrote in her letters that “I fancy lurid things” as opposed to writing “moral pap for the young,” (The Journals of Louisa May Alcott, edited by Joel Myerson. University of Georgia Press, October, 1997) which ironically made her a fortune and a household name. Her characters in these potboilers were a Grand Canyon leap from Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, and these  tales included stories of transvestitism, sadomasochism, incest, opium eaters, hashish smokers, insanity, violence, and, above all, feminism.  All were written to pull her impoverished family out of debt, and nearly all preceded her 1868 publication of Little Women.

A Mutable Dilemma

Mercury, ruler of the Virgo Ascendant, is Alcott’s ruling planet. It is also the ruler of her Gemini Midheaven. Mercury is in detriment in Sagittarius in her fourth house of home and family. Mercury is squared by Saturn rising in Virgo in the first house and by Jupiter in Pisces on her descendant. Thus Mercury is at the apex of a T-square that further emphasizes Alcott’s connection to home and family, a connection that served as the cornerstone of her life, and underscored her talent for writing.  It is fascinating to note that the three planets in this T-square receive each other in one way receptions. In the same manner of mutual reception, a planet receives another planet when one planet is in the sign that the other planet rules. Thus reading the T-square clockwise, Mercury receives Jupiter in dignity, (Mercury is in Sagittarius, the natural ruler of Jupiter), and Saturn receives Mercury in dignity and exaltation. (Saturn is in the sign of Virgo, a sign Mercury rules and, also in this case, the sign of Mercury’s exaltation).  To take this T-square one step further, the Gemini Midheaven can serve as the point opposite the Mercury apex, creating a wide Grand Cross in mutable signs. Alcott also has Mars, Saturn and Neptune in a Grand Trine in earth signs, with Neptune receiving Saturn in dignity and Mars in exaltation. (Neptune is in Capricorn, the sign of Saturn’s rulership, or dignity, and the sign of Mars’ exaltation). Thus the two major configurations in her chart contain one way receptions that aid and abet the action of the aspect. Every planet in her chart is involved in a one-way reception:

  • Jupiter receives Neptune
  • The Sun receives Jupiter
  • The Moon receives Saturn
  • Pluto receives Mars
  • Venus receives Saturn
  • Jupiter receives Venus in exaltation
  • Mars receives the Moon in exaltation.
  • Venus and Mars are in a mixed mutual reception, with Venus receiving Mars in exaltation and Mars receiving Venus in dignity.

Thus despite the hard angles of the T-square and the ruler of her Ascendant and Midheaven in detriment, the planets in Alcott’s chart flow together so harmoniously that the one-way and mixed mutual receptions entwine around each other like a set of New England contra dancers.

Alcott has two planets conjunct the Cardinal, or World Axis. This axis mirrors the Sun at 0 degrees Aries, the inception point of the zodiac.  Using the rubric of the 90 degree square divided by two, the answer is 45 degrees, or a semi-square. Dividing 45 degrees by two equals 22 degrees and 30 minutes, or a semi-semisquare. Using the dividend of 22 degrees and 30 minutes throughout the 360 degrees of the zodiac, these degrees equal 0 Cardinal, 22 degrees 30 minutes Cardinal, 15 degrees of Fixed Signs and 7 degrees 30 minutes of mutable signs. These highly energized degrees have an electrifying impact that catapults them into the public eye for better or worse. Thus any point or planet conjunct these degrees within a one-degree orb warrants a closer look to see how these energies will “go public” and place them in a position of recognition. Alcott has the Sun at 7 degrees Sagittarius, 03, conjunct the Cardinal Axis, in her third house of writing and siblings. Writing about siblings in Little Women placed Alcott in the public eye throughout the world.  The Sun rules her twelfth house of solitude, service and the shadow life; Alcott rented rooms in Boston to write her pot boilers for 14 hours a day, isolating herself for months.  In her later years, she was an invalid in a rest home.

Uranus, at 15 degrees Aquarius, is also conjunct the Cardinal Axis, in her fifth house of children and creativity. While she never married or had children of her own, Alcott’s literary creativity made her a seminal force in children’s literature. Uranus rules humanitarianism and radical ideas, and these characteristics describe her family circle perfectly. Bronson Alcott was a strict vegetarian and insisted that his family adapt to his dietary principles. For periods of time he permitted neither himself nor his family to wear clothing made of any material other than linen, because linen was made from flax, not from cotton, which exploited slaves. Wool, which, in Bronson’s opinion, exploited sheep, was also forbidden. It is no accident that the Alcott’s home, along with Thoreau’s, was a stop on the Underground Railroad, where young Alcott and her sisters taught escaped slaves how to read. Abigail “Marmee” Alcott was known to give shelter to every stray animal and person she found and treated them as one of her own. Thus the humanitarian streak in the Alcott Family was deep and wide, complete with its adherence to the free-thinking philosophy of Transcendentalism. Alcott was an ardent suffragette. She was the first woman to register to vote in a Concord school board election and signed her personal letters, Yours for reform. Uranus rules her sixth house of illness, and Alcott suffered for 25 years from one which was unknown in her time; the circumstances of which fundamentally changed her life.

In November 1862 Alcott volunteered as a nurse during the Civil War at Union Hospital in Washington, D.C. After her application was accepted on December 11, she arrived in Washington two days later on December 13.  A week earlier on December 6, 1862, there was a total lunar eclipse at 14 degrees Gemini, 0 minutes, conjunct Alcott’s Midheaven. Three weeks later, Alcott discovered that one of her stories won first prize in a contest, awarding her $100.00, a sum that would equal nearly $2,000.00 in present times. On January 7, 1863, she was stricken with typhoid pneumonia. At that time medical protocol treated this illness with calomel, or mercurous chloride, a treatment that caused a poisoning effect, though this was not known at the time. During her months of convalescence back in Concord, Alcott wrote the book Hospital Sketches. At this time her progressed Venus was at 15 degrees Aquarius on the Cardinal Axis, and, when Hospital Sketches was published in serialization in May 1863 to critical acclaim, her progressed Moon was at 0 degrees Aries, also on the Cardinal Axis.  Thus the eclipse on her Midheaven on December 6, 1862, placed her in the public eye, and caused a watershed of events that changed the course of the rest of her life.

From 1862-1868, Alcott was a voracious writer of potboilers for various mainstream publications and worked as an editor for a children’s magazine in Boston.  When her employer noticed the popularity of the Horatio Alger series, he asked Alcott if she could write a story for girls. Writing ferociously, often skipping meals and sleep, she completed her manuscript in an astonishing ten weeks. The result was Little Women, published in October 1868.  At this time Alcott’s progressed Moon was at 12 degrees Gemini, reaching her Midheaven four months later, when the book was published internationally.  Her progressed Venus was conjunct her Moon (women!), progressed Part of Fortune was exactly conjunct her Ascendant, transiting Jupiter was conjunct her Pluto for financial gain, and transiting Saturn was conjunct her natal Part of Fortune. Solar arced Venus (women) was conjunct her natal IC (home and hearth), and solar arced Jupiter square her natal Neptune, which indicated Alcott’s utter bewilderment with fame.

Success and the pursuit of improved health gave Alcott the urge to travel abroad. In France she consulted a British army doctor who diagnosed her myriad medical problems as mercury poisoning, dosing her with opiates to relieve her chronic symptoms and insomnia. Narcotics would become her constant companion.

Alcott suffered permanent damage from mercury, but modern medical analysis shows that the effects of mercury, in addition to poisoning, caused Alcott’s immune system to attack itself, resulting in Lupus, a disease that ruined her health. On February 11, 1888, a solar eclipse occurred at 22 Aquarius, 44, conjunct Alcott’s Moon in her sixth house of illness within a 5 minute orb. Two weeks later on February 24, Mercury stationed retrograde at 19 Pisces 22, conjunct Alcott’s descendant, ruling open enemies, and Jupiter, ruling her fourth house, or the end of the matter.  On March 6, 1888, she slipped into a coma and died just two days after visiting her father on his deathbed.

Alcott’s legacy was her creation of Topsy Turvy Jo March, the first character in American Literature who showed adolescent girls how to run with the wolves. Over 140 years later, her readers are still running.

And they’ve never looked better.


John Matteson, Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and her Father. Copyright 2008 W.W. Norton and Company, New York City.
Madeleine Stern, Louisa May Alcott, a Biography, copyright 1985 University of Oklahoma Press.
Madeleine Stern, Louisa May Alcott: From Blood and Thunder to Home and Hearth. Copyright May, 1998, Northeastern University Press.
Louisa May Alcott: The Journals of Louisa May Alcott, Edited by Joel Myerson. Copyright 1997, University of Georgia Press.
Norbert Hirschorn and Ian A. Greaves, Louisa May Alcott, Her Mysterious Illness (Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Spring, 2007, Volume 50, number 2.

Copyright 2009 by Jackie Slevin. All rights reserved.

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