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A Competition To Finish Louisa May Alcott's Story

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Louisa May Alcott, the beloved author of the classic novel "Little Women," has a new short story out. Yes, more than a century after her death, she has a newly published work. It's called "Aunt Nellie's Diary." The manuscript was recently discovered at Harvard's Houghton Library, and it's in the latest issue of The Strand Magazine. Alcott began writing the story in 1849, when she was just 17 - almost 20 years before she brought the March sisters to life. But she never finished it.

ANDREW GULLI: I have to say, the handwriting is kind of like doctors' handwriting (laughter) because it's very difficult to decipher. But the words, when you transcribe them, are just a little masterpiece.

PFEIFFER: That's Andrew Gulli. He's the managing editor of The Strand Magazine, and he's the one who found Alcott's manuscript.

GULLI: What I liked about the story was that Alcott was able to put herself in the shoes of somebody who is much older than her because the character of Aunt Nellie is someone who's very insightful. She's independent. She has a strong will. So she's just this way ahead of her time, the main character was.

PFEIFFER: Alcott's story is a love triangle of sorts. It's told from the perspective of a 40-year-old woman named Nellie who's caring for her teenage niece, Annie. When Annie's friend Isabel comes to stay, the two girls start competing for the attention of the same young man.

GULLI: You see that the parts were there to make this writer, who's one of our most beloved authors. You look at the character of Aunt Nellie, and you see echoes of Jo March in it. You just - you can imagine that this would be Jo if she perhaps remained single and didn't get married. And you can also see that this was a writer who had a sharp psychological insight.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALEXANDRE DESPLAT'S "LITTLE WOMEN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (Reading) How often are we deceived by a bright exterior, little dreaming of the darkness within. Isabel is not what I thought her. I fear under a fine, gay manner of a light, laughing face, she conceals a cold, unfeeling heart bent only on the accomplishment of her wishes. There's something not quite true about her, and the absence of that frank simplicity which makes Annie so dear to us all - but time will show.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALEXANDRE DESPLAT'S "LITTLE WOMEN")

GULLI: If somebody enjoys works like "Little Women," if somebody likes a little bit of romance, I think that they will like this, and they'll feel that it puts a lot of the pieces together into what a great author Louisa May Alcott was. Unfortunately, it's not finished. But we've launched a contest to try to find somebody who can complete the job.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALEXANDRE DESPLAT'S "LITTLE WOMEN")

PFEIFFER: That was Andrew Gulli, managing editor of The Strand Magazine. And if you think you have the writing skill to finish Louisa May Alcott's story, you can find details on how to enter the competition by going to The Strand Magazine's website, strandmag.com.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALEXANDRE DESPLAT'S "LITTLE WOMEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.