University of South Carolina

Scholar to be featured in PBS ‘American Masters’ biography

University of South Carolina scholar Dr. Joel Myerson, one the nation’s foremost authorities on transcendentalism, will be featured in a film biography on Louisa May Alcott that will air Monday, Dec. 28, as part of PBS’ “American Masters” series.

Joel Myerson
Joel Myerson

“Louisa May Alcott: The Woman behind ‘Little Women’” premieres at 9 p.m. and is the first film biography on Alcott. The film stars three-time Obie winner Elizabeth Marvel as Alcott and Tony winner and Oscar nominee Jane Alexander as Alcott’s first biographer, Ednah Dow Cheney.

Throughout the film are a series of interviews with scholars, including Myerson, a distinguished research professor and distinguished English professor emeritus who edited Alcott’s lost first novel, “The Inheritance.”

In the mid 1980s, Myerson and co-editor Daniel Shealy, a Carolina graduate student at the time, began researching Alcott, whom they thought had been unjustly characterized as a children’s writer. While researching the author’s journals at Harvard University, the pair stumbled across Alcott’s 150-page manuscript. Their edited novel was published by Penguin Books and aired as a CBS made-for-television movie in 1997.

“Alcott’s letters showed how bright and astute a professional author she was and how well she understood the needs and demands of the marketplace,” said Myerson. “They inspired us to research and edit her journals, and that’s when we came across the manuscript.”

Myerson said Alcott’s popularity and success as a 19th-century writer were phenomenal. Nearly 600,000 copies of “Little Women” were sold from 1868 – 1909, and, from 1868 until her death in 1888, she earned $103,375 for her books.

“It was exceptional for the time,” Myerson said, “considering that Ralph Waldo Emerson, thought to be one of the best and most popular writers in the 19th century, sold 155,000 copies of all his books from 1840 – 1880 and made a total of $36,000 in royalties.”

Myerson is a leading expert on transcendentalism, particularly the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. The Joel Myerson Collection of 19th Century American Literature part of the University of South Carolina’s rare books and special collections, includes more than 12,000 volumes that Myerson collected over 30 years. The collection features numerous first editions by Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Margaret Fuller, Walt Whitman and Theodore Parker.

For more information on “American Masters,” visit the Web site:

By Office of Media Relations

Posted: 01/04/10 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 01/04/10 @ 3:58 PM | Permalink