In the Bookcase


Book Review: Shawl Straps

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

Shawl-Straps by Louisa May Alcott (4 star review)

Aunt Jo's Scrap Bag #2

written by Louisa May Alcott

128 pages // published in 1872 // vintage travel fiction


Unlike the other volumes in this series, which are books of childrens' stories, Shawl-Straps is a novel. It is the story of Amanda, Matilda, and Lavinia, three sisters who are travelling in Europe. The book is based on Louisa May Alcott's own travels with her sister. She states in the preface:
"There is a sort of fate about writing books of travel which it is impossible to escape. It is vain to declare that no inducement will bribe one to do it, that there is nothing new to tell, and that nobody wants to read the worn-out story: sooner or later the deed is done, and not till the book is safely shelved does peace descend upon the victim of this mysterious doom. The only way in which this affliction may be lightened to a long-suffering public is to make the work as cheerful and as short as possible. With this hope the undersigned bore has abstained from giving the dimensions of any church, the population of any city, or description of famous places, as far as in her lay; but confined herself to the personal haps and mishaps, adventures and experiences, of her wanderers." - Louisa M. Alcott, November 1872.

My Review

4 Star Rating

A delightful trek across Europe...

So, I assumed this would be a continuation of Aunt Jo's Scrap Bag #1... (being a collection of short stories) but my assumption was wrong. Shawl-Straps is, in fact, a whole little novel in itself. It follows the travels of a band of three American unmarried girls as they visit various places in Europe.

It might be fun to actually follow in the footsteps of these girls and perhaps travel along a similar route across Europe and visit many of the same landmarks as they did in France, Switzerland, Italy, and England. To do so would be seeing Europe a bit through Louisa's very own eyes, I feel like – of course with the difference of almost a hundred years!

The girls do get to visit some places that are in Charles Dickens' novels, and that was an interesting point to note, as I know that Louisa was a fond admirer of Dickens' writings.

At one point, the merry travelers have to decide to leave the heavier luggage behind and press on with only their shawl straps. I never could quite decide exactly what actual shawl straps look like, or how you carry it, even though it sounds like a delightful vintage device...

Author and blogger Susan Bailey was able to provide me with an illustration from a copy of Shawl-Straps published in the 1920s. In this picture, we see one of the young ladies holding a strap that (I assume) connects to a shawl for holding items inside – to carry as a small bundle with a handle? You can make your own assumptions, as based on the illustration:

Shawl Straps illustration

Also, here are 2 more illustrations of shawl straps, available online. This next one is a diagram of an actual patent design. From this, we can see it has two belt-like straps that enclose the shawl (or other articles), and has a handle for easy carrying.
Shawl Straps illustration
// via The Portal to Texas History //

Lastly, another view showing the shawl strap in use, with a bundle rolled up inside.

Shawl Straps illustration
// via Bustles and Bows //

Overall, I give this book 4 stars because, although not amazing (sometimes a bit long-winded), and although not of seemingly much literary merit in Louisa's canon... it's still a charming tale that I could freely recommend to anyone (young or old) to read; whether they enjoy it is up to them.

My 1st book is complete for the Louisa May Alcott reading challenge.

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If you'd like to learn more about the Louisa May Alcott reading challenge, or to sign-up, just visit this link to start at the beginning.


  1. It sounds like a fun read, just to see Europe through her eyes.

    1. Barbara,
      Definitely! It's a fun European experience. :)

  2. Tarissa, this was a great review! This sounds like a really fun read and makes me hope that one day I realize my dream of seeing Europe. I will definitely add this one to my list. Thank you for including the illustrations.

    1. Joel, thanks!
      Shawl Straps is definitely a fun little travelogue. It made me want to go see all the European sights they were seeing in the story. It would be great to be reading the book while traveling in the same locations.

  3. This looks like an interesting read, always wondered about more details to do with time in Europe! (We don't get as much in Little Women, though there are lots of tantalizing hints as beautiful places.) I really appreciate all the research into those lovely illustrations too that give some insight into art and travel at the time :)

    1. Trix, Shawl Straps will definitely take you on an exciting sight-seeing adventure through European cities. While I don't feel like the girls in Shawl Straps are as multi-facted as the March sisters, it was really the landmarks and interesting places that took the cake for me. It might be nice to visit some of those same places now.